Wrap: Senator Ruston’s bad week

Senator Anne Ruston has not had a good week.

Her appearance on Mornings with Neil Mitchell on Melbourne radio station 3AW did not go well.

She’s two months into her new role as Families and Social Services Minister and already she’s somewhat of a pariah among the people she’s trying to help.

To be fair to the Senator, going head to head with Neil Mitchell is a challenge. He has sunk much bigger boats than hers. He knows how to get his story and is without doubt one of the toughest interviewers in the game.

It’s a game Senator Ruston may have lost this week.

On Monday, Neil Mitchell did his Neil Mitchell thing and got the angles he needed to make good radio. All credit to Mr Mitchell. That’s what he does, and he does it very well.

He raised some good questions – somewhat leading questions but questions we know pensioners and retirees want answered – and he also extracted some great comments from the Senator.

The Senator rightly pointed out that she’s only two months into the job and she has already managed to get something done that hasn’t been done for nigh on four years – cut the deeming rates.

The first thing she’s done since taking office is tackle an issue that has been a sore point for pensioners for a long time.

She also said that in future, changes to the deeming rates will be more “responsive to when market conditions change. If we see change (in official interest rates) it’s timely that we review deeming rates as required”.

There is little doubt that the changes to the deeming rate, albeit minor, will help some pensioners.

“[The] changed rates are good for them and good for the economy,” said the Senator.

But it was on this point Mr Mitchell bit hard.

He maintained the Government had made $1 billion off the backs of pensioners by not adjusting deeming rates sooner and that it had to know it was doing something wrong.

“Do you accept that the government has made a billion extra dollars because interest rates have gone down but the deeming rates haven’t?” he asked.

“I’m not in a position to tell you what’s happened over that time, I can just tell you what’s happening right now,” said the Senator.

She seemed to be treading water admirably.

It was when she made those ill-fated comments about the Age Pension being generous that she came undone.

“The Age Pension,” said Mr Mitchell. “$66 a day. Could you live on it? I couldn’t.”

“I don’t think a debate about whether I could live on (the pension) or not is relevant. It is a generous amount of money that the Australian taxpayers make available to our older Australians,” said Senator Ruston.

“I’m sorry, did you say the pension is generous?” asked Mr Mitchell.

Game over …

The backlash from older Australians went a little something like this …

“Dear Minister Anne Ruston,

What a load of crap! No one is financing my pension. I was a taxpayer for 45 years plus and paid my due taxes every month. If people like you stopped wasting our bloody money on unnecessary trips overseas and other “tours” around the country, if you stopped giving yourselves high raises, there would be some money left for the needed. What I am getting is a return of my money (not so wisely invested and used by the federal government).” ~ wrote YourLifeChoices member AussieTuca in the comments on our article Age Pension ‘generous’, says social services minister.

There were more comments along these lines, such as:

“The adjustment to the deeming rate is great for those age pensioners who own their house and apparently have a stash of money in the bank! What about the poor old pensioners who are lucky to be able to switch the heater on after they have paid the rent. So who cares? No one except those affected.” ~ Denis Wombat

“I’m not a pensioner but I am equally outraged. She hasn’t got a clue. The politicians stole the money pensioners saved through their taxes and now they sit back knowing they themselves are well provided for in retirement and, and, decide others have to do it tough because they can’t manage the economy.” ~ VinceD.

“I have always said, and still say, that it should be mandatory for anyone who is elected into parliament to have to live on the pension for a minimum of three months. See how many of them think it’s generous then.” ~ Geminiwoman

Others were a little more sympathetic.

“While her comments were clumsy governments of all persuasions have to look at budgets. When the first equivalent of an aged pension was introduced (I think 1907) the majority of people barely last four years before passing. These days people are living longer on average – a great many people are getting much more from OAP than they ever contributed in taxes. I am not affected as I am not entitled as I earn too much – no complaints – yet during my working life at one time I was paying well over 100k in taxes per year (so if I did get an OAP I would never recover what I contributed). These politicians all make this “generous” comments – they say the same thing about veteran allowances. The OAPers who do it tough are those renting – those owning their own homes are okay (may not be well off but okay). I watch TV and news and see every interest group asking for more and more funds but no one offers where the money is coming from or what can be cut.” ~ bob menzies.

Some took more offence to pension being called ‘welfare’ rather then being referred to as ‘generous’.

“I wish other ministers and media commentators (including some who contribute to this forum) would cease using the term ‘welfare’ when referring to payments made by the government to the less affluent members of our community. The term ‘welfare’ is used in a denigrating manner, most people who receive social security payments are good citizens who, for one reason or another, require community support. They do not deserve the sneering comments from more fortunate people.” ~ Eddy

Some thought the Senator could have just admitted she used the wrong words and that some pensioners are doing it tougher than she could ever imagine.

“I note that all sides of politics have disagreed with this minister. If this is an example of how she treats those under her portfolio, she will soon become a backbencher. She has not apologised, nor has she claimed to be taken out of context which suggests an arrogance that is not compatible with her job.” ~ Old Man

Even Neil Mitchell later admitted that the Senator may not have actually meant what she said.

“I think that what’s she’s done here is a slip of the tongue, and then not willing to go back and fix it,” he said.

YourLifeChoices contacted Senator Ruston to get her side of the story. Read her response.

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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