THURSDAY, 2 APRIL 2015
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s cuts to the pension; Tony Abbott’s broken promises; ASADA
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be here with my colleagues Jenny Macklin and Andrew Giles, celebrating an early Easter lunch with the heart and soul of Australia, some of our Italian Australian migrants. It is very clear when you talk to pensioners, older Australians that they are very anxious that the Abbott Government has a plan on the table to cut the rate of indexation, which means that pensioners will be up to $80 a week worse off in the future because of the Abbott Government's broken promises. Today for the first time, we see the Abbott Government admitting after 10 and a half months of dishonesty and lying to Australia's pensioners, that their pension proposals are not fair. We call upon the Abbott Government to drop unreservedly with no fingers crossed or any qualifications, any hidden strings to drop unreservedly their attack on pensioners and their $80 a week cut to pensions. I might ask my colleague Jenny Macklin to say a few extra words about the Government's unfair measures on pensions.
JENNY MACKLIN, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FAMILIES AND PAYMENTS: Thanks very much, everyone, and first of all if I could say a big thank you to everybody here at the Bundoora Italian Senior Citizens. Andrew Giles and I are regular visitors here, we love this club, we love the people here because they look after each other so wonderfully. I do want to say to Bill Shorten a very, very big thank you Bill, for coming here and wishing our senior citizens here in Bundoora a very, very happy Easter. It has really given them enormous pleasure to have you here today, so we appreciate it very, very much. It is a very big issue for pensioners that Mr Abbott broke his promise. At the last election Mr Abbott said that he would not change the pension, there would be no cuts to pensions and then in the Budget Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey announced a huge change to the pension that if they got it through the Parliament would mean that pensioners would be $80 a week worse off over the next decade. Just yesterday I had a pensioner in my own electorate say how worried he was about this cut to the pension that Tony Abbott has been determined to deliver. I just want to say to Mr Abbott, today's the day when you should finally admit that you got it wrong, and you should drop this pension cut. It is unfair and pensioners do not deserve to have this hanging over their heads at this time in their lives.
SHORTEN: Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, does Labor believe in general that there is any scope for tightening the pension assets test?
SHORTEN: Well first things first, what we've seen is the first chink in the Abbott armour of their unfair Budget about pension cuts. For Scott Morrison to flag that he may or may not have any other ideas is a recognition and an admission that Australians, not just pensioners but Australians, don't want unfair $80 a week cuts to the pension. In terms of their other measures, yet again this is a chaotic government. They're barely a month out from the Budget sending out thought bubbles. ACOSS has written to the Minister, the Minister says that's an interesting letter. This isn't government, this isn’t government by reason and evidence, this is government by thought bubble. They should just first and foremost drop their attacks on the pension, come clean, admit the truth, say you got it wrong Tony Abbott, say you won't touch people's pensions. In terms of reforms to our welfare system, I'll ask Jenny Macklin to supplement this answer. Labor has always been up for making sure that we have the fairest possible system, but pensioners of Australia should not have to consider the Abbott Government's Budget measures with a gun to their head which is cuts to $80 a week in pension indexation.
MACKLIN: The important thing to remember is that Labor in government delivered the biggest improvement to the pension in its 100 years of history. We delivered a big increase to the base rate of the pension so that the poorest pensioners would, in fact, be better off. We did also at that time change the income test to make it fairer, to actually make a change that really made some modifications to that which Peter Costello and John Howard had made in their time in government. So we've demonstrated that we're always willing to do the right thing by pensioners, to deliver a decent increase to make sure that pensioners can actually have a decent standard of living on the pension, but also to make sure that it's fair.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, if I can go back to you, you still haven’t said what Labor’s view is. Is there scope for tightening the pension assets test?
