Joanne Ryan MP
Federal Member for Lalor
Joanne Ryan MP

Social Security Fair & Sustainable Pensions

I also rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Fair and Sustainable Pensions) Bill 2015. I would open my comments with a feeling of shock and awe that the word 'fair' is in the title of this piece of legislation, because it is anything but fair. For most of us here it is not a surprise to see that this government would label something 'fair' when in fact they understand that at the core it is not fair. Because, of course, they have a track record. They had a completely unfair budget last year which was suitably and appropriately rejected by the public of Australia. One of the reasons it was rejected by the Australian public was that at its core it had some incredibly unfair measures. One of those went to pensions. Of course, we in this place all know about the indexation cut plans in last year's budget. We know because in our electorates pensioners came to see us, because we stood with pensioners across this country day in, day out to beat back that change. Only this year, in the new budget that is supposedly the fair budget, having learnt the lesson that the Australian public will not stand for things that are fundamentally unfair, under this new election emergency budget designed to save the jobs of those opposite we have had to go to the details to find the most unfair measures. But they are coming to light over time. Today is one of those days when they are coming to light, and they are coming to light again around pensioners.

We all remember the Prime Minister as Leader of the Opposition before the election. We all remember all of his promises. We can all recount the broken promises since then and the biggest broken promise of no changes to pensions. Now we are onto the second raft of changes to pensions, having beaten back the first by standing together with pensioners. We understand that this is a broken promise. We understand that this piece of legislation before us breaks that promise by introducing changes to the pension and attempting to introduce those changes in this place today. We understand that, although the title calls it fair, it is anything but fair.

Everybody on this side of the chamber understands that, and I am hoping that through this debate some of our colleagues in the Greens party come to understand that and come to understand that with this government you always have to go to the detail. You have to unpack things like the pensioners at home in my electorate today who are unpacking this debate and finding out how unfair it is. Of course, that goes to the priorities of this government, and we have seen this very clearly. I would urge people who are looking at this debate today and unpacking the detail of this not to single out this one issue but to look at it across the raft, because, as we have seen, this is a government that is intent on hurting low- and middle-income Australians to find its savings while refusing to look at revenue. It is a government that wants to sell this new budget as fair when it contains very unfair measures.

As a Labor member of parliament, I stand here very proud of our history on pensions not just since the government's debacle of its first budget but over history. I stand here very proud of the review into pensions and the action that was taken by the previous Labor government in implementing the Harmer report and delivering the recommendations made—delivering the biggest increase to pensions in 100 years and delivering fair indexation arrangements to keep pace with wages which experts acknowledged were cost neutral. I stand here as an Australian very proud of that history and also with the knowledge that our pension system is the best targeted in the world. I want to immediately suggest that the notion that our pension system is unsustainable should be rejected outright by the Australian public. Pensioners who are looking at the detail of this legislation can rest assured that this side of the parliament will not allow them to be separated from other pensioners as is this government's wont—family against family, pensioner against pensioner, retiree against retiree. We will ensure that the public understands that this is an attack on pensioners, that this is an attack on low and middle-income people in their retirement—not, as those opposite would have us believe, the millionaires.

I would say that this government perhaps learnt something after its very poor first budget. They did learn. They kept telling us that it was the salesman and not the content, but we now understand, because we have different approach to this budget, that it was definitely the content that was rejected, not the sales job. But look at what they do in building this division—we have seen that across legislation this year, trying to divide the Australian people into winners and losers, lifters and leaners. Now we are getting into the nitty-gritty—if we cannot separate the whole community let's go in, family against family, pensioner against pensioner. That is what is happening here. That is what is happening in this piece of legislation. We have heard speaker after speaker. We heard the member for Jagajaga yesterday, we heard the Leader of the Opposition yesterday get out those critical points and put on record what this legislation really means.

This piece of legislation is bad news for low- and middle-income pensioners currently and for those set to retire across the next 10 years. It is not justifiable—it is about priorities. This is a priority this government has. In the process, they have done some really cruel and unusual things. They have tried to run a discourse with the Australian public, first labelling the people targeted in this piece of legislation as millionaires when they are anything but millionaires. But they have gone further than that with the insinuations that people who have worked hard all their lives are somehow a drain, a burden. This parliament needs to be reminded that these people have contributed all their lives to our economy and to our community and that this piece of legislation breaks a contract with pensioners in this country.

