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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5748

Senator HUMPHRIES (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. Will the government commit to immediately helping our pensioners and stimulating our economy by adopting the coalition’s plan to increase the pension by at least $30 a week?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) —I thank the senator for the question. It is pretty similar to questions that I have been asked in previous weeks when, on behalf of the government, I made clear our position that we have committed to reform of the pension system and that we would do that with a report which will come down by February of next year and feed into the broader taxation reform inquiry. As the Senate would know, a bipartisan Senate inquiry report recommended the review of the pension system. We have acted on that with the Harmer review, and its report—the final report—will be with us by no later than February next year.

We do understand that pensioners have been doing it tough. We therefore, in our first budget in May, made a significant down payment on providing extra financial support for pensioners. That budget contained $7.5 billion in additional payments for seniors, carers and the disabled. So we have made a significant financial commitment—an injection of payments to seniors, carers and the disabled. It may well be that the opposition have now discovered the plight of pensioners and are saying that it is not enough, but the bottom line is that they had 11 years—they had 11 budgets—to do something about this, and they did not. For them, having gone into opposition, to suddenly be all care and no responsibility is, I think, fairly cynical. The opposition may now wander around Australia saying, ‘We ought to subsidise petrol; we ought to increase pensions; we ought not to worry about having a decent sized surplus,’ and lose any credibility they once had for economic management. But we know that we are in very difficult financial times. There is a great deal of uncertainty in the global economy. Pressure is being placed on the Australian economy like it is on all other economies. We are particularly well placed compared to many other economies, but we are under pressure. We do know that these events will impact upon us. That is why this government is providing strong leadership and prudent management to ensure the financial security of all Australians.

We made a range of announcements which seek to reassure Australians about the financial position of Australia. We argue that we are very well placed comparatively. We argue that our banks are strong. But we have also taken very large measures to try and provide confidence in the market and confidence in the Australian public with a guarantee on deposits, which is part of a range of measures we have taken. So we are taking what we regard as strong, prudent measures to protect all Australians, and that includes pensioners. Pensioners also benefit from having their savings protected under the measures we announced on the weekend.

Senator Abetz interjecting—

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Some pensioners do have savings, Senator Abetz, and they are concerned about them. What our measures do is seek to allay those concerns, to reinforce the government’s confidence in our banking system and in the financial settings in the Australian economy. We will do everything we can to protect all Australians from this current financial crisis, but there will be impacts on the Australian economy. We are open and honest about that, but we are providing the sort of leadership which we think is important in these times. Rather than wandering around trying to organise stunts, I would urge the opposition to join us in that responsible approach. (Time expired)

Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I take it that is a no to the $30 a week for pensioners. If the government will not do that, will it at least commit to an immediate one-off payment, similar to the one-off $500 payment for pensioners committed to by the Canberra Liberals if elected at this Saturday’s election, which will ease the burden on this section of the community.

Government senators interjecting—

Senator HUMPHRIES —I am glad those opposite think it is so funny. They do not live on a pensioner’s pension. Will the minister commit to at least consider that payment to ease the burden on this section of the community and, at the same time, stimulate the economy?

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I can assure the senator that we will not be taking our economic advice from the Canberra Liberals and any stunts they may pull in the election campaign. What we are is focused on the needs of pensioners and Australian families and on providing the sort of financial security they know that they need and the sort of leadership that is required in these difficult times. That is what we are focused on. As I said, we made a huge down payment in the last budget to try and improve the lot of pensioners, carers and the disabled. We have committed to trying to fundamentally reform the payment system that supports them, and we will continue to act in a responsible, measured way that is in the best interests of all Australians and the national economy.