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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 8 Hansard (26 June) . . Page.. 2301 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

The Commonwealth seniors health card, a separate system, is available to older people on the basis of an income test alone. Single people may have an income of up to $50,000. That does not seem to be quite what Mr Corbell was saying, but I have to confess that I am having a bit of trouble. We were getting a lot of different figures in researching for this motion today. Anyway, this latter group is the one to which the Commonwealth government's proposal relates.

Certainly some people who receive a Commonwealth seniors health card are living on incomes just above the cut-off for the pension and are in difficulty. There are people living in difficult circumstances. However, there are other people in the group of Commonwealth senior health cardholders who are quite well off. The problem is not simple, though. The people currently eligible for ACT government-funded concessions are subject to strict asset and income eligibility tests.

It is clear that there is a need to extend the concession. I think the government is right to be wary about the offer. The Commonwealth has not guaranteed its portion of the funding into the future. We do not want to have to remove concessions in the future. However, I understand that the ACT is the only state or territory so far to say no to this proposal outright.

I am told that Western Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia have all agreed in principle and are negotiating the details. South Australia is waiting till the budget, apparently. It is open to the Commonwealth to adjust the pension entitlement to accommodate the gap, and they are in control of the criteria for pensions.

We did talk to the Council on the Ageing today, and they were not totally supportive of what Mr Cornwell has attempted to do here today. So I feel that I have to express some reservation about supporting this motion. I understand why Mr Cornwell has moved it, and I support his intention, but I do not feel that we have the full picture. There are reasonable concerns that have been expressed already by other speakers.

The Poverty Task Group estimated the Henderson poverty line for a single-income family of two adults and two children in 1999 at $24,700 per year. That is significantly less than the income cut-off for a single person for the Commonwealth seniors health care card. But that does not mean there is no need to assist people who meet that test.

MR CORNWELL (5.48), in reply: I wish the government would make up its mind. The government initially told me that they have rejected this proposal on the grounds of no ongoing commitment from the Commonwealth government. When it was pointed out a little while ago that there was in fact an ongoing commitment, they suddenly changed their tune and started talking about it possibly covering too many people and the difference between pensioner income and self-funded retiree income being quite vast.

First, it is low-income, self-funded retirees we are discussing, not every self-funded retiree. Secondly, whilst the pensioner amount may be significantly less, pensioners also have additional concessions for council and water rates, utility charges, public transport and motor vehicle registration, as well as a pharmaceuticals discount and a telephone allowance. Whilst there may be a difference in the money they receive, there is also a substantial difference in the concessions available.

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