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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: Monday 29 March 2004: pension cuts; Iraq.

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Wayne SWAN MP Shadow Minister for Family and Community Services



SWAN: Well this Government is trying to skate through this election like it did through the last election saying one thing before the election and doing another thing after the election. Yesterday the Prime Minister said there was no developed proposal for a common working age pension payment, yet Senator Patterson’s leaked letter from yesterday shows conclusively that the government does have a developed proposal which will reduce the future rate of pensions to sole parents, disability support pensioners and carers. So, it’s quite clear, the government has an advanced plan to cut the rate of pensions paid to these people into the future, and it’s hoping to skate through this election campaign without owning up to what it’s real intentions are, just like they went through the last election campaign with family payments, promising $2 billion extra for families, after the election they clawed back $1 billion. Sole parents, disability support pensioners and carers really do have something to fear about these plans that Mr Howard has locked in his basement.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister said yesterday that he plans to streamline the pension but not necessarily cut them.

SWAN: Does anyone ever believe Mr Howard when he uses those weasel words? The Prime Minister yesterday, did not say that he has no plans to cut the future pensions of sole parents, carers and disability support pensioners. Before the last election he never fessed up to his plans to change the eligibility of disability support pensioners, and after the election, came along and tried to cut the pension of 200,000 disability support pensioners, by then, $60 a fortnight. One thing before the election, another thing after the election, weasel words before the election, reel in pensions after the election, if he’s re-elected.

JOURNALIST: Is Labor embarrassed by the election of Campbell Newman as Lord Mayor of Brisbane?

SWAN: No - I’m not embarrassed at all by this. We’ve had a long-term Labor administration in Queensland and I think that if there are any lessons in it, they’re all for Mr Howard - that long term leaders are in danger in this current political environment.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible).. in the Herald today that the tax cuts worth up to $10 billion in the budget… (inaudible)?

SWAN: Well there’s no doubt that the government is looking to provide a very big election eve bribe, and one of the ways they may be intending to fund that bribe is by future cuts to the rate of pension paid to sole parents, disability support pensioners and carers. That is certainly on the agenda. There’s no doubt that this is the highest taxing government in Australian history and it has an enormous war chest there. The question is that will people trust them to deliver long term and lasting benefits or will they promise one thing before the election and come back and claw it back in another way after the election.

JOURNALIST: Did Mark Latham make a unilateral decision on bringing the troops home?

SWAN: No, of course he didn’t make a unilateral decision. He took it to the caucus.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

SWAN: He reported his position to the caucus.

JOURNALIST: Before or after he made the public announcement on radio?

SWAN: Well he put forward his position and I know he discussed it with many of his colleagues so he engaged in consultation with caucus and with his senior colleagues.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

SWAN: He has discussed this issue extensively with senior colleagues and with the caucus and there’s precisely no difference in his approach to this issue as there has been to many others and there is no issue here at all.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

SWAN: I’m the Family and Community Services spokesman, so I’m not going to go through who he may or may not have had the discussion with. There’s been discussions about this whole issue over a long period of time. There’s nothing abnormal About what we’ve said on this issue.

JOURNALIST: Why do it when the government was on the back foot over health?

SWAN: There’s only one question to be answered here and that’s by Mr Howard. Which Christmas is he going to bring the troops back by - this one, the one after or the one after that? That’s the question that hasn’t been answered here. There’s only one party that’s got a clear position here - that’s the Labor Party.

JOURNALIST: You’re absolutely, totally comfortable with the position?

SWAN: I’m absolutely, totally comfortable with the position that Mark Latham has taken on this issue, both the process and the decision and I support it 100%.

JOURNALIST: Is the government being hypocritical in criticising Labor when they announced the return of a third of the troops by the middle of the year?

SWAN: Is the government is being hypocritical? This government is being outrageously hypocritical. The Prime Minister last year said it would be a matter of months not years. Last week he said it would be indefinite, and yesterday on television, he said he was bringing some of the troops back. He has been chopping and changing, jumping around all over this issue. He doesn’t know whether he’s Arthur or Martha. And there’s only one issue. The Labor Party has a firm position. Mr Howard is chopping and changing all of the time and playing his usual political games.

ENDS Mon 29 Mar 04 Web:

Contact: Wayne Swan on 0418 795 329 Matt Linden on 0407 430 613