Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Pensions, Tangentyere Council, NT Government’s A Working Future

Program: National Seniors Australia Budget Debate

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JENNY MACKLIN: The Federal Government has been very pleased in last Tuesday’s Budget to deliver a very significant increase to single aged pensioners and an increase to couple aged pensioners as well. In New South Wales alone, that will see a million pensioners benefit from a $32 a week increase for singles and a $10 a week increase for couples combined. This will really make a difference to those pensioners lives, to the lives of carers, to people on the disability support pension, to veterans and also of course to aged pensioners.

JOURNALIST: Minister, one of the hot topics is the eligibility age for the pension. Now some have said, your political opponents have said that it’s a surprise shift that’s been sprung on people, what do you think about that?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the Opposition doesn’t seem to know what they think about any of these issues. Of course for twelve years when they were in Government they talked about the ageing of our society, and Peter Costello put out report after report about the impact of the ageing of our society. Unfortunately, of course, they didn’t make any of the tough decisions that were needed. They didn’t increase the age pension, and they refused to address the overall question of the ageing of our society. Tony Abbott now says we should be making this decision more quickly, so it’s impossible to know really what the Opposition’s view about any of these critical issues facing our country.

JOURNALIST: Minister, I might just pick you up on that point. In 2007 the Committee for Economic Development of Australia recommended the pension age be raised to 67. At the time you said, I quote “after a lifetime of contributions seniors (inaudible) deserve to be able to retire. If people want to work beyond 65 it should be their choice, no one should be forced to work beyond retirement age”. Now the life expectancy that underpins this is still the same so either you didn’t believe what you were saying then or you’re promoting an (inaudible) a policy that you don’t believe in now.

JENNY MACKLIN: We recognise that since the age pension age was set at 65 back in 1909 that the length of time that people lived post retirement is getting longer. Back in 1909 people could expect, a man could expect to live for about eleven years post retirement. Now it’s expected that a man will live closer to twenty years post retirement. We’ve had a very close look at all these issues, a major pension review and the Government has done two things. One is to deliver a significant increase to the age pension and we’ve also recognised that we have to make that sustainable for the long term and that means making tough decisions like increasing the age pension age. It will be done gradually, it won’t start until 2017 and won’t be fully implemented till 2023. But we think that if we’re going to make the age pension sustainable these are tough decisions that the country has to face.

JOURNALIST: But one will say now it contradicts what you said and believed in 2007 how do you explain that?

JENNY MACKLIN: I’ve just gone through how I explain it.

JOURNALIST: Minister, in indigenous affairs, the Northern Territory Government has unveiled a plan to create twenty large service towns in indigenous communities, do you think that that will go a long way to improving living standards, improving employment opportunities in those areas?

JENNY MACKLIN: We do support this move that’s just been announced by the Northern Territory Government and working closely with the Northern Territory Government, the Federal Government is concentrating our housing infrastructure spending for example, in many of these same communities. Many of these towns have 2 and 3,000 people in them. Very very overcrowded housing, very poor local infrastructure. What we want to do working with the Northern Territory Government is bring those towns up to the same sort of standard that we expect in a country town of a similar size anywhere else in Australia. I think this is a very significant move for Aboriginal people living in these remote towns in the Northern Territory.

JOURNALIST: And one of the towns in Alice Springs, the Aboriginal Council there is due to respond there today on whether they will take out a 40 year lease. Have you heard back from that Council?

JENNY MACKLIN: No we haven’t heard from them yet but if I can just say how critical this issue is for me and for the Federal Government. People living in the Alice Springs town camps are living in appalling conditions. Shocking overcrowding, terrible standards of housing, appalling infrastructure. It is necessary for the Government to get in there to upgrade the houses, to build new houses, to upgrade the infrastructure, to make sure that the children have a decent place to live. The parents can have a decent place to live. We can’t continue to see the appalling standard of housing and other conditions in these Alice Springs town camps.

JOURNALIST: What will happen if the deal isn’t signed by 5pm today?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well I hope that the Tangentyere Council and the Alice Springs Housing Associations will agree to the very generous announcement that the Government has made. We intend to invest $125 million in both improving housing and infrastructure and other services in the Alice Springs town camps. Of course we need security over the land on which we intend to build. That’s the sort of security, land tenure security, that we expect whenever we build a house anywhere, and we’re expecting no less from this very substantial increase in funding that we’ve proposed to make in the Alice Springs town camps.

JOURNALIST: How much money will the Federal Government spend on the homelands plan in the Northern Territory?

JENNY MACKLIN: That’s now a responsibility of the Northern Territory Government, that agreement was made some time ago.