Pensioner Concessions

06 May 2015

Extract from my speech on the 2015 Supply Bill.

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 12:17 ): I stand to make my contribution on today's Supply Bill which is before the house and note that we are asking for $3.291 billion of funding to be released for the state government to be able to spend. I appreciate those periods in the parliamentary calendar when we are able to get out and about in our electorates. We have just had a few weeks of not sitting here, and I have certainly been able to connect with my electorate in a more consistent way than when it is broken by parliamentary sittings.

I have been out and about doing a concerted doorknocking campaign and meeting with as many people and organisations as possible to get a good understanding of what makes them tick and what they want me, as their local representative, to be following up on and to get a better understanding of their ideas and opinions not just of me but also of the state government that is governing South Australia at the moment.

I just want to run through a few issues which I think are on the radar of members of the South Australian community at the moment and which have a clear connection to the appropriation of funds because they are all economic or spending related. These are issues that come up time and time again in my electorate in one form or another, whether that is on the doorstep or through people directly contacting the Bright electorate office.

I want to focus on one issue that quite a few members have spoken on in the last few days, and that is the issue of pensioner concessions. It is a state government responsibility to fund this concession and, as we know, the federal government over the years has provided a contribution towards the provision of concessions in general, and obviously that connects through to the pensioner concession on council rates.

Yesterday, the shadow minister for local government, the member for Goyder, tabled a petition with over 13,000 names calling for the reinstatement of pensioner concessions because there is a huge amount of uncertainty, at both local government administration level and amongst elected members in local government but also, in particular and much more importantly, amongst older and more vulnerable people in our community, people living on fixed incomes who really have to watch the dollar and keep a very strict household budget, and the loss of a concession, which amounts to around $190 per annum on the council rates, is substantial.

I speak to a lot of people in my electorate—and my electorate is a particularly elderly electorate, with a lot more older people living within the boundaries of Bright than the average South Australian electorate—and I speak to a lot of older people whose council rates are actually the biggest single bill they receive in a year. They may own their home freehold so they do not have mortgage payments, and they keep an eye on electricity and water—issues that are rising and keep on rising—but the single biggest bill they receive through the letterbox on an annual basis is their council rates. I think that is something that councils need to be particularly aware of.

There is a role for councils to do better in terms of cutting their cloth to suit the economic times and also looking directly at their rate-setting policies and trying to do a better job with that. I do acknowledge, as someone who used to serve on the City of Marion council, that councils can do a lot better in this area to provide rate relief just by doing business better and avoiding duplication with other tiers of government—something that I think happens all too often in local government. I am quite happy to criticise local government and to actually say that they have a role here in cost of living and affordability as well.

I am quite encouraged to see some South Australian councils start to wake up to that, and I see my own area, the City of Marion, producing a historic rate projection on which to develop this year's budget. A budgeted rate rise of 2.9 per cent is what they are going to develop the budget on this year, and that is the lowest it has been for many years. As someone who continually tried to fight for lower rates when I was on council and never had the numbers to make that happen, I am quite happy to see it happening now because I think the City of Marion's 5 per cent average rate rise was not sustainable in the local community and certainly impacted on household budgets.

I am also pleased to see the number 3 in front of the City of Holdfast Bay's annual rate rise: it looks like it will come in at about 3.8 per cent. Councils do seem to be rising to the challenge to cut their cloth according to economic situations and recognising that there are challenges facing the South Australian community. I also note that Adelaide City Council is going to have what essentially seems to be a rate freeze, and also I saw in the media that the Norwood, Payneham and St Peter's council's rate rise will be around about 1.8 per cent. I think that is good to see and we need more of that.

In reflecting on the situation with local government revenue and rates, I have to make comment on this situation of pensioner concessions which has become, in my view, a really cynical political game being exploited by the state Labor government at the moment, creating uncertainty and playing to the politics of fear, which is the worst type of governance that any government can follow.

It is very disappointing that the federal government has administered a cut to the concession funding. I am the first one to say that I am disappointed in that, but, at the same time, that cut only amounts to 10 per cent of the entire pensioner concession, so how can the flow-through effect of this be the entire removal of the pensioner concession, which amounts to around $190? The federal government's cut has been used as a trigger by this state government to remove that entire concession, stripping pensioners of $190 of rate relief. This comes off the household costs of some of our most vulnerable citizens, those who have to rely on fixed incomes, and often low fixed incomes.

If the federal government's reduction on funding was the real reason for the state government's decision, a $19 cut would be flagged, not the loss of the full concession. It is clear that after years of financial mismanagement, this state Labor government is grasping at straws, and I cannot believe that they can do so with straight faces while attacking the most vulnerable people in our community.

Extracted from Hansard