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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 131

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women's Issues) (6:28 PM) —The government's commitment during the election was to give assistance to seniors. We focused on seniors and that is why this benefit is for seniors. We focused on self-funded retirees in the last second reading speech, not the speech we tabled. We believe that these people, as Senator Greig has said, have contributed throughout their lives. They are not dependent on the pension. We do give them a Commonwealth seniors health care card, which gives them concessions for pharmaceutical benefits, access to the relevant Medicare safety net and also the higher bulk-billing rate. Pensioners get benefits, as I said, of $450 in one jurisdiction to over $900 in another jurisdiction. One of the reasons that we set the amount at $200 was that it would bring it fairly close to the commitment that we had made, because we could not get the states to come on board. We were treating all self-funded retirees across the country in the same way. In some states, but not in others, this would bring them somewhere near or fairly close to what the states were giving them by way of concessions.

If you actually want me to say who is responsible, the states ought to be giving these people concessions. If these people had not looked after themselves, if they had not provided for themselves, then they would be on the pension, they would have a Commonwealth seniors health care card and they would be getting concessions. We are giving them concessions on the PBS and we are giving them assistance with the Medicare safety net. The states really ought to come up to the plate and give them the whole of the concessions, but they do not. So we believe it is appropriate for the Commonwealth to step in and assist them.

In order to recognise the contribution that others on age pensions have made, we will give them $100 per pensioner couple—$50 each six months—for assistance with their utilities allowance, understanding that they get, as a single or a couple household, between $450 and over $900 in concessions. So in that state, with the extra $100, the contribution is brought up to between $550 and over $1,000 in the top one. That is a significant contribution. I was interested that it does vary so much across the states. For Victoria, we are basically replacing the state concession for car registration, which was about $80 a year, which was ripped from pensioners in the last budget. The decision was made to recognise the contribution that Commonwealth seniors health care card holders and self-funded retirees with a CSH card made and to assist them in this way. But, whatever way you look at it, pensioners are still getting significantly more concessions across every jurisdiction and, when you take into account the $100, significantly more than self-funded retirees. That is why that decision was made to have a differential.

We cannot support the Democrat amendments. I have had some quick figures done; I am not saying that they are absolutely final. I am advised that the Democrats' age pensioner measure is about $444 million and the other income support measure is about $520 million. That comes to about $964 million. We have not costed in administrative costs and all the other things that go with it. What I would like Senator Greig to do is to come with me to the ERC and tell us where we are going to find $1 billion. I have to go to the ERC and say, `Where am I going to take it from? If you do not want to run up a budget deficit, where am I going to go?' I can tell you that that is not easy. You want to spend $1 billion tonight. Senator Greig nods his head. No wonder—sorry, Senator Greig—the Democrats are on the decline. You have lost the plot. Former Senator Walsh from Western Australia most probably was right. I used to sit on the other side and hear him talk about some of the Democrats' proposals. I did not quite appreciate why he made some of the derogatory comments he made, but I can see why he would. I would be sorely tempted on this occasion to follow down the path of Senator Walsh and name-call, but I will not.

Senator Chris Evans —To be fair, Senator Greig was in the Labor Party then, so we can't blame him.

Senator PATTERSON —He was in the Labor Party, was he?

Senator Chris Evans —Yes, and Senator Campbell was in the Democrats.

Senator PATTERSON —And former Senator Kernot was in the Democrats as well, before she had a cup of coffee with a few people. As much as I would love to do a lot of the things that the Democrats would love to do, and sometimes I would love to be a Democrat and be as generous as they are, I have got to face up to the ERC and find the money, and I cannot find $1 billion for this. So, I am sorry, Senator Greig; I cannot support your amendments.