Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (22:14): I rise tonight to voice the deep concerns of people on low incomes in my electorate who have been affected by harsh decisions made by both Liberal state and Liberal local governments. I am specifically referring to pensioners in the Chifley electorate. Pensioners have been affected by the hard-hearted decisions of these two levels of government, decisions made with scant, almost dismissive, regard as to the impact that they will have. While we often see on show the hand-wringing of Liberals about cost of living pressures, we rarely see that their actions or decisions match their pretend concerns.
I am proud to say that under federal Labor pensioners are in a significantly stronger position. For example, 3.5 million pensioners are up to $207 better off for singles and up to $236 better off for couples combined, each fortnight. That is a result of Labor’s pension changes. We have also helped low-income Australians on allowance payments with a new $210 supplementary allowance for single pensioners and $350 for couples to help with essential living costs, to be paid in two installments.
Contrast this with the actions of the New South Wales Liberal government and the Blacktown council in our local area. There are 4,000 pensioners in Chifley who live in public housing provided by Housing NSW. Just as we provided a lift to their incomes via a pension increase, what did the New South Wales Liberal government do? It lifted the rents it charges these 4,000 pensioners. There was no warning and no campaigning to say that this was what they were going to do. They just hit the purses and wallets of these pensioners, and there was a massive outcry from them.
When it comes to public housing, federal Labor provided a massive boost by increased spending directed to help with the backlog of maintenance. We also built extra accommodation with approximately 200 additional social housing projects completed in the Chifley electorate. Despite this assistance, the New South Wales Liberal government still went ahead with its rent increases for no other reason than to take money off the people on the lowest incomes in our community and use that money to line its own budget.
At the time, pensioners were rightly outraged and they outlined the impact of this decision on them. How did the Liberal government respond? They just increased rents again. This was in spite of the fact that the New South Wales Auditor-General discovered the New South Wales government had overlooked a lazy $1 billion in its budget. Did that stop the New South Wales government from slugging pensioners with an extra public housing rent increase? No, they just did it. Then, as if this was not enough, the Liberal controlled Blacktown council decided it would also have a go at taking money off pensioners. Out of the blue, it decided it would stop extending a $46 pension rebate on council rates. It was finished, gone without notice and no warning.
At two levels of government, the Liberal Party have made pensioners an easy target to grab money from. The Liberal councils have never campaigned on the removal of the rebate in their election brochures displaying their multipoint plans. They never told pensioners this would occur. They never gave pensioners the time to plan ahead for the increase in their rates from the scrapping of this rebate. The way they justified the increase was stunning. When people wrote to councils to express their dismay, some Liberal councillors were just dismissive. According to Liberal Councillor Isabelle White, a person who is running as a candidate for the Liberal Party in the upcoming federal election, Blacktown council has:
… a very generous system with the pensioners of Blacktown City Council. A modest loss of 93 cents per week for pensioners will go to improving services where money is urgently needed.
I do not believe Councillor White has had to manage on a pensioner’s budget, but I think it would sound odd to pensioners living in Chifley that pensioner incomes are now being used to subsidise the work Blacktown council normally would have budgeted for.
I go back to the quote:
… a modest loss of 93 cents per week for pensioners will go to improving services where money is urgently needed.
Let me contrast that with some examples of recent council decisions. The Liberal council sought to rezone nearly 800 residents’ homes in to recreation areas while looking to sell off parks. They are looking to privatise council-run child care. In the Chifley electorate, council-run centres provide affordable, quality care to low- and middle-income families who are juggling jobs to make ends meet. After operating for decades, the local Mt Druitt swimming pool was shut down by the Liberal controlled council with literally no notice whatsoever. Even man’s best friend has fallen foul of the council with a local animal-holding facility slated to be sold off as well. Community festivals that help bring people together and neighbourhoods across the electorate are rumoured to be rationalised. That means fewer community events not more. Yet pensioners are told to tighten their belts to pay for improving services.
After both the New South Wales Liberal government and the Liberal controlled Blacktown council brought in these terrible decisions without warning, one thing is clear: the federal Liberal Party need to spell out exactly what they intend to do should they win government on September 14.