House debates

Monday, 26 October 2020

Constituency Statements

Pensions and Benefits

10:39 am

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Adelaide, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

(   I've been contacted by many of my constituents concerned about the financial difficulties that they're facing as pensioners. There's no doubt that the COVID-19 health and economic crisis is impacting all Australians, but it has made older Australians even more vulnerable. The impact has been enormous on them. This is particularly the case for people on the age pension, who already struggled to make ends meet before the pandemic. They are really feeling that impact more than anyone, especially while facing rising health, dental, energy and grocery bills and the rising costs of everyday living.

The economic support payments have certainly helped many pensioners survive this initial downturn. However, according to most experts, the full impact of the crisis hasn't been felt yet. This should make us all very concerned. It appears that, for the very first time since 1997, pensioners will not get the automatic increase, because inflation has gone backwards. But, as I said, we know that bills for groceries, dentist visits, pharmaceuticals, electricity et cetera are going up—a whole range of things are heading into the upward sphere instead of the downward sphere.

In addition to all of this, rising levels of unemployment are hitting older workers, especially women, hardest. It is hard to foresee when the economic crisis will end and when employment rates will get back to pre-pandemic levels. Currently, more than half of all JobSeeker recipients are aged over 45. Lifting the age-pension access age, which is due to reach 67 in mid-2023, will leave many people near retirement on unemployment payments until they can leave the workforce. This could mean that we'll have a whole generation reaching retirement age closer to poverty than we've ever seen in our lifetimes.

I believe my constituents have every reason to be concerned for themselves, their friends and their families. If the government believes that pensioners need additional payments to see them through this economic crisis, perhaps it is an opportunity for us to review the pension and how best to support older Australians. Some of my constituents have suggested the possibility of including the $750 payments as part of the regular pension increase. Others have raised various suggestions from setting up an independent commission to determine the pension rate to having the pension rate linked to the basic wage increase.

We find ourselves in unprecedented times, and perhaps it's time to consider unprecedented ways of supporting our society's most vulnerable citizens. I believe that, as a society, we should do better by older Australians who have worked all their lives contributing to the economy and to society.