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Don't blame retirees for the pension increase

By Alison Hiscocks - posted Monday, 11 May 2009

Treasurer Wayne Swan is under intense pressure with his 2009 Budget to honour a commitment to increase the base rate for the age pension. However, in doing so he has also blundered into effectively blaming retirees for tough Budget measures likely to hit Australia’s high earners.

Whichever way you look at it, the Treasurer will be regarded as a villain by various sections of the community when he unveils the Budget on May 12. A global economic recession, jittery share markets, a faltering dollar, billions of dollars in lost revenue, and demands everywhere for tax cuts, handouts and pension increases. Who would want the job?

Although Budget decisions are traditionally and officially kept secret until disclosed in Federal Parliament, the reality is the political machine deliberately leaks like a sieve and unpleasant decisions are often carefully “leaked” to the media as a controlled test on how they might play to the community if formally announced. It’s an effective ploy and is being heavily employed this year.


Pensioners have been assured there is an increase on the books for them but the line coming out of Canberra is, oh dear, the cost to the rest of the community to pay for all this is not pretty!

Yes, the Government will honour pre-recession promises of tax cuts, but high income earners will cop it by having their taxpayer-funded 30 per cent private health insurance rebates slashed, or so the leaked information tells us.

Confirmation that this week’s Budget would provide for the base rate of the age pension to rise came a few days ago, with reported remarks by Treasurer Wayne Swan that increasing the pension would require tough measures elsewhere.

It was an unnecessary guilt trip for retirees. I have a special interest in legal issues affecting the elderly and my boutique legal practice on Queensland’s Gold Coast has many retiree clients. I deal with their concerns daily. Right now, they are frightened. The stress of coping with day to day living on a fixed income is something most salary and wage-earning Australians cannot relate to.

They crave security in their retirement years and having done their bit for Australia’s growth, they quite fairly would like a little back to pay for the food, medical bills and other daily living expenses. At present, the pension does not give them anything like the security they need.

Relief is at hand, we are assured. But expected single pension increases of up to $30 a week are likely to be part-funded by measures that will target Australia’s high income earners. Superannuation tax breaks are expected to be slashed to fund the pension increase, with next Tuesday's Budget expected to boast the largest deficit in Australian history.


In my view it was “unhelpful” of the Treasurer to promote the image that the country must somehow make “sacrifices” for pensioners.

In the current economic environment, attitudes like that only provoke jealousy and resentment in the community. Let’s get one thing very clear - retirees deserve a pension increase. This is not a luxury thing for them, it’s about increasing their pensions to a point where they can buy food and pay their bills.

The Treasurer’s reported remarks about the pension increase have only fostered a guilt feeling in retirees.

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About the Author

Alison Hiscocks is a Gold Coast-based lawyer with a special interest in legal issues affecting the elderly, and an advocate of aged peoples’ rights.

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