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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2012

Senator FAULKNER —My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Minister, can you explain why the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance suggested that the National Commission of Audit advise the government on the appropriateness of the current benchmark for setting the pension? Were you, as the Minister for Social Security, consulted by these ministers before the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury wrote to the National Commission of Audit on this matter?

Senator NEWMAN —I understand that previous governments have looked over the years at the long-term consequences for the nation of the age pension and how it should be assessed. This is the situation for any government that is responsible for looking at long-term policy development. The fact remains that this is an independent report to government looking to the medium- and long-term direction of policy and administration. There are a number of benchmarks that could be established.

It seems to me that one of the things the opposition is not prepared to recognise is the fact that the regular indexation of pensions was introduced by the Fraser coalition government during the late seventies. So why should we be in any way wanting to walk away from a fair go for elderly Australians? The Whitlam government did not introduce that; it was the Fraser government.

Senator Bob Collins —This is a long way of saying you never had a clue.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections. Senator Newman has the call.

Senator NEWMAN —I know that those opposite are feeling pretty desperate being in opposition. They have to try to run with any hare that comes. If frightening old people is part of their game plan, then they are going to be thrashed and thrashed and thrashed. I have nothing to add other than that a responsible government of whatever colour should be looking to the future of national expenditure. That is what is happening currently, and I hope it will happen in the future. If the lot on the other side of the chamber were ever to get into government again, we would be back in the same position we are now: needing a commission of audit so that the taxpayers of Australia would know how they were placed.

Senator FAULKNER —Mr President, on a supplementary question: I ask Senator Newman if, as Minister for Social Security, she was consulted by the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance on this matter. I also ask: why did the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury write to the National Commission of Audit on 16 April saying that the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance had met; that they had suggested the current policy of benchmarking the age pension level against 25 per cent of average weekly earnings be considered by the Commission of Audit; and that they wanted the Commission of Audit to examine which particular measure of average weekly earnings was the most appropriate? Why were you not consulted on these matters?

Senator NEWMAN —I have made it clear in previous questions with these sorts of fishing expeditions that I am not going to help the opposition in wanting to know what is going on within the government.

Senator Faulkner —Were you consulted?

Senator NEWMAN —I have told you that you will not be trying these fishing expeditions with any success. Mr President, this fellow over here is a very slow learner. Can I tell him again once and for all that this government will not be discussing the innermost workings of government anymore than your government chose to do so when we were in opposition.