Labor eyes seniors to spread budget ‘pain’

Cuts proposal: Premier Mark McGowan and seniors minister Mick Murray have not ruled out means testing seniors cards. Photo: Jeremy Hedley.

Cuts proposal: Premier Mark McGowan and seniors minister Mick Murray have not ruled out means testing seniors cards. Photo: Jeremy Hedley.

Premier Mark McGowan has refused to rule out cuts to seniors card holders in his first state budget after speculation in a Perth newspaper the popular program would be means tested.

This comes despite Mr McGowan criticising cuts to funding for seniors and pensioners by the Barnett government.

Mr McGowan said the state’s finances were “very difficult” and he would be forced to make “tough decisions”.

“I think people want us to get Western Australia back on track,” he said.

“Unfortunately...there’s going to have to be some pain across the community.”

Western Australians over the age of 61 are entitled to the cards and discounts on some licence fees, public transport fares, council rates and entry fees to national parks.

There were also 35 discounts from private businesses advertised in Bunbury through the Department of Local Government and Communities website.

On Sunday Mr McGowan said an announcement about any seniors card changes would be made by June 30.

Seniors minister Mick Murray said on Monday it was too early to comment on the speculation.

“On the seniors card, there’s a budget to be set and the treasurer will be letting us know what we can have and what we can’t have in the next week or so,” he said.

Opposition leader Mike Nahan said the proposed changes would be an attack on self-funded retirees, with a means test likely to exclude all but seniors with Commonwealth pensions.

Speaking on 6PR radio, Mr Nahan admitted the former government “pulled back” seniors card benefits while Labor “screamed bloody murder” and Mr McGowan would use further cuts to seniors to pay for the promises he made in opposition.

“This is a cynical exercise in blaming the previous government and trying to basically fund $5 billion [of promises] which they have no money to fund,” he said.

Mr Nahan said free public transport offered to seniors card holders was “costless” as there were excess capacity on trains and buses during non-peak hours.

He said he was worried Mr McGowan was looking to eliminate the rebates available to card holders on their local government rates.

In 2014, Premier Colin Barnett faced a backlash from seniors with a plan to raise the eligibility age from 61 to 65, saving $25 million.

The changes were opposed by Labor and then opposition leader Mark McGowan.

“With the highest cost of living of any state in Australia, these concessions are more important here than in other states,” he told the ABC.

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