Melbourne Fair Go For Pensioners protest, May 20, 2015. Photo: Annaki Rowlands
Pensioners rallied in Melbourne on May 20 to protest against the federal government's budget. The rally was organised by the Fair Go for Pensioners Coalition.
Rally chairperson Roger Wilson said that "on face value" the 2015 budget seemed less savage than the 2014 budget, because the government had to retreat on some of its plans in the face of massive opposition. However the "small print" of the new budget has many similarities with the previous one.
Emma King, the CEO of the Victorian Council of Social Service, said that more than 600,000 people in Victoria live in poverty, including Newstart recipients who live on only $37 per day. She attacked the government's plan to make young unemployed people live on "thin air", with no money at all for the first four weeks.
Jeff Fiedler, representing the Housing for the Aged Action Group, spoke of the housing crisis. He said the proportion of older people owning their own homes is dropping, while in the private rental market housing is "insecure and unaffordable", citing a case where rent was doubled overnight.
Fiedler called for the abolition of negative gearing and other tax concessions for landlords, with the revenue gained being directed to building more public housing. He said that housing is "a right, not a privilege".
Marilyn King, from a group called Willing Older Workers, said that factory closures mean that many unemployed older workers have skills that are no longer wanted. Such people also face age discrimination. They may miss out on Centrelink benefits for a range of reasons, including an excessive value placed on their property.
The resulting financial stress may lead to inadequate food consumption, lack of heating and cooling, inability to pay for medications, depression and suicide.
David Cragg, Assistant Secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, spoke of the need to build an alliance between working and retired Australians.
Kerry Davies, of the Council for Single Mothers and their Children, spoke of the cuts to paid parental leave. She said that new the child care package removes the right to proper child care for single mothers, who would also lose the Family Tax Benefit, part B. She spoke of the cuts to child dental schemes and family violence services.
George Katsourakis, from the Federation of Greek Elderly Citizens Clubs, addressed the rally in Greek.
While the main focus was on the federal budget, Roger Wilson also criticised the Victorian government for not acting to increase the availability of public housing or to cut the cost of electricity, gas and water for pensioners.