Anthony Albanese has demanded the Morrison government apologise to aged pensioners after an L-plate minister described the pension as “generous”.
New Social Services Minister Anne Ruston sparked angry calls to talkback radio this week after she also claimed the $66-a-day payment was “welfare” for people who can’t look after themselves.
The opposition leader said the fact that Senator Ruston was only recently elevated to cabinet was no excuse.
“Pensioners do it tough. They deserve our respect, they get a pension as payback for what they have done in contributing to this nation,” Mr Albanese said in Perth.
“Anne Ruston just shows how out of touch she is and how out of touch this government is when it comes to the real living standards that people are enduring.”
Senator Ruston was pressed on Radio 3AW if she could live on the pension.
“I don’t think a debate about whether I could live on (the pension) or not is relevant. It is a generous amount of money that the Australian taxpayers make available to our older Australians,” she replied.
“The pension is generous?” 3AW host Neil Mitchell responded.
“I’m sorry, did you say the pension is generous?”
In response, Senator Ruston said: “Well, in terms of the amount of money that taxpayers fund our social welfare system, we put a lot of money into it.”
She was then asked if she regarded the aged pension as being on welfare.
“Technically the pension is a form of welfare,” she said.
Senator Ruston was conducting a media blitz to sell the benefits of the change to the deeming rate as it applies to pensioners’ investments.
National Seniors Australia’s Ian Henschke said the government’s claim of pensioners getting up to $800 under the “pensioners bonus” announced did not add up.
“It’s $150 million a year divided between one million pensioners. That means you get $150 a year on average. That’s $3 a week,” he said.
“Look, I realise the minister is very new, but maybe she should go read a report that was done by the Per Capita group, that one in four pensioners are living in poverty.
“It’s getting worse because homeownership among pensioners is declining.”
Only those who don’t own a home
The New Daily asked the Department of Social Services on Monday morning if it could provide data on how many aged pensioners will secure the maximum benefit under the deeming changes of up to $800.
Over 24 hours later, the department confirmed it did not know how many pensioners out of the one million people who will benefit will get $800.
“Given receiving the maximum benefit is dependent on a range of variables across a year, it is not possible to provide a specific number of recipients who will receive the maximum benefit of the change,” a spokesman said.
However, the department confirmed that only pensioners who do not own their own home will have any chance of securing the maximum spruiked by the government.
“Non-homeowners have higher asset test-free areas than homeowners, so can hold more deemed assets, which means they can see a greater reduction in their assessable income than non-homeowners,” the spokesman said.
“This potential for a greater reduction in assessable income leads to a potential for a greater increase in payment.”