Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Urgent Relief for Single Age Pensioners Legislation
Suspension of Standing and Sessional Orders
Let me remind the Acting Prime Minister that the Acting Prime Minister is running this country today. The pensioners of Australia are not interested in her excursion into political history. They want to know what the government will do for them now and the answer that the government has for pensioners, the answer that the so-in-touch Treasurer there, running through his comic lines written by Bob Ellis, has. He sneers. He writes better lines than the ones you do yourself. The answer that they have—the only answer they have—is nothing. They have nothing to give pensioners, nothing to relieve a pension that they acknowledge is completely inadequate. And they claim that this is not urgent. They say this can wait. Till what? When? Until the Ken Henry review reports, till the end of 2009.
The coalition’s proposal of $30 a week will have the effect of increasing the rate of the single pension to approximately two-thirds of the rate of the couple pension, up from under 60 per cent. The percentage of the couple pension that the single pension in our system represents is low by OECD standards, and this can be seen as correcting an immediate anomaly at a time when we have seen extraordinary price inflation. It is an immediate challenge, and it is one where justice needs to be done.
We have heard complaints from the government as they try to defend their lack of action today, as they try to give the coldest of cold comfort to the pensioners of Australia with their recitation of political history. They claim that the previous government did not increase the pension. Let me tell you: in 1997—if you want some political history—it was a decision by the coalition government to link the age pensions to growing incomes, at 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings rather than the CPI, and that meant that pensioners directly shared in the benefits of a stronger economy. That was concrete action. It was the coalition government that introduced the utilities allowance. It was the coalition government that increased the amount of the age pension a part-rate pensioner receives above the income-test-free area by reducing the pension income test withdrawal rate from 50c in the dollar to 40c in July 2000. And it was the coalition government that passed the legislation to halve the assets test taper rate. The coalition has stood by pensioners throughout its time in government.
But, you know, Mr Speaker, the task of government is continuing. The government is now led by Mr Rudd, by the Acting Prime Minister here and by the Treasurer. They have got the responsibility today. Just as the coalition responded to the needs of pensioners when it was in government, so it is the responsibility of this government to act today. The government has the ability to act. There it is. All the work has been done. You do not need to set up a committee. You do not need to have a review. The bill is there. You can pick it up. This can be passed. The pensioners can get the $30. The only thing that stands between the single age pensioners and the single service pensioners of Australia and $30 a week is the cold indifference of this government.