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Wednesday, 17 November 1993
Page: 3063

Senator PATTERSON (6.32 p.m.) —The Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson), in his budget reply, quite rightly labelled this a budget of betrayal. But for older Australians the new Keating government's acts of betrayal commenced long before Treasurer Dawkins's budget night speech on 17 August 1993.

  Only five days after the federal election Treasurer Dawkins announced that the government had no intention of keeping its promise to take all pensioners out of the tax system by 1995. This was the first post-election act of betrayal. Despite having reiterated the `no tax by 1995' promise in black and white in its own election policy document, the Treasurer had the gall to inform Australia's 1.5 million pensioners five days after the election that the government had sold them a lemon.

  I am informed that this promise was ditched by the government long before the election was called, but the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) insisted that it be included in Labor's election policy document. The Treasurer was not even aware that it had been included—this is what we have been led to believe—until it was brought to his attention by his colleagues, but when he was informed he did nothing to inform the electorate that the policy document did not represent the government's intentions.

  Just as the Prime Minister deliberately misled the Australian public by making a promise that he had no intention of keeping, the Treasurer is as guilty of duplicity because he deliberately allowed the proliferation of this massive deception. The result was that Labor members and candidates openly campaigned on this promise, including at least one cabinet minister, Mr Crean, who actually pledged in a document which was distributed to people in his electorate that the government would remove all pensioners from the tax system by 1995. That is what they were being told in the documents that were going out right up until a week before the election.

  When the Treasurer announced five days after the election that this promise had been ditched, he claimed that the government would enter into consultations with a view to coming up with alternatives to the `no tax by 1995' pledge. But when I asked about this in estimates committee hearings recently, I was told that no such consultations had occurred during the six months since Mr Dawkins's statement. The government lied before the election telling people that they would be taken out of the tax system by 1995 when it had no intention of taking them out of the tax system. Then the government told them that it would have consultations with them to address this issue, and no consultations occurred.

  The government's post-election betrayal does not end here. The government promised during the election campaign that $100 million would be spent on buying private beds for public hospital patients. Within two months the Minister for Health (Senator Richardson) had admitted that this promise would not be kept. It was also announced that the promised Commonwealth dental scheme would be delayed.

  Part-pensioners were also kept on tenterhooks as to whether the extension of the fringe benefits card would continue beyond June. Some faced the embarrassment of being told by local councils that they could not be given concessions due to the uncertainty over funding.

  The Prime Minister then announced that the second round of the promised tax cuts would be postponed until at least 1998. They have become, I suppose, the beyond 2000 tax cuts. At the same time, pensioners and veterans were becoming more and more vocal about the government's decision to include unrealised capital gains on their share investment as income.

  Despite my private senator's bill being passed by the Senate and a Senate inquiry being set up, the government refused to budge. This forced many older people to sell valuable portfolios, many of which had been held for decades and many of which had been purchased by dint of saving. The letters from pensioners that came to me and my colleagues said things like, `We put two shillings of week away until we could afford to buy a parcel of shares. My husband and I did that and we stinted and saved to try to provide for ourselves later on down the track'. So many of them had held shares for a long time.

  Three weeks before the provision was due to commence and after it had sent out 100,000 forms, the government relented by restricting the income test to shares purchased after 18 August 1992. While this action reduced the number of people affected, it did not overcome the fundamentally flawed principle and left many people who had sold shares considerably worse off. At the moment, there are still up to 200,000 pensioners who are affected by the same income test on managed investments.

  Many are reporting massive reductions in pension that have left them with a totally inadequate income. In a lot of cases, the investments that have resulted in these massive reductions are now worth less than when they were purchased. So there has been no unrealised capital gain whatsoever. Many of them bought shares when the shares were on a high level; they dropped; the increase is now being treated as income and they made no real capital gain, realised or unrealised, and their pension goes down dramatically.

  Tragically for older Australians, budget night revealed that this was only the start. I repeat what I said on budget night:

There is no joy in the budget for older Australians, just more broken promises, reduced services, higher taxes and increased costs.

