Jacqui White of Symonston who is living with MS, currently receives a disability pension. Photo: Melissa Adams
The Abbott government appears hell-bent on breaking its pledge, made six days out from the September 7 election, not to change the pension arrangements, a Canberra multiple sclerosis sufferer says.
Jacqui White, of Symonston, considers the breach of faith is on a par with Julia Gillard's broken ''no carbon tax under a government I lead'' pledge and ''probably worse'', given Mr Abbott did not have to form a minority government.
The former public servant, veterinary nurse and financial planner told Fairfax Media she ''breathed a sigh of relief'' when the then opposition leader told the ABC's Insiders program on September 1: ''I want to give people this absolute assurance: no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions and no changes to the GST.''
Jacqui White of Symonston. Photo: Melissa Adams
Ms White, who has been on the disability support pension since 2010, is horrified by the Coalition's plan to slash the disability support pension.
She said the move had created uncertainty and fear for her and the estimated 822,000 other people dependent on the hard-to-get pension, which amounts to an annual cost of about $15 billion. ''It took me two years just to qualify to apply,'' she said. ''I believe it's even harder now.''
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has confirmed the disability pension was in the cross-hairs of the government's Commission of Audit in an interview with Sky News.
''This [the disability support pension] is one of the fast-growing areas of government expenditure,'' he said on Sunday. ''The Commission of Audit is looking at this whole area for us … and is expected to make some recommendations on how that can best be achieved by the end of January.''
Mr Cormann, who seemed unaware of Mr Abbott's pledge not to change pensions, said no poll promises would be broken. ''If your question is whether we will stick to our election commitments, yes, absolutely,'' he said. But Ms White said the two positions were incompatible - either the government would break its word and go ahead with the cost-cutting changes, or it would keep its word and leave the pensions alone.
Ms White fears ideologues in the Coalition are pushing for changes along the lines of those now in force in Britain. ''Is it ideological? Absolutely. This seems to come straight from the Tea Party-style of right-wing thought.''
Speaking in March, six months before his pledge not to change pensions, Mr Abbott told Queensland Chamber of Commerce and Industry he wanted a two-tier system, modelled on the British one, which paid people with disabilities different rates depending on whether their condition was permanent.
Not enough was being done to bring people with disabilities back into the workforce, he said. ''With just over 1 per cent of disability pensioners moving back into the workforce every year, and with nearly 60 per cent of recipients having potentially treatable mental health or muscular skeletal conditions, a reform of this [British] type should be considered here,'' he said.
''It's about ending the practice of parking older unemployed people on the disability pension rather than helping them to continue to participate economically as well as socially.''
Ms White said this was not the case with her. When her MS had advanced to the point she could no longer hold down her office job, she signed on with a cleaning company, until that, too, became impossible.
She questioned Mr Abbott's understanding of the system, saying one of the principal reasons people did not re-enter the full-time workforce was that they could work up to 30 hours a week while maintaining eligibility.