Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 8 Hansard (26 June) . . Page.. 2299 ..
MR CORBELL (continuing):
The Stanhope government is also committed to addressing poverty and disadvantage, and we are taking a strategic approach to meeting this commitment. In particular, we are currently conducting an assessment of concessions, which has involved consultation with people for whom concessions are important, including older people, young people, people with disabilities, sole parents, people from culturally diverse backgrounds, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We will consider the issues identified through this research and discussion with these groups in the future.
I will give a little more background. The ACT concessions program provides expenditure support for essential services for pensioners, low-income earners, holders of seniors cards and Veterans Affairs gold cardholders in the ACT. I believe it would be fair to say that the significant experience of Veterans Affairs gold cardholders as service men and women entitles them to the highest level of support in our community. That has been a longstanding commitment across Australian politics since the First World War.
The government's approach is a reasonable one in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The Commonwealth seniors health care cardholders program has significantly higher levels of eligibility in the amount of income couples and singles can receive in a year and it has no assets test. The amount of assets you hold is not relevant to the concession you receive from the Commonwealth program.
The Commonwealth was asking us to extend our concessions program to people with higher potential income levels than pension and health care cardholders and higher levels of assets, because there is no asset test, and they were asking us to pay for half of it. That is not an approach we believe appropriate, particularly given the current budget circumstances this government finds itself in. Therefore, the government was straightforward and honest in its response to the Commonwealth government.
I know that some people will be unhappy about the decision, but I believe it is a reasonable one based on focusing our concessions program on those most in need-people on pensions, people on health care cards, people with a range of disadvantages which make them eligible for assistance. That will be the approach the government continues to adopt in this matter.
MS DUNDAS (5.41): I was interested to note that it was in Senate estimates that it became clear that the minister for community services, Mr Corbell, indicated that the ACT would be the first state or territory to block the federal government measure of extending pension benefits to low-income, self-funded retirees. It is true that the federal government made a promise that the ACT public purse would have to wear the cost. This, I would think, is the very heart of the problem.
The states have always funded the concessions relevant to state administration, such as concessions on council rates, transport and car registration. Similarly, many private organisations wear the cost of concessions-cheap footy tickets, discount hairdressing, discount entry to art galleries, even discount membership of political parties as a normal function of their business.