We have to be very clear about this bill does. This bill could leave single pensioners $8,000 a year worse off. Some couple pensioners could be $14,000 a year worse off—and this is important because that could be a quarter of their annual income. I think back to images on our television screens back in 2007 and earlier, and how the community rallied behind pensioners when the levels of poverty that some pensioners in this country were living in became apparent. I fear, and I know, that we will see a re-run of those images if some of the measures in this bill go through this parliament.

Make no mistake: this bill will spare some pensioners the pain from last year but it will still have very serious negative impacts for other pensioners this year, and the bulk of it is around the notion of assets. Those opposite are painting a picture that these pensioners and part pensioners are somehow millionaires with millions of dollars worth of assets when in fact that is not the case. The measures in this bill actually go to people with assets of $450,000. I want to dig in to that in terms of pensioners in my electorate and what their assets might be. You have got to look at that assets list, as the Leader of the Opposition did yesterday. Obviously, speaker after speaker will talk about the family home being sacrosanct and how that is not part of this package. That is terrific news. But anything else that is owned, like the furniture in that home, is part of this measure. We have got to look at motor vehicles, caravans, boats and household contents. I can see people keeping their family home but having to sell off the furniture to maintain their income across the year. Also included in people's assets will be their whitegoods, their linen and manchester, crockery, kitchen appliances, computers, televisions and books. It will include their grandmother's engagement ring and any paintings that have been passed down through the family. These will be counted up in those assets.

If you think about part pensioners and what they are likely to have in their asset pool, beyond their family home—if they own a home—then they may have some cash in term deposits and they may have some superannuation, but they will have some money set aside in their everyday accounts. I know that they will have that money set aside for an emergency with their health. They may have some set aside for the health of their family. I know that if you asked my mother—and all of us are well and truly grown up with families of our own—she would say she needs money aside in case one of her great-grandchildren has a medical emergency and the family needs assistance. That is how Australians are wired: to look after their families over time. We have to think about these pensioners and what they have got in their asset pool, because this government is now going to say, 'Because you have got that small amount of money set aside for an emergency for yourself, an emergency for a grandchild or an emergency for a great-grandchild, we are going to cut your income—possibly by up to a quarter every year. This is a clear attack on what has been a social contract: a living income for pensioners in this country.

One of the provisions in this legislation is around those who are set to retire in the next 10 years, those who have been planning and those who have already retired and have planned and set out what their incomes will be. We hear a lot of rhetoric on this side about superannuants and about how unfair Labor's proposals on superannuation are because they have changed the rules. And yet it is okay to change the rules on pensioners because somehow this government fails to understand that the people who are going to be harmed by these measures are the same people. I call upon people to think about what it will mean if we let the government get these measures through, if we let them divide and set aside one group of pensioners and say to them, 'Your income could be cut by a quarter,' and if we allow them to call them millionaires while at the same time they have ruled out any changes to the top end. The Labor proposal is that those people drawing an income down on their superannuation above $75,000 would have a tax concession change at their income above that $75,000—which seems much fairer than this, which would cut people's income by up to a quarter.

We are not talking about high incomes. We are talking about low incomes. We are talking about people on a part pension who have saved hard for their retirement. It does not surprise me—and I am sure it does not surprise the member for the Perth, who is in the chamber—that the people who will be hardest hit by this are women. Of course, women: women who have had time out of the workforce, women with less in their superannuation, women who may have scrimped and saved, women who may have purchased a home in partnership with a husband or partner and who is now in that home as a single pensioner on their own. They will be hardest hit, and they will be hardest hit across the next 10 years as well. There is no surprise in that. So again this government finds a way to divide people and pit Australian against Australian, pensioner against pensioner.

I would like to conclude my remarks today with that track record in mind, and with the Minister for Social Services at the table today. If we look at the childcare packages, the same is happening there. This government has learned something. It has learned to put some sugar on the table and a bottle of vinegar down your throat the next second. It wants to put some sugar on the table and say it is doing a great thing for some pensioners while it categorically hurts other pensioners—the same as it is doing with families on family tax benefits, 18,000 of them in my electorate, who are being demonised as bludgers and leaners. (Time expired)


Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment


Connect with Joanne Ryan MP