In Parliament

2008 SEPT 04 – Single Age Pension

SINGLE AGE PENSION

September 04, 2008


Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (11.42 am)
— I rise today to speak on behalf of older Gippslanders who are struggling to make ends meet on the single age pension. I also seek to high light my concern that the federal government is paralysed by a mentality of reviews and inquiries and is failing to take action to help older Gippslanders, carers and people with disabilities to enjoy a decent standard of living. I ask the question, somewhat rhetorically: is there is a statute of limitations on the blame game? When does a new government stop looking backwards and blaming its predecessors and get on with the job of governing the nation?

Judging by the behaviour of the Victorian parliament the Labor blame game goes on forever. The Brumby and Bracks governments have been in power for nine years and they are still looking backwards and blaming the previous Kennett government, which left office in 1999.

I urge government ministers to end the blame game in relation to pensioners and carers and to get on with the job they are elected to do. We all know that the single age pension is inadequate. We have already had reports and inquiries which have highlighted the problem. The report of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs titled A decent quality of life was tabled in parliament in March this year, and I quote from the executive summary:

Australians have endured cost of living increases over recent years. In many cases, incomes have generally risen commensurately and compensate for these cost pressures. However, many older people, especially those on low, fixed incomes with little discretionary spending capacity, are vulnerable to these rises.

In particular, they are disproportionately affected by cost increases in essential goods and services— food, rent, petrol, household utilities and healthcare.

The report further stated that, although the real value of the age pension had increased over the past decade:

… evidence suggests that for those on a full pension this level may be insufficient to maintain a basic, decent standard of living.

The pension review background paper, released last month, revealed that the single rate of pension, which is set at 60 per cent, is lower than the average of 63 per cent for major OECD countries. We are clearly falling behind world standards and the Prime Minister knows it is a problem. In response to a question on 27 August, the Prime Minister conceded that cost-ofliving expenses ‘have certainly spiked in recent times because of factors like petrol and groceries’.

Indeed the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is reported in today’s Australian newspaper as saying:

There’s no question that all of these people, particularly people who are wholly dependent on the single rate of either the aged pension or the disability support pension, are finding it very hard to make ends meet.

There is a recognition at the highest level of the federal government that cost-of-living pressures have spiked, and these increases have a greater impact on our pensioners and carers. The government’s thus far response has been to order another review. Why not act now? Why wait until next February for the review findings, when there will then be further delays while the review is considered? It could be another 12 months before this government does anything to help our pensioners and carers.

If the government wants to buy some time until the review is released, I would support an immediate catch-up payment of $300 to pensioners and carers, including people with a disability who were discriminated against in the May budget. Help give them a chance to have a decent Christmas. We can afford to do better now.

I agree with National Seniors Australia that we need to investigate ways to better prepare the nation for pensioners and an ageing generation into the future. We must better support those people who are currently relying on the age pension. The current single age pension is not enough to provide a decent standard of living and must be urgently increased by at least $30 per week to two-thirds of the rate for a couple, as proposed by National Seniors Australia.

We cannot afford to condemn our pensioners to another 12 months of struggling to find the money to eat healthily, pay their bills, cover their medical expenses, get around to visit friends and attend social activities. This is even more of an issue in country areas like Gippsland. Pensioners there do not have the luxury of access to public transport. Instead, they must pay the higher petrol prices or—worse still—they choose to stay at home and miss out on the social life that they richly deserve and on the quality of life opportunities that would add to a healthier lifestyle for them. These are the people who built our great nation. They allowed us to enjoy the privileges we have today. These people deserve better.

Most pensioners did not have the opportunity of compulsory superannuation to prepare themselves for their retirement. As for single women receiving the age pension, they are often in a worse situation because they have not necessarily had the opportunity to work outside the family home and have had very limited superannuation opportunities. Also they may have spent many years as a carer for a family member. As I said during my inaugural speech to the House, carers of family members save our nation a king’s ransom but they often live the life of a pauper. We live in a wealthy nation, we can do better and we must do better. We can afford to give our pensioners and carers a decent standard of living. This is a test of the government’s rhetoric. They promised to govern for all Australians, and it is time for action now, not more empty words.

(Time expired)

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