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Thursday, 4 May 1989
Page: 1799


Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security to a statement by the Minister for Finance earlier in Question Time and also to the Acting Treasurer's press release of today's date that today's official consumer price index (CPI) figure of one per cent does not reflect the true underlying rate of inflation in Australia which he said was really 1.6 per cent as calculated on the new basis. By how much money will the Hawke Government cheat and short-change pensioners and others in receipt of indexed incomes by adopting this new, fiddled CPI figure, which is a statutory one, rather than paying rises which reflect what Senator Walsh describes as the true underlying rate of inflation?


Senator BOLKUS —The basic point that has to be established here is that, as the figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics have been published, those figures will be used. I need to make one point in respect of the June indexation increases that have already been announced. I am advised that the new method of calculation will not affect those figures because they are based on CPI figures for the six months to December 1988 and, as such, they will not be adjusted.

It should also be recognised that an overwhelming majority of pensioners either own their homes outright or are not buying them. The Government is concerned to ensure that this change will not affect their standards of living. Senator Baume may be concerned about the extent of the Government's commitment to pensioners-which seems to be an underlying part of his question-but I do not think I need at this time of the day to go through all the accomplishments of this Government.


Senator Tate —You wouldn't have time.


Senator BOLKUS —As Senator Tate has said, I would not have time. It should be stated explicitly, so that the Opposition can understand, that this Government is committed to improving the incomes of elderly retired people. It has shown that commitment by its very proud record in the area. Since coming to office in March 1983, we have made substantial increases in pension payments. Without going through them all, I should say that in 1988-89 this Government will be spending $7.5 billion on age pensions compared to less than $5 billion spent in 1982-83. I could go on, but I would make a couple of minor points. The rate of single pension and married pension as a percentage of average weekly earnings is much higher than it was under previous governments. We have shown our commitment in that way. In respect of a whole host of incidental programs of assistance both in the area of fringe benefits, income free area, rental assistance and so on, this Government has a proud record of contributing a great degree of financial assistance to alleviate the position of pensioners. The June figures will not be affected and the Government is committed to improving the standard of pensioners' income and will continue to do so.


Senator MICHAEL BAUME —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for his assurance that pensioners will not be affected in any way and that their standard of living will not be reduced. I ask him, in order to give integrity to that claim, to please release the old basis of figures for the CPI so that the people of Australia can see by how much they will have been short changed, if they are to be, and if there is no short changing what reason does he possibly have for not revealing what the CPI would have been, as he claims that pensioners will not suffer as a result of the change in the CPI?


Senator BOLKUS —I wish to make a couple of points. Some people in this place never seem to learn. I shall not respond to the underlying cynicism and degree of vin- dictiveness in Senator Baume's question. I will say that I have no reason and neither has the Government to dispute the integrity of the figures. Senator Baume, having had some experience in this place, should know that the release of the figures is totally outside my responsibility. He should know who the relevant Minister is and he should direct that question to him.