And at that stage we had heard Mr Dawkins's little revelation about pensioners being taken out of the tax system, so there was no joy at all. They had been let down straight after the election and now in the budget they found that more promises had been broken.

  Before the election the Prime Minister promised that he would not increase taxes. Older people were told that there would not be one, but two across-the-board increases in wholesale sales tax which would increase the cost of many necessary household purchases. When we were looking at the impact of the changes in wholesale sales tax on various groups, as revealed by household expenditure surveys, we were very conscious of the fact that pensioners spend their incomes on a different basket of goods; in fact they spend them on many items that will now face increases in wholesale sales taxes.

  Where is the compensation? There is none. They were not told before the election that the wholesale sales taxes were going to go up, and there would be no compensation to pensioners. That was really great news on budget night for the pensioners. We went out and told them the truth about what we were going to do, but they were lied to by this government. They were told `no increase in taxes'. And what do they find? They get an increase in tax.

  The government also decided to increase the excise on fuel, and in particular leaded petrol. All of us in this chamber know that many older people purchase a car and look after it—polish it, treasure it, have it serviced and keep it in mint condition—because they cannot afford to upgrade to a new car. What do they have? A car that runs on leaded petrol. So who will be affected by the increase in the excise? Pensioners and older people.

  The government went to the election championing Medicare, having decided that optometrical tests could no longer be rebatable, resulting in thousands of older people paying in excess of $50 to have their eyes tested. Thankfully, the government has been forced to drop this niggardly proposal which would have adversely affected thousands of older Australians.

  Many older people who do not receive the pharmaceutical benefits concession card face higher priced pharmaceuticals as a result of this budget. The seniors health card, promised during the election campaign for low income earning non-pensioner retirees, has also been postponed by three months, from April to July 1994.

  The dental scheme? Postponed. The seniors health card? Postponed. Before the election they were promised that they would be out of the tax system. After the election they are still in the tax system. We have seen this happen with one promise after another.

  One little joy that older people might have is a drink when the sun goes over the yardarm. But if the government had had its way, they would have been hit again on budget night by a 55 per cent increase in the excise on wine. So they could not even avoid an increase when having a drink to drown their sorrows because of the promises that have been broken by this government.

  All of these increases are inflationary. They eat and eat and eat away at the disposable incomes of older people, particularly self-funded retirees whose investment income has already been significantly eroded over the last 18 months.

  How much compensation is the government providing for all these hikes in taxes and charges? In budget mark 1 the government promised a measly $100 rebate 12 months down the track for some older people. That has since increased to $150. However, it must be remembered that the rebate does not apply to pensioners; nor does it apply to older people with incomes over $20,700 a year. Of course, there is not one mention in the budget of possible alternatives to the ditched `no tax by 1995' promise.

  These tax hikes are not the only nasties for older people in the budget. During the election campaign the government was very keen to point out the extent of the real increase in home and community care funding since the program's inception in 1985. However, for the second year running, the government has reduced the real rate of growth in HACC funding. It is now down to an all-time low of six per cent. While much less than 50 per cent of the HACC target population is able to access the services, these reductions must be questioned. They also run counter to the government's stated objective of encouraging greater independence for the frail aged. Such a funding cut really makes one wonder whether this objective is dollar driven rather than care driven.

  The number of people with dementia in the community is rising rapidly, yet in this budget the government sees fit to make savings of $2.7 million to its special services program. Of even greater concern are the funding difficulties faced by voluntary organisations which are striving to cater for the needs of demented frail aged by establishing dementia-specific hostel facilities.

  I would recommend that Senator Burns go to one of these facilities and see the troubles they are having in trying to deal with the difficulties of coping with dementia residents on budgets which are totally inadequate. Every one I visit tells me that its viability is threatened. It must be recognised that current funding and assessment methods do not adequately reflect the care needs of older people with dementia and that the end result is that these people end up in inappropriate forms of care, often at greater cost to the taxpayer.

