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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5763

Senator ARBIB (3:07 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate today. Once again, it is an opportunity to highlight the sheer hypocrisy and duplicity of those on the other side of the chamber. For Senator Humphries to actually raise this issue in relation to the ACT election, to try and politicise an issue as important as this in the middle of an ACT election, just shows what a cruel stunt this is. By doing that, Senator Humphries actually demeans the push that he has tried to make today. This is also a stunt that has been put forward by the member for Wentworth and the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull. He is following on from the Evel Knievel of Australian politics, Brendan Nelson—the man who came up with some of the greatest stunts we have seen in this parliament. We saw him in the truck driving around, we saw his fuel stunt and then he came up with his stunt on seniors. You may ask: how do we know that this is a stunt? Why is it a stunt? It is pretty clear: it is a stunt because in his policy he has left out two million pensioners. Two million pensioners have been left out of their plan. They talk about single pensioners. What about married pensioners? What about carers? What about pensioners with a disability? What about widows? There are two million people who miss out under the coalition’s plan for just a basic $30 increase, a figure that was not based on any science but simply plucked out of thin air. That is how we know that it is a stunt.

The government appreciates how important this issue is. We appreciate that seniors have made a contribution to this country. We appreciate that the population is ageing and that something needs to be done. That is why, in the 2008-09 budget, we did something. We took concrete action, and it amounts to an additional $5.2 billion over five years. This compares to $1.3 billion provided to seniors in the last Howard budget. The Rudd government has increased support for single age pensioners—on an individual basis—above and beyond their fortnightly payments by $900 this year. That is made up of a permanent increase in the utilities allowance from $107 per annum to $500 per annum and a $500 bonus, which amounts to a six per cent increase in single age pensioner income. On top of this we have also indexed it, with pensioners receiving a $9.10 per fortnight increase in March 2008 and a further increase of $15.30 in September 2008. That is concrete action from this side of the House and concrete action by the Rudd government.

Let us compare this to the coalition and to the Liberal Party. Senator Humphries has come in today and tried to use this issue, as I said, to score political points in the ACT election. What he forgets to say is that the Liberals and the Nationals were in government for 12 years. They had 12 years to do something about this issue. He forgets to talk about Mal Brough, who took to the cabinet a plan to increase the base rate of the pension by a similar amount. What happened? They knocked him over. Malcolm Turnbull was part of that. He sat at the cabinet table that opposed an increase for pensioners, opposed an increase to the base rate. He was there. How duplicitous of him now to come forward with it as his policy.

In fact, Malcolm Turnbull has form on this. Let us talk about his interview with Steve Price. We all remember what the shadow ageing minister, Margaret May, said to Steve Price on 16 May 2008. Price said:

Let me just be clear there, the opposition is now endorsing an increase in the base rate of the pension.

To which the shadow minister replied:

Yes. Absolutely.

That looks pretty clear cut to me. And what did Malcolm Turnbull say straight after?

We have not got a policy to raise the base rate of the pension.’

He said, ‘We have not got a policy.’ We all read in the Sunday Telegraph two weeks ago that Malcolm Turnbull said that he did not support Brendan Nelson’s plan. It is there. This is just sheer duplicity by the Liberal Party. They had 12 years to do something about this issue—12 years to help pensioners. There are two million pensioners who need that support now.