Pensioners demand a raise

Issue 
A rally organised by Fair Go for Pensioners took place in Melbourne on May 27. Photo: Sue Bolton

One hundred pensioners rallied outside Victorian Parliament House on May 27 to demand a raise in the aged pension.

The rally was organised by the Fair Go for Pensioners Coalition (FGPC), which had previously organised nationwide protests in November 2008.

Frank Cherry, national coordinator of the coalition, told the crowd: “We’re rallying today to highlight the plight of pensioners, both to the state and federal government, and to begin the second stage of our campaign to increase the pension.”

“For the first time since the Whitlam government, pensioners are starting to have an impact.”

Cherry noted that they had successfully forced the federal government to increase the pension in 2009, but it was not enough. The coalition is campaigning for the federal government to raise the pension rate from 25% of average male weekly earnings to 35%.

The pension remains at 25% despite significant price rises.

Cherry said: “The government wastes money on weapons of war to destroy humanity. Instead of spending on weapons, they should spend on improving pensions.”

Speakers from the Polish and Greek communities outlined the FGPC’s plan to improve conditions for pensioners. The plan includes the reintroduction of the pensioner discount for motor vehicle registration, pensioner concession rates for utilities and council rates, and public transport to be made free for pensioners.

Sharon Firebrace, representing the Aboriginal community at the rally, described the difficulty of Aboriginal pensioners in the Northern Territory whose pensions were “income managed”, meaning half their income could only be spent on food, clothing and medical supplies. Firebrace is the Socialist Alliance Senate candidate for Victoria.

George Zangalis, representing Greek community radio, condemned “politicians going to pensioner functions and having a cup of tea but not standing up for pensioners”. He called on pensioners “to continue to struggle for our rights. As soon as you take it easy, they run all over you.”

The coalition was formed in 2007 out of a grassroots movement of ethnic senior citizens clubs, retired union member organisations, church and community groups, and the Council of the Ageing Victoria.

Pensioners will go to Canberra in August to lobby federal politicians and meet all parties contesting the Victorian election about pensions and concessions.