A new Centre for Independent Studies report says retirees have a “misplaced sense of entitlement” about pensions and suggests homes be made part of the pension assets test, heaping further anxieties upon the elderly.
Pensioners are constantly made to feel that we are an expensive liability; a burden on society.
The report echoes the Abbott government’s ill-fated National Commission of Audit, and its urgent call to cut the age pension while ignoring calls to rein in superannuation concessions for wealthy Australians.
Citing the burden on taxpayers, the CIS does not consider other sources of revenue, such as improved tax collection from multinationals or from the 37.6% of large companies who paid no tax in Australia last financial year. Nor does it concede that governments do not solely rely on individual wage-earner income tax receipts. It is a cruel distortion to depict age pensions as coming solely out of tax payers’ wage packets.
To counteract the scaremongering by the CIS it’s important to note that Australia is second-lowest amongst the OECD in spending on age pensions.
We spend 3.5% of GDP on age pension, while the UK, for example, spends 6%. France and Italy spend 14% and 15% respectively. Yes, we have an ageing population, but the government’s own estimates show spending on the aged pension will increase only slightly to 3.9% by 2050. Our superannuation scheme allows government to shift the cost of welfare on to workers.
The Centre has a convert in our treasurer. “Australia is rapidly becoming a nation divided between those who pay taxes and those who have taxes spent upon them,” declared federal treasurer, Scott Morrison in his National Press Club address on 17 February. It’s an ugly idea.
The burden on the nation of those who don’t pay their way is one of this government’s major themes. Morrison is working at dividing us so that his cuts to welfare spending are seen to promote “integrity” rather than for what they are: a means to deprive the poor, the weak and the old of their fair entitlement as members of a just and decent society.
Morrison assures us he is being “candid” and “upfront” because “that’s his style”. If only it were. In fact, he’s dog-whistling all those who nurse a grievance; those who resent our human responsibility to care for one another as an imposition rather than an investment in the national public good.
The treasurer is capitulating to the politics of divisiveness and resentment as effectively if he’d used Joe Hockey’s old terms “lifters and leaners”. “Tax payer v payee” is a cynical and artificial distortion of our complex inter-relationships, our mutual interdependence. It ignores our changing roles and circumstances on our lives’ journeys. We move between one status and the other.
Morrison’s assurances ring false. This is the same “candid” and “upfront” treasurer who still refuses to release economic modelling to show the full impact of his $4.8 billion cuts to family payments. He would have us believe that there is a welfare crisis and that fraud is rife. His government tells us we can’t afford to get old unless we fund our own retirement. The pension is “a safety net”.
Are we worthless? Do we count as nothing a pensioner’s life time of contribution at his or her workplace and to his community? Is a “safety net” the right image for those who have done so much so well for so long? Are we to devalue the contributions of millions of dedicated and effective members of families and communities? A “safety net” welfare system is an insult to the elderly.
Last December’s Myefo “enhanced welfare payment integrity” measures to crack down on fraud saw Morrison lower the bar further in creating community suspicion and resentment.
Suspicion is already part of the system. When you front your Centrelink office what you feel is not support but rather a profound and pervasive doubt. The onus is on you to prove you are not a cheat. After a lifetime of being trusted and valued members of society, along with the indignities of age and infirmity, we must also suffer the burden of proof. No society can function by abandoning or contracting out its trust.
This is not how a society should respect its elders. This is not even how the legal system works with its benefit of the doubt. Not that our treasurer is interested in fairness. He’s fixated on figures and statistics and the prospect of “savings”.
Nobody likes to be told they are a worthless burden; a waste of resources. But that’s just what the nation’s pensioners are hearing from its government; a government which is desperate enough to find savings by abandoning respect for its elders.