SHORTEN: Well, first of all we haven't got a specific proposal from the Government on the table, but if there is concern by the Government about relieving any pressure on the age pension, there's a policy which Labor has already articulated waiting for them just to pick up, it’s increase the levels of compulsory superannuation. Before the last election the Abbott Government said they would freeze increases to superannuation for two years. Then at their notorious Budget last year they said they'd freeze it for four years. Then they did a dirty deal with Clive Palmer and now they're saying they'll freeze superannuation for six years. Logic and common sense dictate that you're going to have more people on the age pension if you have people with smaller and lower superannuation account balances. So the first thing we can do is, rather than the Abbott Government starting to threaten pensioners with their cuts, what they should do is reverse their crazy refusal to increase superannuation. If people are encouraged, ordinary people on modest incomes are encouraged to be able to save more for their retirement then logic says there'll be less demand on the pension in future years and the numbers back that up.
JOURNALIST: What does it say about Labor that ACOSS is putting out a fully costed pension policy, the Greens have got a superannuation policy and you’re still reacting to the Government’s ideas and policies?
SHORTEN: I don't accept that proposition at all and let me tell you what the Government's confusing signals on their pension cuts means; it says a lot about the Government that we are 11 months after their last Budget and they still don't know if they want to go ahead with their unfair pension cuts or not. It says a lot about this Government that you've got ministers wandering around the nation saying something sounds like a good idea a month out from the Budget. They haven't done their homework. Labor has got clear policies in terms of superannuation. We don't support the Government's cuts to low income superannuation recipients where they've taken away tax support and relief for those people who earn less than $37,000 a year. Labor has a clear policy to increase superannuation contributions from 9.5 per cent, because we think that too many Australians' account balances and superannuation is too low. When it comes to taxation and other matters, Labor's put forward a fully costed proposition on multinational taxation and as soon as we did that Joe Hockey blunders out of the bush and immediately swats that down. Then he comes up reacting to Labor's agenda with his so-called Google tax which has now drawn the ire of tax experts who do believe in a fair share by multinationals to be paid in taxation, but think that the Abbott Government's Google tax is a disaster waiting to happen. When it comes to the pension, Labor has a clear policy - we don't support cutting it by $80 a week. Labor’s got a very clear policy when it comes to defending the pension and attacking election promises, and what these people in this room who've worked hard their whole life, they came here at a young age as migrants, paid their taxes, raised their kids and made sure that this community is a better place to live, is they just want to know that Tony Abbott won't cut the pension.
JOURNALIST: There could be a second consecutive year of frozen pay for politicians. Are you happy to take the hit?
SHORTEN: I believe fundamentally that politicians' conditions should be set by an independent Remuneration Tribunal, the independent Remuneration Tribunal’s made its decision and I'm fine with that.
JOURNALIST: So are you comfortable with couples who own a home plus up to $1.1 million in other wealth, still getting some form of pension benefit?
SHORTEN: If you're asking about where the threshold should be in terms of - I couldn't quite hear over the noise of the audience, if you're saying about thresholds, was it? You're talking about income thresholds?
JOURNALIST: Yeah are you comfortable with pensioners owning a home and $1.1 million, sorry own a home plus have other wealth, are they still – is there still reason for them to get some form of pension?
SHORTEN: What I believe is that when it comes to the family home that should be exempt and we think that the Government needs to again with this latest flurry of confusing signals, rule out touching the family home. In terms of the rest of the propositions, you're asking me to talk about scenarios which the Government have not put on the table, but I'd refer you to Jenny Macklin's earlier answer. Labor believes that the age pension should be increased in a reasonable manner. That's why we put in the largest increase relatively in 100 years. People on the age pension are not receiving a king's ransom. It is not an overly generous payment at all. In terms of the threshold, Labor's always been willing to examine how the - all of the income policies that we have interact with each other, but let's be really clear, there is no proposal from the Abbott Government on the table. The only proposal from the Abbott Government on the table is to cut pension rate of indexation. The only proposal the Abbott Government's got is this disaster of a broken promise which would see Australian pensioners, Australian aged pensioners $80 a week worse off.
