Wednesday, 25 March 2015
Statements by Senators
Pensions and Benefits
Today Australia's 3.7 million pensioners want to send a message to the Abbott government: 'Don't pocket our pension!' After the announcement of the Abbott government's first budget, I received many emails from pensioners who were very concerned about was going to happen to their pensions over time. They were not convinced by the Abbott government's rhetoric that they would somehow be no worse off. They were able to do the maths on their pension and realised that they would be worse off. So many of them emailed me—and I am sure they emailed members of the Abbott government—expressing outrage and very real concern about how they were to meet their rising costs. We all hear of the horror stories that are often reported in the daily newspapers of pensioners being afraid to use their heating in the wintertime and their cooling in the summertime. This is not the way that a fair-go country such as Australia should treat those who have worked hard and contributed to Australia's lifestyle and community, and indeed our tax system, in their senior years. We should be respecting senior Australians and making sure that, through either superannuation or the pension, they are able to live decent lives. But we have seen both of those elements under attack by the Abbott government.
In response to those pensioners' concerns we held a forum in the federal seat of Swan, the electorate in which I live, and hundreds of pensioners turned out and asked questions. They raised very real concerns about their future wellbeing. They could not believe that a government that, when in opposition, promised them faithfully that there would be no cuts to pensions would do such a thing. Obviously, many of them voted believing the then opposition when it said there would be no cuts to pensions, only to learn that they had been hit and hit again in the budget. And no doubt those measures that the Abbott government wants to put in place will continue. That will be a major drive by the Abbott government.
The Prime Minister wants to cut the indexation arrangements for the pension, and that will eventually hit the hip pocket of pensioners. Currently, the pension is indexed to the highest of movements in either the Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index, the consumer price index or 27.7 per cent of male total average weekly earnings—nearly 28 per cent. If Mr Abbott gets his way, the pension will be indexed to CPI only, so there will be no advantage there for pensioners to be able to get the highest of measures; they will simply cop CPI.
One of the ploys that those opposite like to level is that it is Labor's scaremongering. But according to the Australian Council of Social Services, in just 10 years, if this measure gets through, Australian pensioners will be $80 a week worse off. How could you disadvantage those senior Australians who, all their working lives, have contributed to the tax system by ripping them off to the tune of $80 a week? Again, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office, changes to indexation of the age pension will result in $23 billion less being paid to pensioners by 2024. That is not a statistic that anyone should be proud of—to be ripping that money out of the pockets of pensioners. An independent analysis by Professor Peter Whiteford shows that, if the Prime Minister gets his way, the value of pensions will drop from around 28 per cent of average weekly earnings to just 16 per cent of average weekly earnings in 2055. Is it any wonder that, with those kinds of facts, Australia's pensioners—all 3.7 million of them—are so upset with the Abbott government, with this disgraceful attack on their pockets?
And it does not stop there. We know that Mr Abbott wants to increase the pension age to 70. That means that either Australians work much longer or somehow they maintain themselves until they can reach pension age.