PM writes pensioners a letter

Despite the plans to cut Australia Post snail mail deliveries from five days a week to three, it is reported that the Federal Government will post a personally addressed letter to 2.4 million age pensioners, in an attempt to explain changes to the pension post Budget 2014. The report, published in yesterday’s Courier Mail, appears to be in response to Abbott Government ministers’ concerns about a budget backlash, in particular from older Australians who believe they are losing entitlements.

Such sentiments appear to support the notion that Budget 2014 has been poorly sold to the electorate and that age pensioners, in particular, are being asked to do more than their fair share of the ‘lifting’. The letter, however, will be sent from the Government agency, Centrelink, which manages all pension payments, leading to claims that this is actually Government advertising, disguised as a release of vital information. The Courier Mail quoted Opposition Leader Bill Shorten as saying that such a mailout “would be nothing more than an advertising campaign.”

The newspaper also quoted Human Services Minister Marise Payne as claiming that the Labor Party had “misled” age pensioners on this issue.


Opinion: Lipstick on a pig?

Since 13 May the debate on entitlement and pensions has heated up. But surely the only question that matters is whether Australian age pensioners are better or worse off?

It’s been more than a month since Budget 2014 was handed down. So it’s time to let the facts get in the way of the good ‘story’, be that spin from the Government, the Opposition, or any other vested interests. On 14 May, YOURLifeChoices website reported on the wins and losses. A brief summary can be found here.

And an even briefer summary is this. Assuming the Budget initiatives pass both houses, pensioners will be worse off, in the first instance from early legislation introducing a Medicare co-payment in 2015 and a fuel tax late 2014. Other changes in 2015 will affect PBS subsidies. Changes to the deeming rate (scheduled for 2017) will further disadvantage those on the Age Pension, as will planned changes to pension indexation (also scheduled for 2017) which will reduce increases. Those who are self-funded and currently qualify for a Commonwealth Seniors Health Card (CSHC) will lose the $876 Seniors Supplement from July 2014 onwards.

So it is difficult to sustain the argument that older Australians will NOT be worse off. They will, starting July this year. The letter sent with Centrelink letterhead will most probably address other budget initiatives including the move of the Age Pension age to 70, between 2025 and 2035 – a long-term change in anyone’s language. Will this clarification be enough to calm fears of senior Australians already living under the poverty line? I doubt it. Budget 2014 delivered cuts to many sectors, but in particular to those relying on welfare payments.

As some sage once said, you cannot put lipstick on a pig, and the proposed snail mail explanation from Centrelink smacks of just that.

What do you think? Will you be worse off from proposed Budget changes? Is a personally addressed letter a good way of explaining the above changes? Or is it a waste of money? Even worse, a classic case of lipstick on a porky?

Written by Kaye Fallick