House debates

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Matters of Public Importance

Older Australians

3:48 pm

Photo of Mrs Bronwyn BishopMrs Bronwyn Bishop (Mackellar, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Seniors) Share this | Hansard source

Indeed, they did write a letter. They gave every assurance to the Australian people that they would be a safe pair of hands if they were elected. How they have let the Australian people down. There is a litany of broken promises that we now see, where the government promised that it would not tamper with things that affect senior Australians in particular and yet it has. Look at superannuation: it ripped out of the system the benefits that we as a government put into it to allow people certainty.

Two of the favourite words that the government like to use are certainty and complexity. They have certainty when they say, ‘If we get our policy in it will be certain for this group or that group.’ But when they cannot answer the questions as to why it is unfair or why it will not work or why people cannot comprehend it, it is complexity. Those are their two favourite words. They are code words for saying, ‘We’re breaking a promise and we really don’t know how it’s going to work.’

There is the ETS that the government wants to impose and which it has just voted in favour of in this chamber. Let me point out that in this chamber the opposition has voted against that legislation every time it has been put into this chamber. It was also totally rejected in the Senate, as it will be again. Yet it wants to impose this huge tax on everything which will impact on people’s lives, particularly senior Australians. They will see the cascading effect of that tax which is placed on the very fundamentals we regard as essential to a civilised society—the ability to turn on the lights and the ability to have our cities lit so that we are not endangered by being knocked over or beaten up by somebody trying to pinch your handbag or whatever. That is a very real question, particularly for older Australian women who feel that they are intimidated and unable to get around unless there is light enabling them to feel safe. This tax would be put on this very fundamental energy source and cascade down through the price of everything: the price of petrol for their cars, the price of their cars, the price of their food, the price of their rent, the price of their house—everything. At the same time the government has ripped benefits out of the superannuation system, again putting doubts in people’s minds as to whether superannuation is a good investment for people to make.

Because we were solid about that in government we have seen people’s superannuation savings grow from around $450 billion to over a trillion dollars. This is because people did feel safe. When we said, ‘If you are over 60 and your superannuation stream of income comes from a source which is taxed, you will not have to pay tax on that,’ it was welcomed enormously by people who saw this as a chance to be able to live well in their older age and have a good life. Yet I meet people in the streets now who simply say, ‘I am scared stiff about my super,’ because they feel that it is under attack and because so many things that this government promised it would not touch it is touching.

When can we see the Henry report? Why won’t they release it so that we can all have a look? This is the same Mr Henry about whom, if you were in the Senate chamber any day this week and went through the budget forecasts, you would find that the figures are so rubbery that they cannot be justified. Since I have been in this place I do not think that I have ever seen one set of budget figures out of the Treasury that were accurate. Jokingly, we used to call them ‘jestimates’, not estimates. And this is the man who has been charged with the responsibility of looking at all of our taxation system? No, he was not allowed to look at the GST and he was not allowed to look at the ETS cascading tax.

So we are in this situation where we are far from saying to senior Australians, ‘You are making and continue to make a fantastic contribution to this country.’ Whether it is by remaining in the workforce, whether it is by paying tax through the GST, whether it is by paying tax on income that is not tax-free or whether it is by being volunteers and providing essential services without which our society could not exist, the worth and value of Australia’s seniors are huge. It is now up to this government to stop the demeaning, sneering attitude towards people who are senior Australians—and I put it to you: if you are over 50, you’re in.

Indeed, the new magazine launched today by Australian Seniors has none other than the Prime Minister and his wife on the front cover. I think that indicates that they want to identify with seniors. So why on the one hand do they want that identification and on the other hand sneer at the contribution of older Australians? I can tell you, people do not like it. If you read the front-page story in the Financial Review today, you will find that talkback radio, which comprises a very large audience of senior Australians, has seen through the dishonesty of the Prime Minister: his inability to tell the truth, his inability to honour his promises and his total inability to answer a straight question with a straight answer. Again and again it is coming through. It is a quite a revelation to read those comments from the leading talkback hosts around Australia.

So in saying that I condemn the government for not realising the worth of senior Australians, what I am really saying is that they deserve to be condemned—condemned for the demeaning attitude and the demonising attitude they have to senior Australians in saying that they are to be blamed for having a government that is not prepared to deal with its health system, not prepared to honour its superannuation system and prepared to go on a big spending binge—as they still are—with regard to the $21 billion of unspent stimulus, which is estimated to go on way past the next election and which is money that the Australian people are going to have to pay back.

Instead of attacking that cohort of Australians, laud them not only for the contribution they have made and the wisdom that they bring to bear but to thank them for being continuing contributing members of our society. They are vital. In the original research that I published back in 2001, chapter 2 was called ‘We’re all in it together’—and we are. We are one people; we are all of one company, and for a government to disparage and demean older Australians because they have reached a particular age, I think, is downright unAustralian. (Time expired)


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