Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Matters of Public Importance

Military Superannuation Pensions

5:21 pm

Photo of David JohnstonDavid Johnston (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | Hansard source

Today I must confess I have heard a load of nonsense. Senator Feeney says that this is not about fairness. What did they tell the electorate in 2007? What did they say to the veteran community? They said in their policy document very callously that there is perhaps no greater duty that we as a nation and as a parliament have than to honour, remember and express our gratitude to those Australians who have served in the defence of our nation. They went on to say:

A Rudd Labor government will provide a fresh approach to veterans' affairs and a fresh leadership team which is dedicated to working in partnership with the ex-service community on the issues that concern them.

They then nominated six goals. The first one was restore the value of compensation and repair further erosion to income due to unfair indexation.

A key concern with the veteran community is the impact of rising costs of living and the erosion of their entitlements over time due to unfair indexation arrangements under the Howard government.

It went on to state that Labor would change that indexation. It is not about fairness, Senator Feeney. I can tell you that, when you are trying to get elected, it is about anything you think can rip off a vote. Their policy document of 2007 further states:

… to help combat this, Labor is committed to indexing all disability pensions and the domestic component of the war widows pension to movements in the Consumer Price Index or the Male Total Average Weekly Earnings (MTAWE), whichever is the greater.

There is the promise. They go on to say:

A Rudd Labor Government will restore the value of the Special Rate Disability Pension … Intermediate Rate and the Extreme Disability Adjustment Pensions by indexing the whole of these pensions to movements in Male Total Average Weekly Earnings … or the Consumer Price Index … whichever is the greater.

These promises to the veterans community were exactly like and resemble and have the aroma of 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' This is the currency of this government. They will say or do anything if they think they can extract a cheap vote from anybody.

We should have changed this in government. Let us not be unclear about this. We should have changed this; we did not do it. But the one important thing I want to stand here and say is: we never lied to them and ripped them off for their vote. We never said to them: 'Vote for us and we will change it.' We have a policy, we have put it on the table and we have costed it. Senator Lundy has costed it—and I will get to her letter in a minute—it is about $45 million a year to index these pensions properly. Everything you hear from the Labor Party is utterly disingenuous.

Senator Feeney says, 'It is not about fairness.' If he thinks there is a vote in it, he will say and do anything to sucker you into voting for the ALP. Can I tell you there are a hell of a lot of veterans out there who really believe that they were suckered by the Labor Party. Can I tell you there are a hell of a lot of former and present Labor Party members who think they were suckered by their own party: Mike Kelly, Senator Kate Lundy, Bob McMullen, the former member for Fraser, and Annette Ellis, the former member for Canberra, wrote to Lindsay Tanner on 14 September. It is a great series of letters; I have tabled them before. But let me just read out what they said to their then finance minister.

Significantly, many people genuinely believe that prior to the 2007 election the ALP had committed to determining a fairer method of indexation, and a review would provide the direction. So the immediate acceptance of the recommendation of no change in government response is being seen as a reversal of the pre-election position espoused by the ALP in the campaign material.

There are their own members of parliament saying: 'Hang on. We promised the electorate we would give them fairer indexation. We promised. Why are we now breaking our promise?' The letter goes on:

We respectfully request you respond to both of these points—

that is, the points they have raised in the letter—

and clarify the government stance particularly since correspondence issued during the election enthusiastically pressed the point of finding a fairer method of indexation through the process of review.

They just callously, without a care in the world, suckered the veteran community into voting for them. Now they get up and say, 'Oh, it is all too expensive.' So these four members of parliament—including Mike Kelly, who is a complete goner in this coming election; he will not be back—says to the then minister

It is our view that the fair and reasonable way forward we have described is the best course of action because it honours the spirit and the letter our election commitment in the first instance, and secondly, opens the way for consultation and further progress towards fairness in the future.

If ever there was a confession that this Labor Party has ripped off the votes of these veterans, there it is in this letter. It is a beautiful letter. It is a confession. It is a smoking gun of the sort of misrepresentation and electoral fraud perpetrated in that 2007 election.

Kate Lundy has a website on which she said:

The first year’s gross cost of $42 million—

she is talking about the fair indexation cost—

which will compound, is a little more than one tenth of one per cent of the 2007/08 budget surplus. There will be indisputable clawback of approximately 40% due to increased income tax and GST collections and a reduction in Age Pension expenditure.

… … …

Unfunded superannuation liability estimates will increase but these are balance sheet figures only and are not estimated for far larger items such as Age Pensions, Veterans’ pensions, Medicare etc. They are big numbers only because they’re cumulative forty year estimates.

The government wants to give you the forward estimates out to 40 years to tell you, 'Oh, it is a huge amount of commitment.' Kate Lundy tells us the cost is 42 million bucks a year; probably about the same amount of compensation owed to a fishing trawler that has just had its job taken away from it. That is about the relevance.

So I want to say to all those who are here that the average DFRDB pension is 24,386 bucks, and these miserly weasel-word laden government members say it is not about fairness. It is everything about fairness. And if the Greens want another opportunity to vote for fairness, we will certainly give it to them.


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