Pensioners left in legislation limbo

With only four days left before Parliament rises, all eyes may be on the Government’s ABCC bill, but what about the legislation that could affect 81,000 pensioners?

It was the reason that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called a double dissolution of Parliament leading to the Federal Election in July, yet it seems we’re no closer to the passing of the legislation to introduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC). Aside from the bill being unpopular with the Opposition, Independent senator Nick Xenophon has vowed that Team Xenaphon Senators will boycott voting on this and any other bills until the dispute over the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is resolved.

The Government has managed to meet the demands of other crossbench senators in regards to the ABCC legislation but, if no agreement can be reached, with the three Team Xenophon senators, it could derail the final few days of Parliament.

And this is bad news for pensioners left in limbo as to the passing, or not, of legislation to alter portability rules for those who plan to spend part of their retirement years overseas. Currently, a recipient of the Age Pension can be outside Australia for 26 weeks and still receive most of their Age Pension payment. However, legislation, which passed the Lower House in February this year, would see those who travel outside Australia for more than six weeks have their payments subjected to the work life residency rule.

The new rules are scheduled to commence from 1 January 2017, leaving many pensioners in limbo as to how long they can remain overseas before their Age Pension is affected.  The legislation would need to be voted on and passed by the Senate in the next four days. Labor, the Greens and Nick Xenophon have all stated their opposition to the changes, so the legislation may not pass even if put to a vote.

Read more at AFR.com.au
Read the full list of current Senate bills

Opinion: Delay in vote unfair for those in need

When the proposed changes to the Age Pension portability were first announced, I made it quite clear what I thought. I’m firmly in the camp which believes that the working life residency is a good measure for giving back to those who have contributed. If you have lived and worked in Australia for the full 35 years required to retain your full pension payment then it is indeed deserved. And if your pension is paid pro rata because you haven’t lived and worked in the country long enough, then that’s fair too.

However, many people don’t share this view and that’s OK. Frank is just one YourLifeChoices member for whom the changes will be detrimental. So much so that he took the time to write and tell us just how worse off he would be under the new rules.

Many people are split on the proposed changes to Age Pension portability but fairness arguments aside, legislation that affects people’s retirement incomes at a very basic level should take precedence over a building commission about which few people actually care. Leaving people like Frank in limbo is neither fair nor just. It has been nine months since the legislation passed the Lower House yet the Government now seems to have little interest in progressing a bill that is likely to be voted down in the Upper House.

The Government’s sense of achievement at successfully passing the superannuation changes could be short-lived, with the next four days in Parliament likely to be an exercise in futility. And that’s not good for anyone, except retired MPs, who will be able to keep their Gold Passes over the Christmas break, because Malcolm Turnbull is too busy to follow through on the pledge Tony Abbott made when PM.

What do you think? Given its impending start date, should the changes to Age Pension portability have been prioritised for this sitting of Parliament? Will you be affected by these changes if they pass the Senate? Do you think that reducing Age Pension portability is necessary?

Written by Debbie McTaggart

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