Monday, 15 March 2010
Dobell Electorate: Pensioners
I rise to speak about pensioners and the issues that pensioners are facing in my electorate of Dobell. In the electorate of Dobell we have over 25,000 pensioners. It is a very high proportion compared to most electorates. It used to be higher, and that is because the area that I represent on the Central Coast was once a retirement area. It is now changing—there are a lot of young families moving there—but pensioners hold a special place in the daily lives of all of us who live on the Central Coast. The Toukley Senior Citizens Club, for example, was once the largest senior citizen organisation in the southern hemisphere, boasting close to 7,000 members. It is now down to about 3,000 members but is a very vibrant organisation that is there to represent, look after and provide activities for pensioners in the northern part of the Central Coast.
One of the things that this government does understand is that pensioners have been doing it tough and doing it tough for quite some time. That is why in last year’s budget we delivered a pension increase of more than $70 a fortnight for singles on the maximum rate. From Saturday, of course, pensions will rise again. Regular indexation will increase the maximum single rate by $29.20 a fortnight. That maximum rate for couples combined will increase by $44 a fortnight. If you add that together, when compared to August of last year pensioners are about $100 a week better off than they were. This is also on top of the utilities allowance of almost $400 which this government has also delivered.
This government has been out there listening and understanding that pensioners are doing it tough. Unlike the former government who were there for 12 years, we have actually made not just indexation increases but substantive increases to the pensions of those Australians who rely on them. A great proportion of them are from my electorate.
One thing we do know about pensioners is that they certainly feel the increasing cost of living, particularly on such essentials as food and petrol. In an area like mine, transport is rather limited and to get around the Central Coast people usually have to own a car, so increases in the cost of petrol disproportionately affect pensioners in the seat of Dobell. What pensioners cannot afford is another brand new tax delivered by the Leader of the Opposition that will do one thing and one thing only: push the up the prices of groceries in all of our stores, push up the price of petrol and make it more difficult for pensioners who are struggling and doing it tough at the moment. The last thing they want is the Leader of the Opposition introducing a new tax that is going to strip away some of the new pension increases that this government has delivered. They want a fair go on grocery prices and petrol. They cannot afford to have a tax being put on them, which is precisely what the Leader of the Opposition is proposing.
There are two other things of particular concern to pensioners: healthcare and the need to reform healthcare. Pensioners disproportionately use public hospitals more than any other group in the community. With 25,000 of them in Dobell, the health institutions there certainly face greater pressure. One thing that pensioners have been saying to me in the last two weeks is that it is great that the Prime Minister has stepped up the plate and said that the Rudd government is prepared to fund up to 60 per cent and become the dominant financing partner in our hospitals.
What they have also been saying is that local structures are required on the Central Coast because hospitals on the Central Coast at the moment are part of the Northern Sydney Central Coast Health Area Health Service. What pensioners are telling me is that the sorts of reforms that the Rudd government are putting forward are precisely the sorts of reforms that pensioners want and that help pensioners in my electorate.
The other thing that they say they need is dental care. They lament the fact that when the previous government came in, the first thing that they did was knock off the Commonwealth dental scheme. They are keen to see our legislation on the Commonwealth dental scheme get through the other place and make sure that it applies to pensioners, who are the ones who use it the most. These are some of the issues that are affecting pensioners on the Central Coast. These are the issues that they are most concerned about: health reform, dental care and making sure that they do not get slugged with a big tax. (Time expired)