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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4375

Senator SIEWERT (5:25 PM) —As I said earlier, we are not necessarily saying that we should not be taking this step. The point here is that we do not know all the ramifications. Community consultation has not occurred. Yes, I do take the point that the Harmer review did not talk about issues around the single pension. However, I am sure that 2,000 people did not say that you should raise the pension age. There were 2,000 submissions, not 2,000 people saying we should raise the pension age.

The point here is that, even if you undertook a consultation process for six months until the end of the year and then brought in legislation, you would not be doing it, bam, like that. You might also be able to inform the Australian community about what you are doing to address those very significant issues around the 50 per cent of people that are already on income support, that are already aged between 60 and 65 and that will now be on Newstart for another two years. There cannot be any confidence in the community that they are going to have quality of life when, as I said earlier, once these changes go through, Newstart will be $106 below the single age pension. So there are significant quality of life issues here. One of the reasons that you are increasing the age pension is quality of life. It was recognised that as people aged they could not survive on the previous base rate of the pension. But now we are saying that it is okay for those same people, at 65, to receive below what the pension was for another two years, unless the government moves to address the difference between Newstart and the age pension.

I am glad Senator Xenophon raised the issue that some workers are physically exhausted and that it is a real struggle for them to continue working for those extra two years. We did not touch on that group of women that work in areas like hospitality and retail. People think it is mainly men who do hard physical labour and whose jobs have taken a great toll on them. If you are working in retail and hospitality—

Senator Xenophon —Cleaning.

Senator SIEWERT —and cleaning, areas which are largely dominated by women, that takes a huge toll as well. So, although people automatically think about blue-collar workers being physically exhausted from their work, there is also a cohort of women who are exhausted from their work and who are being asked to be on their feet for another two years. These issues have not been dealt with. The government has not articulated how it is going to look after that group of people who are already on income support and moving through. I have heard the government say, ‘We are going to be doing more training.’ I have some issues with that because at the moment I do not think it is well targeted to that group of people that are coming out of employment around the age of 55 and trying to find more work. There are a lot of people that are continuing to work beyond the age of 65; I absolutely acknowledge that. But there is a group that is not. I do not think the training packages are there yet. I would like to know what the government is doing beyond what it is already doing and how it is going to help those people that are already on income support.

Minister, you touched on an issue around the work bonus. I have a specific question on the work bonus that I was going to ask later, but since you have touched on it I will ask it now. Could the government explain why the work bonus will not apply to people on the disability support pension? As we know, there is a big push to get people on the disability support pension into the workforce, and where they can enter the workforce and they have got support that is a really good idea. I am just wondering what the rationale was for not providing the work bonus to people on the disability support pension.