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Wednesday, 13 August 2003
Page: 18464

Mr MELHAM (7:35 PM) —I rise today on behalf of one of my constituents to highlight an anomaly in the determination of assets for social security which faces people in my electorate. Mrs Jeffrey, my constituent, is a 95-year-old woman who has lived in Banks for the past 50 years. Mrs Jeffrey and her late husband settled in Padstow to build a home together while Mr Jeffrey worked on the railway. The family were battlers, Mr Jeffrey having once walked from Sydney to Bathurst just to get a job. They worked hard to raise their family and to pay off their home.

We have heard the Treasurer previously remark on the price of property in Sydney. Here we have a clear example of how, simply because of where they live, an elderly person can be disadvantaged. Mrs Jeffrey entered a nursing home in January 2001. At that time her only assets were less than $25,000 in the bank and her home. Mrs Jeffrey had a dependant disabled son who remained in the family home after she moved. Her son later had to go to a nursing home and has since passed away. At the time she entered the nursing home, Mrs Jeffrey was considered too disadvantaged to pay the accommodation charge. Centrelink has now advised Mrs Jeffrey that the family home will become an assessable asset in January, two years after her son left the home. If Mrs Jeffrey had been in a position to pay the accommodation charge, she would be able to keep her home, to which she is very attached, for a further three years. I note that the accommodation charge could have been as little as $400 per year. Mrs Jeffrey's family believe that selling the home will only distress her. The family take her there on regular visits and she believes that she will eventually return there.

It is a clear inequity that, had Mrs Jeffrey more money in the bank, she would have originally qualified for the five-year extension. Because Mrs Jeffrey only has one asset—the home she built—she will be forced to sell this and live off the proceeds. She will lose her pension as the assets test currently is $398,500 for a single pensioner. Mrs Jeffrey has been caught in an anomaly faced by many people in the electorate of Banks. Their only asset, the family home, has acquired value far in excess of that which Mr and Mrs Jeffrey could originally envisage. Mrs Jeffrey is now a victim of property prices. Like many other working people, her Sydney home is now worth on paper much more than the assets test allows. Therefore, the pension, and associated benefits, such as a concession card, are lost.

Despite this government's rhetoric, the concept of a fair go is rapidly fading. The government's National Strategy for an Ageing Australia claims to promote the principles of access and equity; affordability and sustainability; equality, choice and responsiveness. I cannot see the equity in a circumstance which requires an elderly woman who has battled all her life to sell the one asset she has, simply because of where she lives.