Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Social Security Amendment (A Fair Go for Age Pensioners) Bill 2019; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.
I table the explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
The Social Security Legislation Amendment (A Fair Go for Age Pensioners) Bill 2019 will amend the Social Security Act 1991 to remove means testing for the Age Pension.
In doing so, it is simply giving a fair go to the millions of hardworking Australians who have struggled to put aside a small nest egg for their retirement.
Currently those who have worked hard all their lives and saved to help provide for themselves in old age are punished with a reduced pension, based upon their assets and other income, while those who have failed to make any provision for old age are rewarded with every benefit.
This is simply wrong, and that a so-called Liberal government would favour the lazy and the feckless over the hardworking and the thrifty shows just how much it has lost its way.
There is a great deal of confusion regarding the nature of the Age Pension, not least from the current government.
This Bill recognises that the Age Pension is not welfare to be considered in the same category as working age income replacement pensions and benefits, but is actually a de-facto national superannuation scheme which recipients have paid for themselves over their working lives in taxes.
The concept of the Age Pension as a national superannuation scheme dates from the immediate post-World War II period. In 1945, the Chifley government created a National Welfare Fund, paid for by a special tax, which was to provide working families with a pension on retirement. This fund was subsequently taken over by the Menzies government with the commitment that an Age Pension would be established to serve the same purpose, to be paid out of consolidated revenue.
Sir Robert Menzies himself said:
Sir Robert Menzies sought to offset the cost of ending the means test by introducing a contributory system, much as still occurs in the United Kingdom, once again aligning the Age Pension with the modern concept of superannuation.
In the United Kingdom, as in Singapore, the Age Pension system has a specific contributory component but has historically not been subject to means or assets tests, rewarding self-reliance.
The great Labor leaders of the 1940s, 50s and 60s all recognised that the means test was unfair, with Labor Leader Doc Evatt calling it "iniquitous" and committing to its abolition.
This was a position shared by the Liberal Party, whose then leader, Prime Minister McMahon went to the 1972 election promising to abolish the Age Pension means test for people over 65 within three years.
Even Whitlam, in a rare act of ideological clemency, matched the Liberals commitment and pledged to abolish the means test "within the life of the next parliament."
Uncharacteristically, Whitlam did make good at least in part on his promise, and abolished the means test for those over 70.
The current means testing, including both assets and income tests, was introduced by the Hawke Labor government in the 1983-84 budget as both as a cost savings measure and as a cave in to the hard left. This was publicly justified by claims that this "targeted assistance to those of greatest need," however it was in fact simply socialist wealth redistribution, taking money from those who had worked and saved to give it to those who hadn't.
Given that successive Liberal governments since the Hawke era have failed to repeal this iniquitous means test, this Bill seeks to remedy this injustice. This Bill will give effect to the original intent of Sir Robert Menzies and Ben Chifley that the Age Pension would provide a secure and dignified form of income support to all Australians in retirement and not simply a conditional trickle of welfare to be doled out as a last resort to those who applied cap in hand.
On passage, this Bill will give older Australians the confidence and security of a guaranteed universal basic income in old age. It will also provide an incentive for them to strive to additionally provide for their retirement and for their children's inheritance, safe in the knowledge that their hard work and shrewd investments will not be punished by discriminatory assessments of their entitlements.
This Bill is about restoring the promise given to hard working Australians, of honouring the implicit social contract that a working life of paying taxes would be rewarded by a modest but secure income in old age.
But most of all, this Bill is about re-affirming the ideological basis of the pension as a retirement social wage rather than socialist wealth redistribution, something that it might be expected that any genuine Liberal government would support.
On these grounds, I commend this Bill to the Senate.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.