Promises, promises...



SUBJECT / S: Tony Abbott breaks yet another promise on pension cuts; Kevin Rudd; Climate Change.

ANDREW LEIGH, ACTING SHADOW TREASURER: Thanks to everybody for coming to sunny Hackett on a Saturday afternoon. I wanted to make a couple of comments about the very clear statement now that the Prime Minister intends breaking his pledge to pensioners. Suggestions now that the government is going to cut into the pension will be a deep blow to Australian pensioners who had a clear promise the day before the election that there would be no cuts to pensions. Ultimately the government has found itself caught between its economic and political strategy. Joe Hockey has manufactured a budget crisis by things such as going soft on multinationals, giving $9 billion to the Reserve Bank. He's doubled the deficit and now the government has found that it can’t both deal with the situation Joe Hockey has created and also manage to keep its pledge to pensioners.  This will be a cruel blow to 2.3 million Australians who rely so heavily on the pension and who expect that they had a Prime Minster who could keep his world. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: You’ve mentioned breaking an election promise, the latest speculation is that any change won’t be part of this four year term and therefore the government will be taking it to the people at the next election. What do you say to that?

LEIGH: The Prime Minister’s promise to the Australian people was not qualified; it was an absolutely clear promise. It was as close as you could get to what the Prime Minister would call prepared, scripted remarks. The Australian people were entitled to think that they could take him at his world and there would indeed be no cuts to pensions.

JOURNALIST: It looks like we’ve got two plans on the table. One is a change in 2029 the other is following Labor’s current rate rise of six months per year which would see the retirement age hit 70 by 2034. Is either one of those a better option?

LEIGH: Labor will be holding Prime Minister Abbott to account; this is after all a Prime Minister who has spent the last three years criss-crossing the country talking about comments that Julia Gillard made the day before the 2010 election. Now Labor is holding him to his word on comments he made the day before the 2013 election. He said no cuts to pensions; we believe he should be held to his word.

JOURNALIST: Do you rule out any bipartisan support for raising the pension age?

LEIGH: Prime Minister Abbott has been very clear that there would be no cuts to pensions and let’s be clear this is a payment of around $20,000 that goes to some of the lowest income Australians. By contrast the Prime Minster wants to give $75,000 to some of the most affluent Australian families when they have a child and wants to give a large tax break back to mining billionaires.

JOURNALIST: Why won’t you cooperate to help the government get the budget back to surplus?

LEIGH: Labor believes that the government should be held to account, to its promises. There was a plan to return to surplus prior to the changes Joe Hockey made which doubled the deficit. If Joe Hockey is going to go soft on multinationals so he can go hard on pensioners and break his word, the Australian people will take a pretty dim view of that.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it a bit rich that Labor’s saying that this government’s going to break a promise?

LEIGH: Mr Abbott is simply being held to his word –

JOURNALIST: But Labor broke promises in government.

LEIGH: We are holding Mr Abbott to account who said prior to the election that he thought it would be very hard to foresee circumstances in which it would be appropriate for a politician to break their word and he appears to be doing exactly that relating to a payment which goes to the most vulnerable. A payment which is designed to reduce poverty among the elderly now looks likely to be changed in a way that will probably increase poverty among the elderly.

JOURNALIST: The government says that people are living longer and that‘s why a policy like this is needed. Would you encourage them too, if they’re going to push ahead with this, also bring in measures to assist older people to get back into the workforce, to get more hours in the workforce, to decrease age discrimination in the workforce?

LEIGH: This is a core equity issue. We know that for people in white collar jobs it might well be possible to work until 70 but if you’re a bricklayer and we’re asking you to work to age 70 that’s going to be pretty tough on your body. Added to that, that we know low income Australians die six years earlier than high income Australians. This is a policy which really seems to be saying because lawyers are living longer, we should make cleaners work for longer.

JOURNALIST: Would Kevin Rudd make a good Secretary-General to the UN?

LEIGH: I just read these reports like everyone else, and have little to go on. Kevin Rudd I thought did an excellent job as Australian foreign minister.

JOURNALIST: In his autobiography, his biography by Robert Macklin he said that he saw the Prime Ministership of Australia as a stepping stone to the UN General-Secretary job. Did he ever mention anything like that to you?

LEIGH: I’ve never spoke with Kevin Rudd about his desires for international positions.

JOURNALIST: Adam Bandt has described or equated carbon, coal mining as the new asbestos, what have you got to say about that?

LEIGH: I don’t think overblown rhetoric does anyone much good on an important issue like climate change.  What we need is clear headed bipartisanship in order to take the moderate steps that are required in order to decouple economic growth from carbon pollution.

JOURNALIST: Isn’t it a little insensitive from people who are dying from asbestos cancer?

LEIGH: I certainly don’t support intemperate rhetoric from either side of the carbon price debate. Certainly the language used by Prime Minister Abbott describing the science of climate change as ‘absolute crap’ was unhelpful and we need the sensible centre to come together to support a price on carbon, a consensus that we had for the best part of a decade before it was wrecked by Tony Abbott. Thanks everyone.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.