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Monday, 22 July 2019
Page: 400

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (15:23): This government is out of touch, as shown by Senator Ruston's comment on pensions. It is absolutely symptomatic of what is a poor culture in our government in terms of looking after older Australians. Now, what is the government's position on the age pension in Australia at the moment? Senator Ruston seems to think it's generous, while Mr Frydenberg, the nation's Treasurer, says he understands that pensioners have challenging times and, indeed, that pensioners do it really, really tough. Senator Ruston did a disservice to this place this afternoon when she would not say whether she had been counselled for her remarks. I can only take that to mean that she was—although, frankly, the whole country was counselling her on the inappropriateness of those remarks, as the many pensioners who called in to 3AW after she made those remarks illustrated.

The government needs to make it clear: are pensioners doing it tough or is the pension generous? Is it little wonder that we on this side of the chamber are worried, or that the nation's pensioners are worried, about what might be in the next government's budget? Will they want to remove the energy supplement? Older Australians deserve much better than this out-of-touch government.

Let's have a look at exactly what Minister Ruston said. She said:

I don’t think a debate about whether I could live on—

the pension—

or not is relevant. It is a generous amount of money that the Australian taxpayers make available to our older Australians.

It doesn't seem very ambiguous to me. She said very clearly that the pension is generous. Neil Mitchell, the interviewer, asked, 'The pension is generous?' Senator Ruston did not respond to that at the time. She was already moving on. She said, 'The other thing that we also need to realise is …' and Neil said, 'I'm sorry; did you say the pension is generous?' Here, Senator Ruston finally seemed to wise up to the political problem she had made for herself. She said:

In terms of the amount of money that taxpayers fund our social welfare system, we put a lot of money into it.

Putting a lot of money into something does not equal generosity. Even if it is one of the highest and largest amounts of expenditure on the books for our nation, that doesn't equate to generosity. There is absolutely no correlation between the size of the amount of money that's put aside in our nation's budget and the need.

As the per capita report that we asked about shows, $66 a day is not generous. This per capita report makes clear that the age pension is barely effective in keeping our most financially vulnerable and older citizens out of poverty. They say that as one of the wealthiest nations in the world we should be looking beyond simple survival for our oldest citizens. What do I take that as code for? If we're going to look beyond simple survival, then that would have some quotient of generosity in it, I would think. But this report shows that age pension dependency in Australia means a life of poverty and deprivation for thousands of our fellow Australians. They highlight that Australia can and should do better than this.

It is little wonder that pensioners around Australia reacted so angrily to this, and I think Senator Ruston should continue to be held to account.

Question agreed to.