The Barnett Government caved in yesterday to a furious backlash from pensioners in State housing and agreed not to snatch a quarter of the carbon tax compensation the Federal Government will pay them from next month.
The WA Council on the Ageing last night welcomed the decision but criticised the State Government for worrying pensioners unnecessarily.
The Federal Government intends to give single pensioners $338 a year and couples $510 to offset rising living costs resulting from the tax.
But Premier Colin Barnett and Housing Minister Troy Buswell spent two days threatening to take a quarter of the payments under a longstanding policy in which pensioners in State housing surrender a quarter of their pension in rent.
Late yesterday, Mr Buswell phoned radio station 6PR saying new advice from the Commonwealth indicated the payments – starting with lump sums of $250 for singles and $380 for couples from May 18 – would be made as a pension “supplement”.
“So that will be exempt from the application of the 25 per cent Homeswest rental rule because it’s not an increase in the base pension,” he said.
Shadow treasurer Ben Wyatt, who was in the 6PR studio, attacked Mr Buswell for claiming he was acting on new information.
“The Prime Minister wrote to the Premier Colin Barnett last year requesting that he consider quarantining the entirety of these payments,” he said.
“To say, ‘We are only now trying to seek information from the Commonwealth about how this works’, to be frank, is a Government asleep at the wheel.”
As late as yesterday morning, Mr Barnett was defending his Government’s decision to treat the compensation as income.
“It is income, it is the pension,” he said.
WA Council on the Ageing chief executive Ken Marston said he was delighted that the State Government had seen sense.
“Seniors will be very relieved – it was taking food off the table for those who can’t afford it,” he said.
Labor Senator Chris Evans said the Federal Government had always designed the compensation as a supplement so it would be quarantined from social housing rents.