On 1 February this year, comments made in Debbie’s Age Pension portability under threat article struck a nerve with Frank, who is one of our members. So, we asked him if he would allow us to publish what he had say on the matter.
The following are the comments to which Frank is referring:
While reducing the time a person can be absent from Australia from 26 weeks to six weeks seems extreme, it’s worth remembering that the payment being made is an Australian Age Pension. It’s not a payment meant to fund lifestyles overseas or extended travel, but rather support those who do not have the savings to fund their own retirement.
Dear Ms McTaggart
I was extremely upset to read your reported comments, I have included [above], following the Lower House consideration of the portability provisions relating to the Age Pension.
In my case, I came to Thailand in 2005 to do voluntary teaching for underprivileged young people, after my wife refused to move into an apartment where we could better manage our retirement years together. She then sought a separation through Centrelink to get her a single-rate pension. I told Centrelink that I disagreed we had separated in the legal sense and her application was declined.
Subsequently, she again went to Centrelink citing there was no chance of a reconciliation and her application was granted.
Since 2005, I have returned to Australia within the 26 weeks to ensure my pension was maintained, but could only stay for a day or so because, given the airfare from Thailand, it was too expensive to stay longer.
Centrelink subsequently deemed me to be a non-resident because of my short stays in Australia. The fact that my wife and I had separated, I had no job or savings other than my pension and no family in Australia, despite my daughter and grandson living in Canberra made no difference.
I should perhaps add that my son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren returned to live in Australia this month, but their return is deemed by Centrelink to not be adequate enough to have my non-residency status overturned.
If the proposed portability provisions are approved by the Upper House and become law, then it will be impossible for me to return to Australia every six weeks, and my single-rate Age Pension entitlement will be automatically cut by one-third or more per month. If that occurs, I will not have the financial means to support myself.
Several times I have sought advice about returning to Australia to live, but told there would be too long a waiting list for state subsidised housing – citing 10 years in Western Australia – and applications could not be made until one returns. I have no home in which to stay and neither could I pay (from my pension) to rent a place.
I have less than 35 years’ working-life residence in Australia, so even if I could manage to return, my pension would still be cut because of the proposed pension changes currently under consideration.
It is grossly unfair of you to imply that (in my case) the Age Pension is not a payment meant to fund lifestyles overseas or extended travel, but it is true that my pension is supporting me because I do not have any savings to fund my retirement.
I would request, Ms McTaggart, before making any more statements, such as you made, that you give more thought to the implications of the proposed pension cuts as a consequence to the review of portability provisions for overseas Australians who might very well be in the same position as that I find myself, at nearly 78 years of age, and through no fault of their own.
Do you agree with Frank? Do you have any advice you can share with him and our members?