Page 2986 - Week 10 - Wednesday, 14 August 2013

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We should be encouraging as many Australians as possible to save more so they can look after their own needs in retirement and not be a burden on the public purse by having to rely on the aged pension. But, in reality, why should we bother? When they do save for their own futures, the Labor government treats them as second-class citizens and charges them for as much as they can on as many things as they can.

In the ACT, independent retirees have a hard time. We have high costs of housing and high costs to relocate when we want to downsize. In the older, inner Canberra suburbs where transport is more efficient and health services are more accessible, house costs are high and rates are tripling. We have a limited supply of group and co-operative housing for older Canberrans, especially single older Canberrans. For people on fixed incomes or, indeed, reducing incomes—as many of our self-funded retirees are following the GFC and the drop in international share markets—living in the ACT is not a cheap exercise. The older persons assembly highlighted again and again the lack of transport and the dependence on cars, which are not cheap to register and insure. So many things that go to making life expensive for this sector are there.

During the budget process, the Council on the Ageing ACT highlighted access to health, access to affordable and accessible transport and housing as issues of concern. They would like to see improvements to our transport, better community bus services to hospitals and more housing options. Interestingly, like government, many associations representing the aged fail to highlight any particular support for self-funded retirees. Similarly, the ACT Greens 2012 election policy neglected this group in their older people election initiative. And many of their promises in that document were exclusively for concession card holders.

To Labor and the Greens, self-funded retirees are a forgotten group of people. However, the Canberra Liberals recognise how they are overlooked and how tough it has been for them in recent years. As the motion highlights, there is pressure on older Canberrans to keep working to help stretch their savings to their older years. There are difficult decisions to be made about meeting increased living costs and whether downsizing is an affordable option when there is no financial support for them to do so.

Retirees on limited and fixed incomes are facing the reality of Labor’s rate rises. Remember, these are the rate rises that Canberra Labor said were not happening. But just ask Canberra’s 20,000 independent retirees how they are faring—they know how real and how high these rate rises are. But the ACT government will argue they have addressed this issue through passage of the Revenue Legislation (Tax Reform) Amendment Bill 2013 earlier this year. Section 46(2)(f) of the legislation expands the eligibility criteria for rates deferral to households with at least one owner who is 65 years old or older. On the face of it, this seems a relief for retirees. But the devil, as usual, is in the detail.

These deferrals are indefinite and incur an interest charge. This is insidious and suggests that general rates will, over time, increase to the extent that more seniors will have problems paying them. In this light, this initiative to expand the deferral scheme is predatory. It allows seniors to defer payment but with an interest charge, which, quite frankly, amounts to a death tax.

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