Transcript by The Hon Jenny Macklin MP

Doorstop – Pensions


JENNY MACKLIN: In his effort to make a political point, Brendan Nelson seems to have forgotten married pensioners, he’s forgotten carers, he’s forgotten people on the disability support pension and he’s forgotten veterans who are on the veterans pension.

Brendan Nelson is only, it seems, proposing to increase the single rate of the aged pension. Does he really think – does Brendan Nelson or any other member of the Liberal Party think that a carer is any less well off than somebody on the single rate of the pension?

What this shows is that it’s terribly important to do this job properly and that’s what the Government intends to do.

The Liberal Party and the National Party had the chance to get this right. We’re told that Mal Brough, the previous minister, took a proposal to cabinet, took that proposal to the Howard Cabinet last year and it was rejected. This is the same cabinet made up of Brendan Nelson, Peter Costello, Julie Bishop, so the list goes on.

They rejected increasing the base rate of the pension when they had the capacity to do something about it. They had the power to act to increase the pension. For 12 years they did nothing. Now they’re just playing politics.

QUESTION: Do you think the $30 increase is fair?

JENNY MACKLIN: What the Government wants to do is do this job properly. We won’t forget married pensioners, we won’t forget carers, we won’t be forgetting people on the disability support pension or veterans. We know this is a complicated task. We’re doing the job properly and in the meantime we’ve paid an increase in the utilities allowance and we’ve paid a bonus of $500. We will get this right. We know the adequacy of the pension is a critical issue that we have to address and will do so.

QUESTION: So could you just recap the start? Because you did start ahead of time actually? So what is the Government’s plan with Mr Nelson’s bill?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well Dr Nelson, in his rush to make a political point, has forgotten married pensioners, he’s forgotten people on the carer payment. He’s forgotten veterans on the veterans pension. All of these people he’s forgotten including people on the disability support pension, all because he’s rushing to make a political point.

Brendan Nelson had 12 years to address the base rate of the pension. We understand that, as a result of comments made by the previous minister for families, that this issue was considered by the previous Howard Cabinet. That cabinet included Brendan Nelson, Mal Brough of course, Malcolm Turnbull, all of these people who now professed to care about this issue, they had the power to deal with this issue in cabinet, they rejected that proposal and now that they have no power, they think they can play politics with pensioner’s lives.

QUESTION: So the Government’s position hasn’t changed then?

JENNY MACKLIN: The Government wants to get this right. The Government wants to make sure that we address the issue of the adequacy of the pension. We do want to make sure we get it right for single pensioners, for married pensioners, for carers, for veterans, for people on the disability support pension. All of these people who are reliant on their various pensions are doing it very tough.

There are many allowances and concessions that are also related to the aged pension and to all these other pensions. That’s why it’s a complex task. We’ll do this as quickly as possible and we’ll make sure that when we get the report from the inquiry, that the Government responds as swiftly as we can.

QUESTION: So how far are you away from this? You say, you’ll do it as quickly as possible.

JENNY MACKLIN: We’re expecting to get a report in February and the Government will respond as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: But with three of your senior ministers including the Prime Minister saying it’s impossible to live on the single pension, isn’t February a bit of a long bow?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well that’s why we increased the utilities allowance. Under the Howard Government, the utilities allowance was $107. Labor’s first increase for pensioners was to lift the utilities allowance from $107, the Howard Government, $107 to $500. We’ve paid that in March. We’ve paid $125 in March, then again in June and on the 20 September we’ll pay the next quarterly increase of the utilities allowance.

We also paid the aged pension bonus of $500 at the end of June. We do recognise how difficult it is for older Australians, for carers, for people on the disability support pension, for veterans to make ends meet. That’s why we acted so quickly to increase the utilities allowance.

On 20 September there’ll also be an increase in the pension as a result of indexation and the fortnightly rate will go up by $15.30. People will also receive the increased utilities allowance on or around 20 September.

QUESTION: Isn’t it leaving the Government open to opposition claims that the Government is heartless?

JENNY MACKLIN: Well the Opposition had the chance to act. They had 12 years in government. When they had the power to act, the Liberals and the National Parties did nothing, they did nothing. So, for 12 years, Dr Nelson and all of his other Liberal colleagues had the chance to increase the base rate of the pension. They did not increase it. What Labor has done, immediately on coming to office, is increase the utilities allowance to aged pensioners. We’ve extended it for the first time to carers and those on the disability support pension. We did that immediately on coming to government, because we understood just how much pressure people are under.