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Govt's Claim on Pensions Undermined

 

The Age

 

September 13, 2008

 

Australia

 

The federal government's claim that it must wait for a review before raising the age pension has been undermined by the revelation that it considered a detailed submission on the question before the May budget.

Fairfax newspapers say documents released to the Seven Network under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that cabinet considered an 83-page submission, including detailed options, on increasing payments to age pensioners on March 25.

But it decided to take no action other than continuing the annual $500 pension bonus and raising the utilities allowance.

"It is now clear Mr Rudd's committee on pensions is just a cynical smokescreen hiding his deliberate refusal to help Australia's pensioners," Fairfax quoted Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson as saying.

Treasurer Wayne Swan on Friday maintained that he needed a full report before considering Dr Nelson's proposal for an immediate rise in the single age pension of $30 a week.

"We want to have a comprehensive look at all of the issues that arise when you increase a base rate of pension, and to make sure we do it in a comprehensive way," Mr Swan told Brisbane radio. "The pensions review will report at latest by February so we can take action in next year's budget." That review is being conducted by the head of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jeff Harmer.

Fairfax says the documents released to the Seven Network reveal that it was Dr Harmer's department that prepared the cabinet submission in March, suggesting the department has already examined the options the Treasurer is asking its head to examine.

Among the changes it considered was altering the way in which age pensions are benchmarked to male total average weekly earnings.

At the moment they are increased each March and September in accordance with movements in earnings to the previous November and May. The department considered adjusting the pensions in accordance with the forecasts of future movements in earnings


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