Senior Australians: speech in the adjournment debate

By Terri Butler MP

24 July 2019

Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (19:52): I rise to talk about the seniors of Griffith. There are close to 9,000 pensioners in the electorate of Griffith, and many have been waiting more than 4½ years for a fair go. The Liberals and Nationals were dragged kicking and screaming by pensioner groups and Labor to agree to adjust deeming rates in line with interest rates. The government's recent move on deeming rates is too little, too late for Southsiders. 

 

The Reserve Bank has cut interest rates five times since 2015, with the cash rate now at a record low of just one per cent, but the Liberals and Nationals have kept deeming rates at up to three per cent. This means the coalition government has been dipping their hands into the pockets of pensioners not only in Griffith but right across the nation. The Morrison government has been short-changing pensioners to prop up their budget for years. Families in my electorate would be very disappointed to know their grandparents and parents have been means tested on money they haven't actually received, which is likely to have lowered their incomes substantially since 2015. The coalition government has been putting their hands in the pockets of pensioners and has profited massively on the back of decoupling the deeming rates since 2015.

Pensioners in my community were absolutely confounded recently when the social services minister, Senator Anne Ruston, went on the radio and said she thinks the pension is a 'generous' amount of money that the Australian taxpayers make available to our older Australians. The pensioners of Griffith have paid their taxes for many years. They've worked hard in our community. A number of them went to war for our nation. Those who were here, of course, during peacetime, made a massive economic contribution to Australia. They have already contributed a lot to our nation and to our local southside communities in the electorate of Griffith. They don't need a lecture from an out-of-touch Morrison government minister about their value or the alleged 'generosity' of their pensions, which they very much deserve. They very much deserve those pensions. This is not an act of generosity on the part of the state but recognition of a long life of contribution. This might not seem like much to a government minister who appears to believe a pension is generous, but the difference that has arisen because of the failure to address the deeming rates issue is a meaningful amount that makes a real difference in the lives of people who live in my electorate.

The coalition government's record on pensioners is appalling, and they keep making things worse. The Morrison government did a deal with the Greens party to change the pension asset test, which meant that the pension was cut for 370,000 pensioners, with 88,000 losing their pension altogether. The government also tried for years to
scrap the energy supplement, meaning 1½ million pensioners would've had their payments cut. The government tried to raise the pension age to 70. It also tried to cut pension indexation in its first budget, the 2014 budget, and that would've forced pensioners to live on $80 less within 10 years. It cut $1 billion from pensioner concessions in the 2014 budget. You really have to wonder why this government is constantly trying to undermine the retirement incomes of millions of Australians, including people in my electorate of Griffith. 

I say to the ministers and to the backbenchers from the government that they need to get out of their offices and into the community to talk to pensioners who are doing it tough. This government simply doesn't get that the stagnation of incomes for pensioners, as well as the wages for workers and indeed the payments for the many, many people over 55 who are on Newstart—something like one in four people on Newstart are over 55 —is having real and negative consequences for the economy and therefore for the wellbeing of the Australian people. The government needs to increase Newstart to deliver relief from poverty, to help people get into work,
to provide effective economic stimulus and to boost jobs. It's patently obvious to everyone—except perhaps the Prime Minister and the Treasurer—that the rate of Newstart is too low. It's so low that it's actually preventing people from finding work.

The policies of this government are resulting in less spending in the community—and therefore less consumption —less small business activity and more financial hardship for communities across the nation. So I say to the government that they need to stop pretending they're on the side of pensioners while attempting to prop up the
budget on the back of pensioners' hard-earned nest eggs. It is time for the government to take a serious approach to incomes in this country. Whether it's for aged pensioners, people earning wages or people on Newstart, incomes are really important to the economic future of this country, and the government must take action. If it doesn't then the entire economy and all Australians will suffer.