  I would like to finish talking about the impact of the budget on older people by referring to two budget decisions that highlight the deception and hypocrisy of this government. I turn firstly to the hypocrisy. Last year the previous Minister for Social Security, Dr Blewett, came out and attacked the coalition over and over again—he lambasted us—for suggesting that the age at which women receive the age pension should be increased to 65. He went right out of the tree. But in another post-election backflip, the government announced that the budget for 1995 would increase the age pension age for women to 65. He attacked us before the election, when we told the truth, and then changed it around after it.

Senator Burns —It was in line with equality for women.

Senator PATTERSON —What did you say, Senator Burns? That was in line with equality for women? Well, you should have told them that before the election. Why did you not have the gall to go out and tell them before the election that it is equality for women? You did not go out; you waited until after the election. What a wimp.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Zakharov)—Order! Senator Patterson, you will address your remarks through the chair.

Senator PATTERSON —He is a wimp, Madam Acting Deputy President.

Senator Collins —Nobody is listening, Senator Patterson.

Senator PATTERSON —I do not care whether anybody is listening. Senator Burns says in this chamber that it is equality for women. Why did he not say it before the election? That is the question.

Senator Burns —I have been saying it for years.

Senator PATTERSON —What absolute rubbish. It is a total about-face. Unfortunately, there is no indication as to whether this government intends to undertake positive reforms to improve labour market prospects of older Australians such as abolishing compulsory retirement or introducing age discrimination legislation.

  I cannot believe that Senator Burns can sit there and say it is equality for women. It staggers me that those opposite did not say anything before the election and then brought it in after the election. And Senator Burns sits there and says `equality for women'. Oh. That is just unbelievable—

Senator Collins —How do you get that into Hansard?

Senator PATTERSON —I do not know how that could be put into Hansard. How about `an exasperated sigh from the speaker'?

  I now turn to the government's deception. In the budget the government announced that the target ratio of community aged care packages, or CACPs, per thousand aged 70 and over would be increased from five to 7.5. This is what it says in the budget—but when is it going to happen? By the year 2000. And the number of funded hostel places would be reduced accordingly.

  The department has admitted that the 7.5 is only a mid-term target that will be achieved around the turn of the century. The current number of CACPs is a mere fraction of 7.5—in fact, probably less than one per cent. However, in every piece of government literature that I have seen since the election, the false impression is given that the 7.5 places per thousand have already been achieved or will be achieved very soon. But let the public know that it is around the year 2000—another beyond 2000 promise.

  There is no indication that this is only a target, and very rarely is it ever mentioned that it will be offset by a corresponding decrease in hostel places. So those opposite herald the increase to 7.5 when, really, that target will not be reached until the year 2000, and they do not tell people that that is being balanced by decreases in hostel places. It is sort of like a magician's sleight of hand, but we do not see the rabbit out of the hat until the year 2000. It is just another example of how the Labor government is willing to deceive and mislead the Australian public to meet its own political ends.

  Many of the issues that I have addressed tonight pertain to women as well. Senator Panizza talked about the government's not addressing road funding in this budget. The issue that women in rural areas repeatedly discuss with me is road funding. The Country Women's Association some years ago did a survey and asked women in rural areas which Commonwealth funding issue most concerned them. The answer was road funding. One might have thought education, health or many other issues, but road funding was the issue those women were concerned about. They were concerned about how the products would get from the farm gate to the distributors; they were concerned about how their kids were going to get home when they drove their cars; and they were concerned about their spouses driving into town to pick up supplies for their farms. Road funding is an issue for women.

  For many women who are using the second car at home, which is most probably a car that requires leaded petrol, the increase in the petrol excise will have an effect. The increase in wholesale sales tax on many of the items they purchase—household goods—will affect them. The budget does nothing to address the unemployment problem for women. It also affects the pharmaceutical benefits scheme delay and the delay in the dental health program. All of those delays affect women.

  It is also of concern to the coalition that one of the Labor government's major election promises to women, namely the introduction of a home child-care allowance, would be provided 18 months after the election—again, off into the never-never. What the election was about was lies and what this budget is about is promises that go off into the future. It is typical of members of this Labor government who lied their way into government and who, in fact, have done very little in this budget to address the issues of unemployment which concern women. (Time expired)