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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2002

Senator MESSNER —My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security. Is it a fact that the joint committee of the Departments of Social Security and Veterans' Affairs has estimated that the assets test proposal favoured by the Gruen Assets Test Review Panel would hit 50,000 pensioners but bring in only $ 80m? Is it also a fact that the start-up costs of the proposals were estimated by the departments at about $80m, with substantial continuing operational costs? In the light of these figures, will the Government now scrap the assets test? If it will not, will it promise that all gross income from the test will be used immediately to increase pensions?

Senator GRIMES —The matters raised by Senator Messner are at present part of the Government's consideration of the Gruen report. Discussions are still taking place between my Department and the Department of Veterans' Affairs as to the implications of the various options in the Gruen report. The results of those discussions will be part of the Government's response to the report when it is produced in the Parliament later this week. As to the second part of Senator Messner's question, one of the aims of any assets test is to save unnecessary expenditure in the area of pensions and to use those moneys saved on high priority areas of welfare. That was one of the aims and one of the intentions of introducing such a test, and it remains the aim of the Government in doing so.

Senator MESSNER —I ask a supplementary question. The Minister has deliberately avoided the point of the question which was a very narrow one and certainly does not require anything but information.

The PRESIDENT —Will the honourable senator ask his supplementary question?

Senator MESSNER —The supplementary question is: Will the Minister please confirm that the amount to be obtained by the application of the Gruen Panel's suggestion is $80m and that the cost of establishment of the assets test is $80m ?

Senator GRIMES —I thought I made myself perfectly clear. I will neither confirm nor deny any such proposal. The question arises from a report in a newspaper. As I have said, discussions are still going on between officers of my Department and the Department of Veterans' Affairs as to the costs of administration of and the savings which would be raised from one of the various options in the Gruen report. The appropriate time to report that to the Parliament is when we produce the report and the Government's response.

Senator Chaney —I raise a point of order, Mr President. The Minister has had questions addressed to him which are simple and which relate to matters of fact. The Minister has been asked what the cost of certain tests would be, and what the savings would be. They are simple matters of fact. The Minister has sought to avoid answering the question by saying that these are part of the Government' s consideration of this matter. If that sort of answer is accepted from the Minister, it reduces Question Time to a farce. The shadow Minister for Social Security has asked for clarifications of a couple of matters of fact which are being noised abroad, which are part of the public debate and which are of very considerable concern to the community. I suggest, Mr President, that you direct the Minister to answer the question.

Senator Grimes —On the point of order, Mr President, the question refers to a report which has been supplied to the Prime Minister and which is the subject of examination by the Government and by officers of the various departments. It would be quite inappropriate for me to answer questions about speculation in newspapers of what is in that report and of the various costings and administrative costs. If Opposition senators want a precedent, I will give a perfect precedent. The Spender report on children's services was in fact dropped from the back of a truck in such huge numbers that everyone in this community had a copy of it. The then Minister for Social Security refused to answer questions on that report, refused to table that report and refused to talk about the cost implications of that report. The reason he gave for doing so was that it was a report to the then Government, still being considered by that Government. I take that as a perfect precedent.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. As everyone knows, Ministers are free to answer questions in the way they choose.