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Thursday, 24 May 2001
Page: 24287

Senator LUDWIG (10:32 AM) —Ilistened carefully to the comments made by Senator Schacht in relation to theCompensation (Japanese Internment) Bill 2001. The issues he raised about European internment are issues on which I similarly await advice from the department. He raised some unusual instances and, on that basis, it would be extremely unfortunate if those people were not considered under the legislation. However, I do understand that the government has a view to ensuring that former POWs and widows of POWs are dealt with in a kind manner. The government's approach to this can only be measured by its response to some of the questions that Senator Schacht raised, such as the instance of the British POW and whether he would also be entitled to the payment.

Turning now to the Family and Community Services Legislation Amendment (One-off Payment to the Aged) Bill 2001, the opposition will support this bill; we believe that it is of benefit to pensioners. The government has provided for a one-off $300 payment to pensioners in its budget, and that payment will certainly go some way to addressing their concerns. The one-off payment creates an interesting position for them. One wonders, though, how they would have felt had they received the $1,000 which I understood the government to have originally promised them. Maybe the government could have considered longer term strategies that may have been able to assist pensioners with their difficulties in coming to grips with the GST. Of course, that is a matter that we will not know about because, as we are fully cognisant, the government has pointed to the fine print in relation to that one-off payment to pensioners.

The opposition would not, of course, oppose the one-off payment of $300 to pensioners. I am sure pensioners will be very pleased to receive such a payment, but one has to consider that it is not an ongoing measure. It is not a measure that provides some relief for pensioners over the longer period because, as we know, the GST is here to stay. Every year pensioners will have to confront the GST in their cost structures, and one hopes that the $300 will help them. I notice that the member for Lilley has taken the view that older Australians have been short-changed as a consequence of this one-off payment.

Some might say that, for pensioners, the GST is a life sentence. Hundreds of thousands of pensioners, as I said, were promised a payment of $1,000. But, in some instances, they will be short-changed by $700 and will receive only $300. Let us look at the two per cent pension increase that this government clawed back. The pension clawback short-changed pensioners by an amount of $7.90 per fortnight for singles and $13.20 per fortnight for couples. The issue for self-funded retirees is not currently before the Senate, but it goes to the same general area and will provide problems for pensioners in the longer run.

In conclusion, while Labor support the package of four bills, we note that the government has brought them before the Senate in a very short space of time and has sought an immediate response to the bills. We have been forthcoming. However, in the light of day better scrutiny might have provided a more considered response.