Pensioners in Griffith have been “thrown on the scrap heap”, according to the head of Griffith’s Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association.
Peter Knox said a report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) confirmed what they already knew.
“Pensioners are doing it tough,” Mr Knox said.
The ‘Pensions at a Glance’ report found more than one-third of Australian pensioners were living below the poverty line, making the country the second-worst performer on social equity.
Australian pensioners fared better than their counterparts in South Korea, where 50 per cent live below the poverty line but performed poorly against the OECD average of 12.6 per cent.
The report found the Australian government contributed less to old-age benefits than other OECD countries. The Australian government spent 3.5 per cent of GDP on the pension, below the OECD average of 7.9 per cent.
Mr Knox said it was tough to swallow for people who had worked hard all their lives.
“People can’t heat their homes in winter and can’t cool them in summer,” he said.
“Steep increases in gas and electricity prices mean I can barely afford to run my air conditioner on really hot days.
“Lack of money is leading to health issues.”
Mr Knox said he opposed a recent Productivity Commission recommendation which said pensioners should sell their homes for a better quality of life.
“We worked all our lives to get these homes,” he said.
“We paid rates, grew gardens, made friends with neighbours, our lives are here and they want us to give it all up.”
The annual payment for a single person is about $22,000 and $34,000 for a couple, with 2.25 million Australians claiming the pension.
Mr Knox said it was important to fight for the rights of older Australians “because sooner or later everyone will become a pensioner.”
“It’s going to be harder for young people in the future,” Mr Knox said.
“They’re going to have to work until they’re 70 and not everyone gets the benefit of superannuation.”
Riverina MP Michael McCormack conceded pensioners were facing tough times, but challenged the way the OECD worked out its numbers.
“It’s inconsistent with Australian research,” Mr McCormack said.
“The Melbourne Institute has found the aged pension actually exceeds the poverty line.
“There’s no official measure of poverty in Australia, no agreed indicator.”