Wednesday, 14 May 2008
Social Security and Veterans’ Entitlements Legislation Amendment (One-Off Payments and Other Budget Measures) Bill 2008
I am very pleased to rise to support the Social Security and Veterans’ Entitlements Legislation Amendment (One-off Payments and Other Budget Measures) Bill 2008 that is before the House. The Rudd government is very much a caring government, and a caring government must always acknowledge the incredible contributions and roles played by the carers, the seniors and, indeed, the veterans who also benefit from this particular piece of legislation, by ensuring that their bonuses are not only paid to them but will be paid by the end of this financial year. I listened with breathtaking incredulity to the speech from the member for Warringah. There was probably only one point that he made, which was his opening sentence, that I would agree with. He opened by saying that this was ‘the bonus that almost never was’—and he is absolutely accurate because, in fact, this bonus was never contained in the forward estimates of the Howard-Costello government. It is very clear that there was no intention by the previous government to continue paying this bonus to these most deserving members of our community.
It is interesting to note that the member for Warringah referred to the fact that these bonuses were paid over four budgets by the previous government. For four budgets they paid a one-off bonus to carers and seniors, and in the middle of preparing a fifth one they had the opportunity to give carers, seniors and veterans a much greater level of financial security in these payments by not continuing them as one-off bonuses but providing ongoing support for them in the forward estimates and future budgets. But they refused to do that. As a result, I find it amazing that the member for Warringah can stand up in this place and criticise the Rudd government for paying these bonuses, saying that we were never intending to do it, when in fact the uncertainty was created by them in the first place.
These bonuses are important because the carers and seniors of this community play an incalculable role in providing support for our overall welfare. We as a government have made it very clear through the budget delivered last night, through the election campaign that was so hard fought last year and in every piece of legislation we have introduced since last November that we are committed to improving the living standards of working families and providing economic relief from the pressures they are facing at the moment. This piece of legislation is one important plank in our commitment to working families because carers and seniors are also members of working families. In fact, if it was not for the incredible contribution that our elderly members of the community have made through the workforce over many years we would not be in the privileged position that we are in today. And if it was not for the carers who are at home looking after those people who are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, others would not be able to participate in the workforce. So they are a fundamental part of our working families and they deserve the financial support that the government can give them.
Carers deserve financial support that also gives them some financial security. That is why I am pleased that the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, in introducing this legislation, has made sure that the bonuses will be paid this financial year. The minister will also undertake a review that will look at ways in which welfare and retirement can be supported through ways that are much more certain and that will provide much more financial security than the one-off bonuses that were introduced by the previous government. It is important, when you are living on the breadline and dealing with rising costs of living, battling the increase in petrol prices and going to a supermarket every week and having to fork out more money each time, that the government gives you some level of financial support and acknowledges not only your vital contribution to the community and to the individuals you are caring for but also the needs you have as an elderly member of the community. It is also important that you have some level of financial security and that you do not have to wait with bated breath each budget night to know what your income will be the following week or the following month. That is why it is important to ensure that people receive these vital payments this year, which will give the government an opportunity over the next financial year to look at ways in which it can deliver this financial support in a more effective and a more financially secure manner. I am very pleased that the minister has introduced this legislation. I am absolutely astounded that the member for Warringah was dragged kicking and screaming to support this measure. He said not one word about the invaluable contribution of carers and seniors. He tried to develop some spurious argument that it is this government that does not support them when it was always the intention of the government that he was once a member of to get rid of this bonus.
Another aspect of this legislation which reflects this government’s attitude to carers and seniors and shows that we honour and regard them with the level of dignity that they deserve is that those holding concession cards will be allowed to go overseas for up to 13 weeks of the year without their cards being cancelled. Whilst those cards may not provide support for them while they are overseas, we all know—we talk to constituents every day—the hassle of dealing with forms and bureaucratic officers when reapplying for something that has been cancelled. I believe that this demonstrates that our pensioners are human beings and that they should enjoy many of the benefits that we all enjoy. If they are able to travel overseas for up to 13 weeks without having to relinquish their card, it is quite a significant innovation. I am very pleased that the minister has used this piece of legislation to allow it to happen.
I am pleased that the opposition is supporting this legislation and that they are, for a fifth time, prepared to support a one-off bonus. I hope, though, when it comes to the new initiatives that this government will introduce and when we implement measures that will give financial security in the long term to carers, seniors and those veterans who are entitled to them, that the opposition will also support those initiatives. Those initiatives will not only honour the contributions of carers, seniors and veterans but also give those valuable members of our community the dignity that they deserve.