Why must seniors clean up someone else’s budget mess? | OPINION

Premier Mark McGowan and seniors minister Mick Murray are considering cutting back eligibility for the WA Seniors Card. Photo: Jeremy Hedley.

Premier Mark McGowan and seniors minister Mick Murray are considering cutting back eligibility for the WA Seniors Card. Photo: Jeremy Hedley.

If there’s a political fact that comes close to being true, it’s that the Western Australian government’s finances are a mess.

We are in debt, too much money is flowing out of the coffers and not enough is coming in.

No question, something has to be done.

Premier Mark McGowan was elected with a promise to restore the budget to some semblance of affordability.

And, according to his Liberal opposition, he also promised about $5 billion worth of extra promises.

What Mr McGowan did not promise was a reduction in the number of people eligible for a WA Seniors Card.

In March, 2016, about a year before the state election, Mr McGowan came to Mandurah to speak about then Premier Colin Barnett’s decision to cap the council rates rebates available to pensioners.

“Older citizens of Mandurah are being penalised by the state government's financial mismanagement,” he said.

“What's more this comes on top of water rates capping, they abolished the cost of living supplement for seniors and they abolished the rebate for seniors in relation to motor vehicle registration, so that's four that they've abolished that every senior in Western Australia will suffer from.”

He said the former government was taking a “sledgehammer” to the region’s seniors.

Now, three months after the election, there are reports his government is considering means testing the WA Seniors Card, restricting it to seniors who have a Commonwealth pension.

Figures suggest the number of seniors card holders in the region could be slashed in half.

Of the 20,903 existing card holders in the City of Mandurah, this means as many as 10,000 might lose their entitlements to free public transport and council rates rebates.

These people will not be happy.

But the Liberal party does not exactly have clean hands on this issue. They considered similar cuts to the seniors card in government before backing off in the face of the grey backlash.

During the state election, shadow for minister for seniors Margaret Quirk catalogued the Liberal party’s cuts to seniors, which she said had been deep and sustained:

  • The Cost of Living Allowance (CoLA) to all seniors was scrapped and replaced with a means tested Energy Assistance Payment (restricted to people on Commonwealth concession card).
  • Local government rates subsidy for pensioners were capped at $550 from 2016-17.
  • The water service charge subsidy for pensioners was capped at $600 from 2016-17.
  • An increase in the eligibility age for the WA Seniors Card from 60 to 65 was announced (to come into effect by 2023-24).
  • The Safety and Security Rebate was scrapped.

People with seniors cards might be old enough to remember the Grey Power political party and its impact on the 1989 state election.

Maybe Labor’s young guns should treat themselves to a history lesson on how to treat seniors.

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