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Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Page: 23

Senator CASH (3:04 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship (Senator Evans) to questions without notice asked by Senators Bernardi and Ryan today relating to pensions.

I am at a loss. What yesterday was a ‘political stunt’ and what has been a ‘political stunt’ for several months is good policy today. Those on the other side are taking a lesson in ‘Political Backflip 101’. The Rudd government has consistently, over the past few months, refused the opposition’s heed to ease the plight of pensioners and increase the single age pension. Those on the other side of the chamber have repeatedly referred to the opposition’s calls to give pensioners a fair go as a ‘political stunt’. This is despite members of the government themselves, including the Prime Minister, admitting that it would be almost impossible to continue to live on the current single age pension. Let us not forget what Mr Rudd himself said, as reported in an article on page 12 of the Age on Wednesday 10 September 2008: ‘Living on the single age pension is very, very tough.’

This is a government that went to the election last year promising to ease the cost of living for all Australians, including pensioners. What did they do weeks ago, when given an opportunity by those on this side of the chamber to address the issue and to bring some relief to pensioners? They did nothing. But, worse than that, the response that we received from them was that what we proposed was a political stunt. Only last week, Mr Rudd further dampened the hopes of pensioners in relation to any potential increase, saying that the federal government may not be able to afford extra payments now due to the effects of the global credit crisis. What we have today, however, is a political backflip, an adoption by the government of the coalition’s policy to ease the plight of pensioners. We now have Mr Rudd saying that this package is necessary to underpin positive economic growth and to stave off the effects of the global credit crunch. Yet, in an interview with Laurie Oakes on the Channel 9 Sunday morning news on Sunday 5 October, when Laurie Oakes put to the Deputy Prime Minister the following:

Wouldn’t a quicker and more efficient way of stimulating the economy be to give more money to pensioners because they have got no choice, they’ve got to spend it?

And then:

Why not give them money now, stimulate the economy and let them live decently?

The Deputy Prime Minister said in response:

We’ve got the Harmer process and we intend for the Harmer process to come to its conclusion.

But now, only nine days later, we are told that the package is necessary to underpin positive economic growth and stave off the effects of the global credit crunch. Let us call it what it really is: a political backflip and an adoption by the government of the coalition’s good economic policy. Those on this side of the chamber have repeatedly called on the government to do something about the plight of pensioners. We have been debating this point at length. Whilst the Rudd government stalled with another review into pensions, we showed leadership and we acted. What did those on the other side do when we acted? They tried to vote down our piece of good economic policy. Every Labor Senator voted against stimulating the economy by providing relief to pensioners. But, worse than that, they belittled what the coalition put forward as ‘a stunt’. It is very clear what has happened. The Rudd government has run out of ideas and now it needs to steal from this side of the chamber.

Here they go again. They borrowed from us during the last election campaign and they are now adopting our policy. But we are not jealous with our economic expertise. The Leader of the Opposition, with his experienced team behind him, has already publicly offered to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer several more practical and effective economic measures to deal with the current economic crisis. Those opposite would do well to work with us during this difficult time. Like all senators on this side, I am watching to see what other coalition measures the Rudd government will adopt to steer Australia through the challenging days ahead.