Monday, 20 October 2008
Pensions and Benefits
Like all of the members in this place I welcomed the government’s $10.4 billion incentive package for age pensioners, working families and self-funded retirees, but it would appear that once again many rural people have, sadly, missed out. Although the one-off payment is available to self-funded retirees, those self-funded retirees must first quality for the Commonwealth seniors health card or concession card. The majority of retired rural families do not qualify for either an age pension or a concession card, and therefore they are not eligible to receive the one-off payment. The reasons for this are as follows: (1) their landholdings are such that they fail the income and asset test and do not qualify for the pension; (2) because of the need to subdivide and sell off the family farm to invest enough cash to receive an income stream on which to live, they again fail the income and asset test and subsequently do not qualify for either a pension or the Commonwealth seniors health or concession card. The rural retired families that do not qualify for a pension are totally reliant on family support for all of their day-to-day needs, are all too often too proud to ask for external help and are living well below the poverty line.
Self-funded retired farming families have sometimes suffered larger losses than other self-funded retirees because their only source of income is their investments, which they must live off and use to pay for all the same everyday expenses as you and I, with the added expense of having to pay in full for often essential medical treatment and prescriptions because they do not qualify for the healthcare card that provides subsidised prescription medicines.
Then there are the rural families, many of whom are living in abject poverty, who have totally fallen through the cracks. I raise the plight of these people because, for a considerable number of years now, my wife and I have been trying to assist these people. These people do not have the benefit of family support for one reason or another, do not qualify for any Commonwealth government support and are totally self-sufficient. I am personally aware of people in these circumstances because of the work that my wife, Gloria, has undertaken over the past six years, providing food, toiletries and clothing packs to assist these families to cope with everyday lifestyle pressures caused by a debilitating and soul-destroying drought. It is a drought which, I might add, has not been an issue for just one or two years; in the case of these communities, most of them isolated away from the major regional centres, drought has been a debilitating, stressful and damning issue that has affected their lives for over six years.
I do not know whether the government is able to assist these people, but I think that, whilst they are the beneficiaries of exceptional circumstances funding packages, which assist them to cope with the ordinary day-to-day bills such as electricity and fuel and assist in offering them meagre sustenance to put on the table each day, they really have got a very serious situation—to the point where even the children are starting to be affected by it. Today we received some carloads of toys in my office at Goulburn which we will distribute to these people.
I would therefore ask the government to consider this one-off payment being made available to those in rural areas who, for the reasons I have outlined, are unable to have access to this incentive package, let alone any other social security benefits.