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Budget forces SA's hand on pension concessions

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The Weatherill Government appears set to step in to cover the shortfall of federal cuts to local council concessions for pensioners.

The state and federal governments have been locked in a standoff over around $30 million a year in budget savings that removed a $190 annual rates concession for pensioners and concession card holders.

The state has so far subsidised the shortfall, but that is due to end this financial year, with the Weatherill administration running a concerted advertising campaign urging the Coalition to relent.

However, the cuts were not reinstated in last night’s budget, leaving the State Government poised to blink first in the standoff.

“I don’t consider standing up for pensioners blinking,” State Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis told InDaily.

“We did it last year and no-one called it blinking … The reality is the Commonwealth Government made very deep cuts they haven’t been reversed.

“We’re very disappointed … and we’re going to have to make a decision very, very quickly about what we do next.”

He said he would speak to his cabinet colleagues before “making an announcement in the very near future”.

“I don’t work outside of cabinet, I work collegiately with my colleagues,” he said when asked about his preferred option.

“But it’s fair to say the Premier is very keen to make sure our pensioners aren’t left behind … We did it last year because it was the right thing to do.”

Ross Womersley, executive director of the SA Council of Social Service, conceded the State Government was in an “invidious position” but insisted it must now “move quickly to ensure pensioners who rely on that concession are reassured that they won’t be put at risk”.

“It’s now clear the Federal Government has no intention of reinstating that cut,” he said.

“While the concession is not a huge one, it’s still very substantial for people who are living on a bit of a knife-edge financially …Without it, we’d expect there’ll be a large number of people who will push a little closer to jeopardy in their financial affairs.”

Despite the likelihood the state will be forced to continue funding part or all the federal shortfall, Koutsantonis believes the Government’s expensive campaign has been “a success”.

“There are no new measures in the budget that increase cuts to pensioners, and they’ve changed their position on the way they index pensions,” he said.

While Koutsantonis wasn’t convinced of a promised GST windfall in the forward estimates, he did applaud Joe Hockey’s “inspired” incentives for small business.

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