Wednesday, June 10, 2015
He was Dante Crisante, a retired chemist, according to a subsequent interview he did with the Financial Review.
A lot of relatively well-off retirees have been complaining about the changes, which could reduce or eliminate their entitlement to the pension. They've been wondering what changes they could make to their finances to get around the new rules.
Hockey probably assumed Crisante was asking on his own behalf. He replied that he wasn't an investment adviser. But Crisante was asking a policy question, aimed at highlighting the long-standing anomaly that someone's home is excluded from the value of their assets for the purposes of the assets test. (Bad luck for people who've rented all their lives.)
Turns out Crisante doesn't receive the pension and says he never wants to get it. Which means that the man who wanted to "end the age of entitlement", and who drew invidious distinctions between lifters and leaners, missed a golden opportunity to congratulate Crisante and hold him up as an example for other comfortably off old people to follow. Maybe put him up for a gong on Australia Day.
It's possible, however, that even had Hockey known Crisante didn't have his hand out for a handout, he wouldn't have been game to praise him for his self-reliance. He might have been afraid of offending too many people; too many of his own supporters (not that a Labor politician would have been any braver).
The point is, something bad has happened to Australians over the years: we've become a nation of graspers. There was a time when the comfortably off were too proud to put their hand out for the pension. "The pension is for those people who need it. I don't need it, so I won't be joining the queue at Centrelink, thanks."
But those days are long gone. These days we display our wealth by the suburb we live in, the flash house we live in, the flash car we drive and the flash clothes we wear. But none of that stops us arranging our affairs so as to claim a pittance more from the taxpayer.
I suppose it's a good thing there's now no shame attached to being an age pensioner. But it's gone too far when it means there's no shame in claiming a pension or part-pension you don't really need.
And, as I've experienced myself in recent years, there's a whole industry of financial advisers out there these days making their living – a lucrative one, by all accounts – advising older people on how to maximise their call on other taxpayers.
Not just how to minimise the amount of tax you pay on your superannuation – how to put as little as possible into the community kitty – but also how to maximise the pension and associated benefits you receive; how to get as much as possible out of the kitty.
We do all that, most other people do all that, then we wonder why our governments have so much trouble getting their budgets to balance. We even tell ourselves how worried we are about these governments leaving so much debt to be picked up by our grandkids.
Notice how it's always those terrible politicians doing terrible things to our grandchildren. It's never the collective consequences of their grandparents being selfish.
Actually, it's funny. An important part of our motive in using our last years to pay as little tax as possible and make the biggest claim on other taxpayers as possible is our desire to maximise our children's inheritance.
It's a form of selfishness we see as unselfish. Ripping off the system to help our children. Rip off your fellow taxpayers before they rip you off, a great philosophy of life to pass on. Surprisingly, selfishness is catching. Some people find their children even more anxious than they are to maximise their inheritance.
In vain do politicians protest – quietly, and only occasionally – that the billions lost in tax breaks on super every year are sacrificed to help people with their living costs in retirement, not to help the old maximise their kids' inheritance.
In the popular reaction to the latest changes to the assets test, angry oldies are talking of finding ways to prevent the government from cutting their pension. Move to a more expensive house, one far bigger than you need or want to look after?
Give a lot away to your kids in advance? The government has low limits on how much you can give away each year without reducing your pension entitlement, but that's OK, just lie to the government. Lying to governments isn't really lying, is it?
This wouldn't be the first time old people, in their mania for extracting the last dollar of supposed entitlement from the government, have done crazy things. Years ago people would keep thousands in non-interest-bearing cheque accounts so as to avoid reducing their pension.
Rather than losing one dollar of pension they preferred to lose two dollars of interest. Volunteer for the big banks to rip you off? Sure.
The government had to introduce "deeming" to stop pensioners from self-harming. We've become a nation of graspers.