Federal Politics

Moves to limit overseas travel for pensioners 'discriminatory' say migrant, refugee groups

The Coalition government is under fire from migrant and refugee groups, who say a plan to limit the time pensioners can spend in another country before their pension is cut discriminates against Australians born overseas. 

Under the change, pensioners who have spent less than 35 years of their working life in Australia will find their pensions reduced after six weeks of overseas travel – down from the current time limit of 26 weeks. 

Melbourne pensioner Vic Guarino​, who came to Australia from Italy in the early 1960s, says the proposed changes to the ...
Melbourne pensioner Vic Guarino​, who came to Australia from Italy in the early 1960s, says the proposed changes to the pension are "like a threat".  Photo: James Boddington

The new rule, which is due to start in January 2017, was announced in the last budget and is yet to pass Parliament. It will save about $168 million over four years

Melbourne pensioner Vic Guarino​, who came to Australia from Italy in the early 1960s, said the changes were "like a threat". 

While he makes the 35 year-mark – and so will not be hit by the change – he regularly meets others worried about the new rule though his work with advocacy group, Australian Pensioners Voice.  

"It's a kind of discrimination towards migrants," Mr Guarino said. 


"You want to go [overseas] because you want to see someone in the family that's old ... my wife had a sister in Italy, she wanted to spend time with her before it was too late." 

The Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia, along with the Australian Council of Social Service, is urging the government to rethink the new rule, noting about 40 per cent of Australia's pensioners were born overseas. 

"Once people [get] their pension, they've got certain rights," federation chairman Joe Caputo said. 

Mr Caputo said pensioners born overseas often needed to travel overseas for extended periods to stay in touch with family, or to care for a sick or dying relative. In some cases, they had never been back to the country of their birth and were going on "the trip of a lifetime".

In a submission to a Senate inquiry into the measure, the Refugee Council of Australia added the change would particularly hurt refugee communities. 

"This is especially problematic due to the significant difficulties with family reunion [in Australia]," it says. "[This means] the only way a person can see their family is by travelling overseas."

A spokesman for Social Services Minister Christian Porter said the change was about making things "fairer for taxpayers". 

"The government believes a person's retirement costs should be fairly distributed between the countries a person has spent most of their working life."  

He said Australia had 30 international agreements that allowed people social security from more than one country. 

"It is the expectation that where a person has spent a proportion of their working life overseas, they will be eligible to receive a pension from that country." 

But the Refugee Council cautioned refugees were not necessarily eligible for pensions in other countries – given they had fled to Australia because of persecution "often at the hands of the government". Or had come from countries which did not have comparable welfare systems. 

Labor will oppose the change in Parliament, with the opposition's payments spokeswoman Jenny Macklin noting it will hurt "thousands of migrant pensioners". 

"These pensioners have worked hard their whole lives. They deserve our support in retirement." 

The Senate committee looking at the measure is due to report when Parliament resumes next week. 



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