In Parliament, Questions

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:19): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question to the Treasurer on the topic of concessions.

Leave granted.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: SACOSS has just published a major review of the concession system in our state, highlighting how a complex patchwork of policies and practice has created poverty premiums and barriers to accessing concessions. This patchwork approach, particularly with varying eligibility criteria, makes it difficult for people to navigate these systems and access the support they need. Further, the current regime for concessions gives rise to poverty premiums, which is where those on lower incomes, such as working-age Centrelink payments, are denied concessions available to people on higher incomes, such as the age pension.

The SACOSS report also identifies troubling inconsistencies, for example, where renters receive lower payments under the Cost of Living Concession compared with home owners on similar incomes. By further example, people living in share housing may be excluded from energy and Cost of Living Concessions, and asylum seekers and those not on the Centrelink system miss out on most concessions entirely.

SACOSS is calling for three major initiatives to address the systemic flaws in our concession system: a broad review of the concession system as a whole, extension of all concessions available to age pension recipients to other Centrelink recipients, and the introduction for all concessions of an additional low income eligibility criteria that is not based on any Centrelink benefits. My questions to the Treasurer are:

1. Has he read the review?

2. Will he commit to a broad concessions review on reform, as recommended and called for by SACOSS?

3. Why are people with less income in our state receiving less support than those with greater income?

The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (Treasurer) (15:20): Yes, I have read the report. I always look forward to the contributions to public policy debate of SACOSS. Ross and his team there actively engage not only with me but with my ministerial colleagues—I know Minister Lensink, I am sure Minister Wade and others. We always look forward to their contributions. We don’t always agree, but we always have respectful discussions.

On this particular occasion, as I have indicated publicly, I don’t agree with a number of the major propositions that Ross and the SACOSS team have put forward. I think there is an important element, which I have discussed with them before and which they continue not to highlight in their reports, and that is that the approach this government has adopted is to try to drive down the costs of households in South Australia, the important costs that every household has to pay, rather than just concentrating on the nature and shape of the actual concessions that you adopt.

The former government adopted an approach: electricity prices went through the roof, they jacked up water prices by artificially jacking up the asset value of SA Water, and that had enormous implications for households that are struggling to pay their utility bills, their water and their electricity bills. So the approach we have adopted—and I have discussed this with Ross and his team on a number of occasions—is that we need to address as a government and a society driving down the costs for low income households and all households.

I am proud to say that we have reported, and will proudly be reporting this over the coming months, that for an average household in the metropolitan area, with a couple of cars and a couple of children, a reduction in their costs of about $900 a household per year. But for a low income household, which might not have the benefit of running two cars—might only have a single car or be on public transport—the driving down of water costs by an average $200 a year is a critical issue for some of those households. The electricity cost is a critical issue for low income households, and the average cost we have driven down, since the terrible travails imposed upon the South Australian community by the former government, by about $300 for many households.

The average cost for low income households and high income households has been driven down, in terms of electricity costs, water costs and the costs of running a car (if they are fortunate enough to have a car) and ESL bills (if they are fortunate enough to be in a position of paying ESL bills). This government has been driving down the costs being imposed on households. I think the SACOSS analysis, the implications of costs and the paying of bills, important as it is, misses an important issue, and that is that we can benefit everybody by driving down the costs of households right across the board.

In relation to some of their other issues, we always treat with respect the suggestions that SACOSS put forward. The government will continue to consider them, but we are not in a position for some of the wholesale increases in costs of concessions that SACOSS is recommending by way of that particular report.