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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5766

Senator ADAMS (3:22 PM) —I also rise to take note of the answers given by Senator Evans this afternoon. Without doubt, pensioners in this country are finding it hard to make ends meet. They need more financial assistance to offer them some relief from rising petrol prices, rising rents, rising costs of pharmaceuticals and rising costs of tea and coffee. Yet Labor prefers to continue delaying the decision to provide our seniors with more financial assistance, despite the fact that both Mr Rudd and Mr Swan admitted that they could not survive on the single age pension.

The annoying part is that we have to wait until February when the Harmer report is to be handed down, and then maybe in the budget in May our pensioners will get some relief. Labor is denying pensioners urgent relief. Both Mr Rudd and Mr Swan have been all over the place on the pensions issue, giving promises one day only to take them back the day after. Australian pensioners now have no idea whether the government will support them in the future. Only last week, Mr Rudd hosed down expectations that older Australians could get an increase in their pensions in next year’s budget. Mr Rudd said that the federal government may not be able to afford extra payments now due to the effects of the global credit crisis.

I note in the West Australian today that the number of elderly people now going to the food bank and the soup kitchen has grown dramatically, and the number of young people who are unable to get accommodation has also increased over the last month. These issues, with the global credit crisis, are certainly starting to play havoc for those people who are really and truly battling insofar as their pensions are concerned. If the government is not going to do anything until next May, I just wonder how these people are going to exist and what can be done. This is why the opposition is doing its best to raise the issue with the government time and time again, so that they will finally, hopefully, take action.

The Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Mr Lindsay Tanner, backed Mr Rudd’s threat by saying to journalists last Thursday that ‘pension reform was just one of the issues on the table for the budget’ and that ‘the priority was steering the wider economy through the financial crisis’. Naturally, senior lobby groups were not happy with this announcement. Mr Tanner’s comments showed a great lack of understanding of how the economy works. He acknowledged this himself only today by stating that the government was actively considering spending part of the $26.6 billion budget surplus to stimulate the economy. Mr Tanner said that raising pensions would be one option. However he would not give details of exactly what is under consideration or when it would be put into action.

Mr Tanner was forced to make this announcement today after the Australia Institute published a discussion paper yesterday which stated that an immediate increase in the pension would be the right measure to deal with the global credit crisis. The Australia Institute said that pensions should be increased to boost the national economy giving it an immediate injection of cash. The Australia Institute also said:

Pensioners spend less money on imported cars and overseas holidays than higher income earners, which means that the money has a greater affect on the Australian economy.

It is interesting, is it not, that Mr Rudd and Mr Tanner said last week that they would probably not be able to find any money for pensioners in next year’s budget due to the global credit crunch; yet, on the other hand, experts and think tanks say that the best way to deal with the credit crisis is to increase the pensions. I urge the government to give pensioners more money before Christmas. The best way to do this is to pass the Urgent Relief for Single Age Pensioners Bill 2008 in the House of Representatives, granting an increase in the single age, single service age and the widow B pension of $30 a week. Pensioners need this money now, not next year, and so does the Australian economy.

Question agreed to.