*Pic: Pascal Maramis, Flickr
At the turn of the year, my $117-a-week age pension disappears. I am not about to whinge that, at 78, I will be plunged into poverty and rendered unable to pay my way through whatever is left of my very fortunate life.
I am confident, even though my assets will diminish at a faster-than-usual rate, that my ever-simple lifestyle will enable me to continue to pay all my conventional bills. Why, I’ll still probably be able to pop down to the village a couple of days a week for a coffee and chat with friends.
What I am doing is making comment on what I believe to have been bare-faced Coalition theft from the coffers of the far-less-than-rich (by modern-day standards) to underwrite the largesse our back-sliding Prime Minister and his slippery Treasurer are intending to dole out to the very much richer — in tax cuts to much more financially endowed businesses; and in the form of a billion-dollar subsidy to a giant fossil-fuel-polluting, almost certainly criminally corrupt, foreign mining company.
Worse, the Tory Coalition’s daylight robbery is compounded by retrospective legislation under which many thousands entitled to their age pensions under the old rules are no longer entitled to them under the new rules, effective January 1, 2017.
(Should our pollies’ combined conscience ever persuade them that they have, indeed, been obscenely over-generous to themselves in the form of self-legislated massive pension emoluments, I just can’t imagine them even considering the possibility of retrospectivity.)
English-born, I trained in journalism in Britain from 1955-59; served as a national-service conscript in the British Army (through the dying days of the Malay Emergency 1959-61); and worked in British colonies (Hongkong and Fiji) for several years before finally coming to rest in Australia in the early 1970s. Despite these years of service to “The Empire”, I was bluntly informed that I have no entitlement to any kind of pension from Britain.
That didn’t worry me. I have lived a fairly economically Spartan existence that has always enabled me to pay debts on time. And non-risk investments have allowed me to safeguard my modest assets through difficult economic times as well as to plan to be able to pay my way in retirement after my income ceased.
When I retired in 2009, at 71, I was also aware that I was not entitled to an Australian age pension — I had slightly too many assets to qualify — so I didn’t bother to apply.
A few years later, a Centrelink-savvy acquaintance told me he was certain that I had since become entitled “to at least something”. That was in 2013.
And so it turned out: my assets had slipped just enough to put me into the eligibility zone. In July of that year, I was informed by Centrelink that I was, indeed, eligible, and that I would receive $28 a week (including “energy supplement”) and (the much greater prize) the coveted “health card”.
For that I was truly grateful. I set to pondering just how I would dispose of that $28 weekly windfall.
In the years since, my assets have continued to dwindle and I have no income other than cash-interest rates on my superannuation and a couple of term-deposit bank accounts. These, in the estimation of Centrelink, put my annual income at about $17,000-a-year (presumably including my pension payments).
At some stage last year, my age pension had soared to the rarefied heights of more than $6000 a year/$234.35 a fortnight.
(Before going on, I’ll put that into some kind of purchasing-power perspective. Last May, my best mate, Bif, an ageing whippet, broke his left rear foot. Three months later, after bills totalling $6000-plus, Bif was back to as good as he’s ever going to be. That prolonged veterinary adventure gave me a curious way of assessing the buying power of the age pension that I have been entitled to until Turnbull’s retrospective legislation (to reduce allowable assets) comes into operation on Sunday, January 1, 2017.)
Again, I stress, I am not complaining about my own lot. I regard myself as fortunate enough to have assets that will enable me to pay my way out of life. (That doesn’t include buying a pre-paid funeral from the vultures of the undertaking industry. I’ll leave the last rites’ costs in the care of my kids.)
But I am contemplative of the effect the loss of a pension income to scores of thousands of fellow geriatrics will have on their personal budgets as well as on the national economy as a whole.
One argument is that we will all go on a spending spree simply to get our assets back to below the allowable limit. Why not a world-tour trip, including to the polar regions to watch the carbonisation of the glaciers and to spot the last of those big white bears? Or, perhaps, to Vegas, where we could launder away the difference between what we’ve got now and how much Canberra will allow us to own before we can reclaim a pension payment?
