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.
And that will make the Australian pension age the highest in the world. Imagine being the first for that—being so mean to those working Australians who have paid their tax all of their working lives as to say to them, 'And you can work longer and you can have a pension age amongst the highest in the world.' And it goes on with the cuts to deeming thresholds. You would not think that a government that is allegedly so pro private business and so pro all sorts of measures would cut the deeming thresholds. But, again, that is what it wants to do. The Prime Minister wants to cut the deeming thresholds used in the pension means test from $77,400 for a couple to $50,000—that is a massive cut—and from $46,600 for a single down to $30,000. This means part pensioners will get less and some pensioners will lose their pension altogether.
I attended a forum, as did Senator Smith, where pensioners in the western suburbs of Perth—the more affluent suburbs—told Senator Smith in no uncertain terms that they were not happy about losing any kind of money out of their pocket. And, of course, there are also the new taxes that the Abbott government has already levelled. There is the fuel tax and also the GP tax, which might be gone but is not forgotten. It will be back for sure—make no mistake about that. In fact, I think Minister Ley is on the record as suggesting that the GP tax is there for a later day.
As those opposite like to cry over and over again, 'What's Labor done?' Well, let's have a look at Labor's record in relation to pensions. In 2009, Labor implemented the largest increase to the pensions in 100 years. That is our legacy. That included a $70 per fortnight increase to the base rate of the pension and fixing indexation of the pension to the highest of either CPI or 27.7 per cent of male total average weekly earnings or to the new Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index. That measure helped to ensure that the rate of the pension kept pace with the real cost of living for pensioners. What do those opposite want to do? It seems to me that anything that Labor did that contributed to the wellbeing of Australians is well and truly under attack by the Abbott government. I can assure those opposite that Labor will not stand by and allow the Abbott government to diminish the incomes of Australian pensioners.
Three point seven million—that is the group that the Abbott government have well and truly got in their eyes. That is part of their target. That is the group that they want to really get with these measures. Let's just really understand who it is that the Abbott government is attacking. Of that 3.7 million, 2.5 million are aged pensioners, working Australians in their senior years who have well and truly contributed to the wellbeing of the Australian community; 830,000 are disability support pensioners; 240,000 are carers pensioners; 70,000 are veterans pensioners. That is the group that the Abbott government and the Prime Minister want to absolutely target with this cruel, hard measure that is part of their budget—