Alex Mitchell’s WEEKLY NOTEBOOK – How the old aged pension became a rich bastard’s rort

Out to lunch in the Tweed Valley last year I was astonished to learn from my fellow lunchers that everyone at the table, except me, was receiving the old age pension.
All were of a mature age, over 65, and had completed their full-time working lives. But all had swish homes or apartments, gleaming upmarket sedans and took annual overseas or cruise ship holidays.
In other words, not short of the quid and doing much better than most young people.
When I confessed that I was not receiving the old age pension, there was general laughter around the table and a fair amount of derision.
“I’m not entitled to a government pension,” I protested. “I am a self-funded retiree living off an allocated pension derived from my superannuation.”
This was greeted by even more laughter. “What you need, Alex, is an accountant,” someone suggested. “An accountant can restructure your finances so that you become entitled to an old aged pension. Everyone’s doing it.”
I’ve since discovered that the Fifty Up Club, a consumer action group which acts on behalf of older Australians, isn’t happy about the millionaires planting their snouts into old aged pensions.
Last year the group asked members whether a couple should qualify for a pension if they: 1) own their family home; 2) have more than $1 million in assets; and 3) receive $60,000-a-year income.
More than 70% of respondents replied: “No.” I agree with them.
However, this is a risky area for meddlers. Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey will use any excuse to change the rules to protect their mates at the rich end of the market and punish the majority by lowering benefits.
Nevertheless, what’s happening at present is clearly fraud and large-scale larceny of public funds. The accountants who set up these creative schemes should be named and shamed and the undeserving looters struck off the benefits list. A simple means test based on assets and income would seem the fairest mechanism.

Uni gravedigger

The biggest supporter of a deregulated university system – apart from Education Minister Christopher Pyne and the former vice chancellor of the University of NSW, Fred Hilmer – is the chief executive of Universities Australia Belinda Robinson.
Months ago she signed up to Pyne’s “final” offer to the vice chancellors and then looked a complete goose when he redesigned the offer giving many more concessions. Now she is standing at Pyne’s side helping him draft a new package to create private campuses and enormous fees in line with the American model.
For nine years she worked for the Howard Government at a senior level of the public service and spent six of those years in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet brushing up on Howardism and Bushism.
In another career she was chief executive of the Australian Production and Exploration Association where she represented the oil monopolies, aka The Seven Sisters, the world’s most ruthless and secretive cartel.
Can you think of anyone better to crush undergraduate careers by introducing the philosophy of the “free market” to high learning?

Vice regal generals

When two very distinguished women ended their vice regal appointments – Quentin Bryce as Governor-General and Marie Bashir as NSW Governor – the Liberals replaced them with army generals, i.e. old blokes in uniforms.
Both General Peter Cosgrove and General David Hurley are graduates of the Royal Military College, Duntroon.
Cosgrove graduated in 1968 and went straight to Vietnam while Hurley graduated in 1975 and became adjutant of the Sydney University Regiment.
Recent visitors to Yarralumla in the ACT and Government House in Sydney report that the guests aren’t the hoi polloi but senior defence force personnel and their grasping wives.
During a reception at Hurley’s official residence, a guest said, “Oh my god, I didn’t realise the implications.” To which one of the Hurley childen replied, “I’m sorry, but we don’t use that kind of language here.”
Apparently, she is a sturdy bible-basher and saying “Oh my god” is tantamount to swearing. What a change from Marie Bashir, born in Narrandera, and Sir Nicholas Shehadie, born in Redfern, and their families. As well as being the most dignified hosts their families were also “of and for the people”.

Duntroon mystery

On the subject of Duntroon, Canberra journalist, writer and academic Greg Pemberton has launched an action in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to gain access to the historical records of Duntroon cadets.
It follows the National Archives’ decision to apply a “a new, more restrictive approach” to Duntroon’s records.
The ruling has been made by AA director-general David Fricker, a former head honcho from ASIO.
His restriction has immediately stopped access to historical military files on Governor-General Cosgrove’s days at Duntroon.
The Herald reported that journalists made application for the files as part of a “trawling exercise” to investigate bullying and bastardisation practices.
While there is no evidence linking Cosgrove to such gross and indecent violence, there are numerous anecdotal reports of brutality and sex initiation at RMC Duntroon in the 1960s.
It would be strange if the former Head of the Army and the Defence Force Chief of Staff was unaware of the catalogue of sex scandals in the defence forces over the years. The acute sensitivity over Duntroon’s records is a worrying development, especially as the order came from the Prime Minister himself.
He was in government when John and Janet Howard made goats of themselves over the appointment of Archbishop Peter Hollingworth as Governor-General in 2002. He resigned less than two years later.

Generals’ plot

In late 1975 when Gough Whitlam’s government was being battered by OPEC’s oil squeeze, world hyper-inflation, a budget crisis and media hysteria, army generals and their business friends met every Friday afternoon at the Brisbane Club to discuss politics, life and sport.
On one occasion discussion turned to a probable parliamentary deadlock and the government falling. But who should take over?
The consensus among the sozzled men in uniform was that a Commonwealth administrator should take office and run the country until an election could be held.
But who could carry the responsibility of such a job and hold the respect of the average Australian?
“No worries,” came the reply, “We’ll get NSW Governor, Sir Roden Cutler VC.”
The ploy came to nothing because High Court judges secretly gave Governor-General John Kerr the green light to sack Whitlam and install Malcolm Fraser.

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