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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 2995


Mr CONROY (Shortland) (19:40): For the last few months, my electorate office has been inundated with complaints about the processing time for applications for the age pension by the Department of Human Services. I know from speaking with colleagues that my office is not alone in receiving these complaints. My timing is quite fortuitous; the minister responsible is at the table right now.

At the outset, I want to pay tribute to the staff of the department. I know how hard they work, in very difficult circumstances. But, as a result of the Abbott-Turnbull governments' slashing and burning of the Public Service, there are now huge delays in processing pension applications for our ageing population.

Mr Tudge: You cut $4,000 staff!

Mr CONROY: For Australians to access good public services, there must be sufficient public servants to attend to the work. You do not get public service without public servants. The most basic point I want to make about these processing delays is this: it is not fair that senior Australians who have worked all their lives—

Ms Henderson: Why did you cut so many staff?

Mr CONROY: paid their taxes and contributed to our society and economy—

Mr Tudge: Labor—

Mr CONROY: are forced to wait months on end to have their applications for the pension, one of the cornerstones of our social security safety net, processed.

These delays are causing significant problems in the electorate I represent. Twenty-six per cent of people in Shortland are aged over 60, and more and more people will be applying for the pension in the years to come. The processing time for pension applications has doubled under this government. Let me repeat that: the processing time for pension applications has doubled under this government—from 34 days to 62 days. No matter what the protests from the other side are, what the Minister for Human Services, who keeps blaming everyone else for his own failures, is saying, the processing time has doubled under this government. This is a truly shocking statistic and a damning indictment of the Turnbull government's attitude to older Australians.

I particularly want to raise the case of a Shortland resident called Ron. Ron worked his entire life as an electrician, mostly in our local mines. He raised a family and is a prominent and well-liked member of our local community. Ron applied for the pension in April. He was finally granted it in late September. In modern Australia, in 2016, a five-month delay is just not acceptable. And Ron and his wife found themselves in a real catch-22 situation, as her application for Newstart could not be finalised until Ron's pension application was processed.

This is just one example of the calls I and my staff deal with every day. And there are not just delays in processing age pension applications. I regularly talk to people about significant delays in relation to applications for Newstart, carer payment and youth allowance, including at my mobile office in Valentine recently, where the grandparents of one student were quite distraught that her youth allowance application had been delayed by over 10 months. Again, this is not acceptable. All these people deserve better.

Vulnerable Australians who rely on a fixed income are being targeted by the coalition. The coalition have a nasty and callous disregard for millions of Australians, and their record speaks for itself. They wanted to cut the pension rate. They failed to do that. Instead, they reduced the threshold for the pension assets test. That will impact on over 300,000 Australians. They are cutting family tax benefit payments, and they are trying to force young job seekers to wait a month before accessing payments.

At the same time, they are giving huge tax cuts to their mates at the big end of town. How can they justify a $48 billion tax cut for some of Australia's largest companies when they are cutting pensions, delaying pension application processing and attacking other recipients of our social security system? Labor are willing to support sensible and fair budget repair, and we have done so, but we will never tolerate targeting vulnerable Australians.

Another of the Liberals' unfair approaches is to force older Australians to work until they are 70. This would mean that Australia has the highest retirement age in the development world. Now, this approach might suit someone like the Prime Minister, who sits at a desk all day in an air-conditioned office. But ask a builder, a nurse or anyone with a tough and physical job if their bodies will cope with working until they are 70, and the answer is clear. They do not want to and they think it is unfair.

Regarding the huge delays in processing pension applications, I have written to the Minister for Human Services regarding what options are available to applicants experiencing these significant delays and if any other resources in his department can be allocated to processing applications for the pension. I look forward to receiving his response.

I will end my contribution where I started. The age pension secures dignity in retirement for older Australians. It is an achievement we in the Labor Party are very proud to have initiated. The fact that so many senior Australians are waiting months for their applications to be finalised is wrong. Older Australians deserve so much more than this.