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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7788


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (13:15): The new cost-of-living concession being provided by the South Australian Labor government is welcome support for pensioners, concession cardholders and other low-income Australians. It consists of a $200-per-year payment to help pensioners and concession cardholders with cost-of-living pressures. This bill introduces a measure to exclude the cost-of-living concession payment made by the South Australian government from being assessed as income under the Social Security and Veterans' Affairs income tests. Labor supports this bill. Federal Labor supports the South Australian Labor government's efforts to support pensioners and vulnerable Australians.

The reason why this new payment is being made to pensioners by the state government is, in the first place, that the Abbott-Turnbull government cut its support for pension concessions. In the 2014 budget, the Liberal government cut $1.3 billion from pensioner concessions. Without any warning or discussion with the states, the Abbott-Turnbull government walked away from the national partnership agreement on certain concessions for pensioner and seniors cardholders—$1.3 billion cut from pensioner concession across the country. These are the concessions that helped pensioners with the cost of essential services like electricity, water and gas. Importantly, it also provided concessions for council rates. It is one of the most important ways that government helped pensioners with the cost of living.

I know these cuts have been a huge issue in South Australia, and South Australian pensioners will not forget the Abbott-Turnbull government's record on pensioner concessions. Nor will they forget this Liberal government's attempt to cut pension indexation. That cut to the pensioner concession would have seen an $80-a-week cut to the pension within 10 years. Nor will they forget this Liberal government's policy to increase the pension eligibility age to 70. That is an increase that would see Australia have the oldest pension age in the developed world. Nor will they forget the changes to the pension assets test that will see 330,000 age pensioners worse off. This Liberal government's track record on pensions is terrible.

What we are seeing here today is the South Australian government coming in and fixing up the mess left by the Abbott-Turnbull government—as many other state governments have done since the federal government cut $1.3 billion from pensioner concessions. The South Australian government has decided that the best way of fixing up this Liberal government's mess is to provide a $200 payment to pensioners. Labor welcomes this measure, which excludes the income from that payment from the means test of Social Security payments and Veterans' Affairs payments. This means that pensioners' and seniors' Centrelink payments will not be affected by receipt of the new payment. Therefore, they will receive the full benefit of the cost-of-living concession payment. I would like to add my personal congratulations to the South Australian government for this important contribution to help pensioners deal with the cost of living. On that basis, Labor supports this bill.