Pensioners demand a fair go

Issue 

On November 24, around 600 pensioners atttended a mass meeting called by the Fair Go for Pensioners (FGP) campaign at Melbourne Town Hall.

The meeting unanimously passed a resolution to campaign for an immediate 10% increase in the pension.

Frank Cherry, a leader of the FGP, noted that it had been a successful 16 months for pensioners and this meeting was historic because the government was slowly recognising the problems pensioners faced. There is currently a review of pensions being undertaken by the federal government, concluding in February 2009.

FGP has become a national campaign, with rallies held in Sydney, Rockhampton, Adelaide and Brisbane.

Patricia Reeve, head of Council on the Ageing Victoria, said at the meeting, "decent pensions are in everyone's interest" as they underpin everything else.

Reeve pointed out that this is the first time in 30 years that there has been a review of the pension so pensioners need "to maintain pressure for $19,000, not the miserly $14,000 a year many survive on."

George Zangalis, a retired union leader, declared, "we are not complaining, we are demanding our rights. The only way to win is to be vocal, to be organised, to be seen."

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Jeff Lawrence pledged support for the campaign from the peak union body.

Fears were raised that the financial crisis would be used as an excuse to deny an increase. Cherry declared, "we pensioners never created the financial crisis and we are not going to suffer for it", to loud applause.

Angry attendees spoke from the floor about other social issues affecting pensioners, such as homelessness. The resolution also called for increased pharmaceutical benefits, free public transport for pensioners, increased funding for aged-care services and pensioner concession rates for utilities and council fees.

The meeting comes in the middle of a wave of pensioner protests demanding justice this year. In May, pensioners protested in Melbourne, declaring that the federal budget neglected them. Since then, there have been ongoing protests by pensioner groups.

Both major parties have a history of opposition to pension increases. On August 17, 2007, both Labor and Liberal combined to defeat a Greens motion in the Senate for an immediate $30-per-week increase in the single aged pension.

There are around 600,000 single aged pensioners in Australia, a minority of the more than 2 million people receiving the disability, carers, veterans, widows or other pensions, or who are aged pensioner couples, receiving only 60% of the pension earned by two single aged people.

"We built this country, we demand a pension that allows justice and dignity", Cherry concluded.

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