JOURNALIST: Announcing drugs in sport by the Labor ministers 2 years ago, do you think they were overdoing their rhetoric?
SHORTEN: I think Australians have got a couple of basic views about sport. I'm no different to every other Australian, I love my sport. As a rule politics and sport should not mix and certainly Australians do not expect there to be drugs in sport. In terms of the particular matters to do with football clubs and ASADA, that's still the subject of ongoing litigation, but I return to where I started. Australians don't like to see as a rule politics and sport mix, but Australians also want sport which is drug-free.
JOURNALIST: This is a club in your electorate, near your electorate, is this something you’re happy to see resolved, I guess by the AFL anti-doping tribunal?
SHORTEN: I admit I'm a Collingwood supporter, not an Essendon supporter, but like everyone who loves AFL or indeed everyone who loves our football codes, you'd like to see these matters brought to a conclusion. People I'm most concerned for is the players who've gone through a pretty long period of uncertainty. The season starts soon, I hope the matters can come to an end as speedily as possible.
JOURNALIST: With the benefit of hindsight, should Kate Lundy and Jason Clare – given that media conference 2 years ago?
SHORTEN: I'm not going to start second guessing what happened 2 years ago, but I do believe that Australians have a couple of fundamental principles and any government I lead will operate under these principles. One is as a rule, politics and sport shouldn't mix and secondly, we want to make sure though that we have drug free sport in Australia. These sports are the role models for our young men and women. We want to make sure they are drug free.
JOURNALIST: Just going back to the pension again, where do you believe the assets cut off should be for (inaudible)?
SHORTEN: Well I'll get Jenny to supplement this answer. It's a matter of getting the balance right, but what I do I know is that the Abbott Government overstepped the mark. Before the last election Tony Abbott stood up and said there'll be no changes, no cuts to the pension under a government he led. Then he brings down that ambush of a Budget where we see the indexation rate cut and for the last 10 months whenever Labor said to Tony Abbott ‘stop, you've gone too far on the pensions’, he's kept saying that no, no we're exaggerating, no, no no-one's got anything to worry about. Today what we now see in Australia's media is the first reports that the Abbott Government admits they've got it wrong. They’ve got it wrong on the policy, it's too unfair, they know they've broken their promises, but yet again we've got a government who's not actually offering anything else. This Government’s got nearly a month to go, just over a month till their next Budget. They've got to send a clear signal to Australia's pensioners that the Liberal Government, Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey won't treat pensioners like a political football. I might get Jenny to talk a bit further.
MACKLIN: Thanks very much. The first thing I'd say is that it's just wrong to suggest that the pension is not sustainable. If you look at what Australia spends on the age pension compared to similar countries overseas, we spend a lot less of our national wealth. So that's the first thing. I think we need to keep this issue in perspective. For full rate pensioners they're on around $20,000 a year. For the people that you're talking about, the level of pension they'd be getting would be very, very small indeed. So I think it all has to be kept in perspective. People need to actually look at the facts and not actually get carried away with suggestions that the Government makes, that somehow the pension is unsustainable. That is just not true. It's very important when you think about the whole retirement income system, superannuation, the pension system, that we recognise there are a lot of older Australians whose security relies on these matters being dealt with carefully and in a considered way and not by thought bubbles being dropped out to newspapers and decisions being made about people's lives in that way. We won't be doing that. We did a very careful consideration of the age pension when we were in government. We made very considered decisions and that's the way we'll approach this whole issue.
JOURNALIST: So where did you think now that the cut off should be?
MACKLIN: Well, obviously when we were in government we made decisions about that as part of our pension review. We think the pension system is fair and is sustainable. If there are other decisions to be made, the Government should put carefully considered proposals to the public and then we can all look at them in a proper way, not by dropping thought bubbles out to the newspapers.
SHORTEN: Thanks everyone, have a lovely afternoon. I hope you get some food here.
MEDIA CONTACT: LEADER’S OFFICE MEDIA UNIT 02 6277 4053