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Thursday, 29 November 2018
Page: 12072

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (16:19): Thank you to the members opposite for bringing forward this matter of public importance, and I mean that sincerely. With millions of Australians on the age pension, ensuring the pension is sufficient, accessible and fair is critically important, and bringing forward this matter today allows us to explain the great work done by this government to help retirees across the country.

Each fortnight, Centrelink delivers payments to more than five million Australians, providing more than $174 billion in payments every year. In 2017-18 alone, the Department of Human Services had more than 967 million interactions with Australians. Last year there were nearly 3.5 million claims for income support payments and concessions, including the age pension. The vast majority of these were processed within four weeks.

This is a very different story from when those opposite were in government. During their time, they ripped out more than 4,800 staff from the department. This was almost 20 per cent of the customer-facing workforce that processes claims, answers questions and helps people get the services they need. We understand that it's essential to invest in people and digital services, which is why the government have engaged an additional 2,750 staff to help us continue to improve our customer experience, especially for older Australians. This gives older Australians access to the services they need, where and when they need them.

Delays can also occur if applicants fail to provide all the required supporting documentation when lodging their claim. This occurs in more than half the cases and often requires the department to go back to the person before the claim can be processed. When all the required supporting information has been received, the claim is finalised quickly. We also encourage all people to apply for the age pension up to 13 weeks before they become eligible. That way, we can ensure that all the appropriate paperwork is provided and process claims before applicants become eligible, ensuring a seamless transition to the pension.

It's quite clear that some of those opposite don't quite get how pensioners earn—or how the economy works, for that matter! The policy of those opposite to take away dividend refunds will take a sledgehammer to the income of retirees and double dip into taxes. Under Labor, most retirees, or anyone on an income below $37,000, will lose their dividend refund. For the 900,000 Australians hit, this is worth around $2,200 a year for each individual. Currently, most retirees who receive dividends from those shares get a refund on the company tax that has already been paid on their behalf. By abolishing tax refunds on dividends, Labor would take a double tax dip. Eighty-four per cent of the individuals impacted are those on taxable incomes of less than $37,000, and 96 per cent of the individuals impacted are on taxable incomes below $87,000.

The Australian tax system has been designed to ensure that shareholders pay tax on the dividends they receive at their marginal tax rate. Labor's retiree tax would hurt those who saved to be self-reliant, who planned diligently for their future and who want to have a stable retirement.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hogan ): The time for the discussion has concluded.