Pensioners may lose concessions

Treasurer Joe Hockey promised in his Budget speech that part pensioners who lose their part pension under the new asset thresholds and pension taper rates would keep their rights to state and territory concessions. However, it seems he didn’t clear this will all states before making the promise.

Under the new rules, which are proposed to commence on 1 January 2017, 91,000 retirees are expected to lose their right to the part Age Pension. Announcing the measures in his Budget, Mr Hockey said, “Importantly anyone who currently has a pensioner concession card will continue to receive a concession card that provides the same benefits, such as subsidised utilities and transport, bulk billing and cheaper PBS prescription medicines. These measures are all intended to provide security and certainty for older Australians in the years ahead.” This may not be the case in all states and territories.

Pensioner concession cards are issued by the states and territories to those who qualify due to a Centrelink payment and many of the concessions, such as those on transport, car registration and utilities, are actually paid for by the states. Having lost $223 million in federal cuts made in last year’s budget, which paid for the concessions, state governments may not be so keen to keep funding the concessions.

Sources for the government agree that while the government can ensure that those affected keep their government issued Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, they concede that it is up to the states whether many concessions remain.

Queensland has already made it clear that it is not on the same page as the federal Treasurer. A spokesman for Queensland’s Treasurer, Curtis Pitt said, “The Abbott government didn’t consult with Queensland or the Department of Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services on this issue. The hard fact is that Joe Hockey is cutting services to some of the most vulnerable people in society, leaving fewer people with a part-pension and therefore a pensioner concession card.”

While arrangements vary between states, it is thought that losing such concessions could cost retirees between $1000 and $1500 per year.

Labor’s social security spokeswoman, Jenny Macklin said Mr Hockey must confirm whether or not he has the agreement of the states to continue providing the valuable concessions, “Last year Tony Abbott’s budget ripped $1.3bn from pensioner concessions. This means pensioners will lose their discounts on things like gas and electricity, council rates and transport.

“Extraordinarily, it now appears Joe Hockey wants the states to extend these concessions to seniors who will lose their pension under new assets test arrangements.”


Opinion: Respect the boundaries

As with most government policy, the lack of detail often causes confusion and contradiction and it appears that the pension changes announced in the Budget are no different.

In delivering his Budget speech, Joe Hockey has made promises that he simply doesn’t have the authority to make. The lines between state and federal politics seem to be blurred for the Treasurer and his government. Federal government does not trump state and territory governments, their remits are quite different.

In a move to cuts costs last year states and territories lost much of the money they rely on to provide health and education services and of course, provide concessions to pensioners. And while many of the state elections were fought over several platforms, the voting public in certain states made it clear that they were not happy and the Liberal governments were ousted. Yet just this weekend we saw Mr Abbott launch billboards in Victoria criticising the state Labor government for exercising its right (whether you agree with it or not) to scrap the East-West road link. Mr Abbott himself having referred to the November state election as a referendum on whether the project should go ahead. Next he pops up in Western Australia, where Liberal support is waning, promising money for a new medical school. His ‘punish and placate’ modus operandi in full effect.

Yet again it is pensioners and those who have most to lose who get punished by the government’s failure to realise that, as Newton’s Third Law decrees, every action has an opposite and equal reaction. The Federal Government cannot strip money from state budgets and expect them to cover the costs of hollow promises made by a Treasurer floundering to deliver a ‘fair’ budget. And meddling in state politics when you’re not wanted isn’t going to get it what it wants.

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