That won’t happen to me. I travelled for too many decades pre-retirement ever to want to venture far from the place I have made my final home. Because I’ve got far more than enough work at home to keep it in reasonably good nick, I try not to be tempted to leave my property.
I’ve let my passports lapse, and I don’t like wasting time crossing to the mainland, because it means I’ll have to run the gauntlet of the cacophonous chaos that our big cities have become.
And I’m not willing to hand out $100-plus each time to go to live ballet, opera, concerts, over-priced eating houses etc when I can watch and listen in the comfort of my own home — and I’m not a bad cook, either.
But, from January 1, 2017, with that $100-a-week-plus pocket money no longer coming in, I won’t be quite so able and willing to spread a bit around here and there — a few bucks for help in the garden; for the services of an odd-job person to do maintenance work on my decaying infrastructure; for Amnesty, to assist its never-ending battle to counter the awfulness of our government’s criminal behaviour towards refugees and its incompetence in providing for the needs of Australia’s dispossessed and contemptuously denigrated original owners; for campaigners against animal-cruelty, such as the doughty, indefatigable Emma Haswell at her Brightside Farm Sanctuary in southern Tasmania; for restoring eyesight to the poor of the Third World through the likes of the Hollows Foundation; for a friendly pig to have a chance of living out its natural days rather than ending up in the bloody horror of an abattoir; for buying a church across the river abandoned by its “faithful” (even an atheist can appreciate the loveliness, the spirituality, the redolent sense of time of an old stone church); for Linz to keep his priceless TT afloat . . .
The list goes on. All of these small handouts that I have become used to making, admittedly on an irregular basis (I resist telephone charity calls as politely as I can manage), could now be stymied by a consideration as to whether I can continue making them without damaging the informal budget that is designed to enable me to see out my days in credit.
Though I feel fairly certain I can continue to pay all the bills, it doesn’t lessen the bitterness I harbour towards Liberals, Labor and Nationals for their criminal failure to acknowledge the single-biggest combined threat to all of us: climate change, global warming, ocean-rise, forest-clearing, air and water pollution, species extinction . . . And, worse: government subsidies to those whose activities contribute to the intensification of carbon pollution of the atmosphere.
All of these phenomena are a direct consequence of the lunacy of a life form (humanity) whose most prominent leaders are implacably determined to extract every last vestige of wealth out of our vulnerable and finite planet in their ceaseless quest for yet another, and another, and another almighty dollar . . .
And I don’t just mean politicians, most of whom are simply the tools of the real powerbrokers — the multinational corporations and the (mostly) men that run them — who, with total disregard for all life forms, doggedly plunder onwards in pursuit of their worship of mammon. Bill Clinton probably never realised the awfulness of his astute observation that “It’s the economy, stupid”.
I know, I know! Some of you might argue that the point of no return has already passed. I don’t disagree. But surely, when we look about us, and view the destruction we have wrought on our beautiful planet home in the space of a couple of highly industrialised centuries, we should at least try tidy it up and leave it with a better chance of revival after the disappearance of humans (imminent, I hope) whose mindless destruction has brought Earth to its very un-pretty pass today?
If Turnbull and his cronies had told me they were taking away my age pension because it was desperately needed to encourage, say, carbon-emission reduction, I would not have minded in the least.
But to know that my $100-plus a week pension payment has been clawed back to go straight into the handout barrel that will help finance Adani’s assault on the Great Barrier Reef and a further spewing of fossil carbon into the atmosphere!
That really sticks in my ancient craw. — Bob Hawkins*
*Bob Hawkins , a journalist for 61 years, always declared his earnings; always paid his tax without complaint; was never on the dole; honestly declared his assets when, in his middle-70s, he applied to be eligible for an age pension; and he used the resulting small pension — which eventually increased to more than $100 a week — to support the Cygnet local economy in the form of payments for odd-jobbing and gardening services. Last year, as a great supporter of people in elected office and the public service working diligently to give us the relatively stable society that we most of us enjoy, he took great pleasure in watching the hopeless Huon Valley Council and its CEO being given their marching orders. As a person with assets of around half a million, he doesn’t mind losing his pension because he can still comfortably afford his simple lifestyle. But he would like to see the filthy rich (the likes of Malcolm Turnbull and his political and business mates) also contributing something. HNY.