No joy for pensioners

STRUGGLING pensioners on the Tweed will have to wait for yet another government review before their standard of living improves.

This was the final answer from both sides of politics when more than 150 angry pensioners met yesterday to call for increases to allowances they say are no longer covering basic living costs.

Organised by Tweed Heads South pensioner Don Morgan, the meeting held at the South Tweed Sports Club was attended by Richmond MP, Federal Minister for Ageing Justine Elliot and her ministerial counterpart, Shadow Minister for Ageing Margaret May.

Both Ms Elliot and Ms May said they sympathised with pensioners, with some revealing their stories of struggle on the day, but both stopped short of promising their party would support increases to the standard pension rate.

"The leader of the opposition Brendan Nelson has said he sees a case to support an increase to the standard pension rate, but I am not in a position to make promises on behalf of the party," Ms May said over a chorus of boos, in response to a question from the audience about her commitment to increases in the pension rate.

With the recommendations of a Senate inquiry into the cost of living for older Australians, completed in March this year, a second government inquiry into taxation and retirement incomes is to start by the end of the year Ms Elliot said.

"I am acutely aware of the difficulties with the cost of living for pensioners in this area, and in particular the single pensioner," she said, stressing the government had increased spending to slash hospital waiting lists, improve dental health care and has plans to introduce a nationwide travel concession scheme for pensioners from next year.

"That is why we are having this inquiry; we want to get it right," Ms Elliot said.

Struggling to make ends meet as a single person on a disability pension is something all too familiar for visually impaired Tweed Heads South woman Suzanne Hudson, who together with her guide dog Cooper lives off $575 a fortnight and pays $71 a week for her Department of Housing home.

"Pensioners are proud people, but they are poor. I'm not too proud to admit it; I'm poor," she said to cheers from the audience.

She said pensioners need to be informed to make sure they were getting all the allowances they are entitled to.

Tweed Ratepayers Association's Laurie Ganter called for a $50 increase in rent assistance, as Tweed rents had increased by 150 per cent over nine years.

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