Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd faced intense scrutiny in federal parliament on Tuesday following days of speculation that he was considering scrapping cash bonuses to recipients of carer and seniors payments. Questions by the opposition during question time were dominated by the cash bonuses, with leader of the opposition, Brendan Nelson moving to censure the Prime Minister.
It was the first censure motion moved against the Prime Minister since his election last year.
For the past four years, the previous Howard government had made one-off payments to seniors of up to $500 and $1,600 to carers.
Facing repeated questions, the Prime Minister said “I guarantee that carers will not be onedollar worse off as a consequence of the budget”.
Mr Rudd said that the government was also looking at “the challenges of carers and pensioners in the long term” instead of through one-time bonus payments as the previous government had. Mr Rudd then called the opposition the “new party of compassion” and told the house that the Howard government had never committed to the payments in the long term, as they were not in forward budget estimates.
Brendan Nelson then moved a motion to censure the Prime Minister over his plans. During his motion, Dr Nelson called upon the Prime Minister to “get up, for God’s sake, get up, stand in front of that microphone and say to the carers of this country, ‘I, the Prime Minister of Australia, believe in you and will deliver you a lump sum payment in the budget.”
Dr Nelson also accused the Prime Minister of not seeing the significance of the bonus payments for those who receive them. “For someone earning $250,000 a year, a lump sum payment of $1,600 would probablymake them think: ‘What’s that? It’s my credit card payment or whatever.’” said Dr Nelson.
The opposition leader told the House of Representatives that many people had been budgeting for the bonus payment and it was unfair for it to be taken from them. “If you are hanging out for that lump sum payment, it is absolutely essential for your budgeting,” said Dr Nelson.
When the Prime Minister spoke against the motion, he reminded the opposition that a Liberal party document said “A re-elected Coalition Government will consider continuingto pay these bonuses, depending on the economic circumstances at the time.”
Mr Rudd then drew attention to his $500 utilities allowance, which will be paid to aged and disability pensioners as well as carers to counter the rise in the cost of living.
Speaking for the motion, opposition community services spokesman Tony Abbott accused the Rudd government of “compassion fatigue” and said that the cardboard cutout of the Prime Minister which appeared in parliament on the previous sitting day had “more heart than this Prime Minister”.
The censure motion was defeated along party lines.