On February 27, the federal government received a report on the review of the pensions system conducted by Jeff Harmer, the head of the families and community services department.
While the results of the review have not yet been made public, speculation is growing that the government will fund increased payments to pensioners by cutbacks to those receiving a part-pension.
The February 27 Sydney Morning Herald revealed that the likely government plan is to raise the rate at which the pension is reduced for income earned (the taper rate).
Increasing the amount that the government deducts from the pension — from 40 to 50 cents for every extra dollar earned — would cut or reduce the pension paid to one million "wealthy" pensioners, the SMH said.
The money taken from so-called "wealthy" pensioners would be returned to pensioners without other income sources. The government is expected to increase the single pension by at least $30 a week in the May budget.
"A single person can get some of the pension and a range of other concessions when their income is about $770 a week", Maree O'Halloran, director of the Welfare Rights Centre, told the SMH. "Working families paying a mortgage and trying to get their kids through school would consider this amount a bit rich", O'Halloran said.
While focusing their calls on the government to increase payments for the most disadvantaged, not all pensioner advocates accept the inherently divisive logic of taking from some pensioners to pay others.
Charmaine Crowe, policy coordinator of the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of New South Wales (CPSA), called on the government to pay those pensioners receiving no other income but the pension a supplement that would "give a pensioner living on $280 a week an extra $80 a week, and cost about $3 billion annually." The pension for couples should be increased by $50 a week, Crowe told Green Left Weekly.
The CPSA believes that government money would be best spent giving pensioners whose only source of income is the pension a modest pay rise, rather than a blanket increase of $35 a week to all pensioners. Crowe stressed that the CPSA did not support an increase in the pension taper rate.
Along with the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the CPSA is calling for any pension increase to be extended to all pensioners. "Disability support pensioners and carers were also included in the government's review of pensions", Crowe told GLW, but not those receiving the parenting payment.
The CPSA argues for single parents to receive the same increase as other single pensioners.
"Sole parents are among the worst off in our community", ACOSS director Clare Martin said in a March 2 submission to the taxation review panel. "Recent research published by ACOSS shows that 57% of sole parents on the parenting payment regularly can't pay utility bills. It is critical they be included in this next round of increases."
The CPSA is organising a public meeting to call on the government to make a substantial increase to the pension. The meeting will be held at 11am, March 11 at the Teachers Federation Auditorium, 23 Mary Street Surry Hills. For more information phone (02) 9281 3588.