Age pension under attack - Network Ten interview - Monday, 14 April 2014

I appeared on Network Ten's breakfast show, Wake Up, this morning to discuss Joe Hockey's anticipated budget attack on pensions. Here's the transcript:







SUBJECT/S: Age pension and the budget; Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme; and CSIRO cuts.

NATARSHA BELLING: To talk more, we are joined this morning by Shadow Assistant Treasurer, Andrew Leigh. Good morning Andrew, thanks for joining us this morning.

ANDREW LEIGH: Morning, Tarsh.

BELLING: Now, in regards to Mr Hockey's statement he claims that his generation will have to work longer because there will be serious future budgetary stresses from an ageing population. So is this something the Government needs to do?

LEIGH: Well Tarsh, the Government has said very clearly before the election there would be no cuts to pensions, so this would be a breach of that promise, and I think a very unfair one. We established the pension over a hundred years ago to deal with poverty among seniors, and to address it now in a way that increases poverty among seniors doesn't seem smart or fair.

JAMES MATHISON: You talk about smart and fair but the reality is that the population is ageing. What are you guys proposing that would be an appropriate age or an appropriate way to combat the fact that our population is getting older?

LEIGH: We did two big things in government James. We raised the pension by the largest amount since its introduction, then we phased in a rise from 65 to 67 and that will be phased in between 2017 and 2023. To go as far as 70, as your vox pop illustrated, there's a bunch of people whose bodies really struggle to get them to 70 in jobs like cleaning and check out operators. But on top of that, we know that low income Australians die about six years earlier than high income Australians, so they'll enjoy the pension for fewer years.

MATHISON: Now the PM still seems pretty committed to his paid parental leave scheme. Is this a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul? Is there a disparity at play here?

LEIGH: Certainly looks like it. I mean you put aside the broken promise and you look at cutting into a scheme that pays $20,000 a dollars a year in order to fund a scheme that gives $75,000 to the most affluent families to have a child. That strikes me as pretty unfair. In an Australia where we're told we'll all have to tighten our belts, should we really start by having a go at the pensioners first?

BELLING: Andrew, Mr Hockey has warned that times are certainly tough and this upcoming budget will be tough. What other hits do you anticipate?

LEIGH: It's pretty unclear which promises he is going to break Tarsh. But I think we can say some of them will be on the chopping board. We are seeing risks to health and to education. We're certainly seeing big cuts in our intellectual capacity: CSIRO has been literally decimated, losing 1 in 10 workers. That's coming from a Government that doesn't have a science minister so there's no one they can complain to. We don't know where their cuts are going to come but it does worry us that this Commission of Audit report is being kept secret rather than being put out in the open so we can have a transparent and honest conversation about it.

MATHISON: Andrew, thanks for your time this morning, and as we saw by the people we chatted to in the street, it might be a bit of a hard sell for the Government, this plan. But I appreciate your time.

LEIGH: Pleasure, thanks.

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