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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3064

Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(3.30) —Yesterday the Australian Labor Party Caucus approved the Government's assets test and yet again confirmed that it is not a party of compassion, yet again confirmed that it is a party not interested in thrift and yet again confirmed that it is a party not genuinely interested in consultation. The Caucus approval again confirmed that the majority of members of the Australian Labor Party are not seriously worried about their proposed legislation being either discriminatory or full of anomalies. This is the very same assets test which has been labelled by the Labor Party's own national President, the Premier of New South Wales, as ' discriminatory', as 'full of anomalies', and as something which is 'not achieving its purpose'. This is the very same assets test which is opposed by the largest pensioner organisation in Australia and which is opposed by the Australian Council of Social Service because it discriminates against the elderly. It is the same assets test referred to by Canon Peter Hollingworth, the Executive Director of our most highly regarded social organisation, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, when he said:

The Government's assets test on pensions attacks those least able to bear the burden.

Mr O'Neil —Rubbish!

Mr PEACOCK —Who said 'Rubbish'?

Mr O'Neil —I did.

Mr PEACOCK —The honourable member for Grey said 'Rubbish', did he? I ask him to stand up in this Parliament and justify this assets test.

Mr O'Neil —Mr Deputy Speaker, I take a point of order.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable gentleman cannot take a point of order when he is out of his seat.

Mr PEACOCK —The honourable member for Grey and the other members opposite were the ones who claimed that they were voted into government because, in their view , they had a commitment to caring and to consultation. What a tragedy that has turned out to be-a tragedy which hits the elderly, the most vulunerable group in the community and the group least able to adjust its affairs. Yet the honourable member for Grey stands up and defends an iniquitous test such as this. No wonder people are going to meetings in their droves not only trying to sort our the confusion but also condemning all honourable members opposite for their harshness and sheer hypocrisy. The imposition of an assets test has created only alarm and confusion. Is this what the honourable member for Grey or the Australian Labor Party calls caring? Is this what the Labor Party calls compassion? What about its claim of consultation?

Why will the Labor Party not agree to lay the legislation on the table of the Parliament? Why does it insist on its being passed at this stage? Did it insist on the same thing for the new lump sum superannuation tax? Of course it did not. Did it insist on that legislation being introduced before consultation? Not at all, because the Government was then confronted by organisations with industrial muscle, such as the Australian Council of Trade Unions. Of course the Labor Party had an accord with the ACTU-an accord which extended privileges to the strongest unions. As the Opposition said at the time, on that tax there was no accord with the elderly Australians and they would inevitably be penalised. Penalised they have been. It has been sadly justified.

The Opposition and Australians generally are sick and tired of this Government lamenting that it has not had time to introduce measures to achieve its solemn commitment of 500,000 new jobs. It certainly has had the time to attack the elderly. As I have said, it has taken the time to hit the most vulnerable group in the community. It claims to have done this in the name of fairness and equity for the purpose of spreading the burden. One would certainly need a twisted mind to understand how Labor's assets test will increase equity.

Let me give honourable members some examples of how Labor's test will work. People will not lose their pensions if they own a Rolls Royce, but they may lose their pensions if they are contributing to this country's development by putting some money into a local company. People will not lose their pensions if they own diamond rings, but they may lose their pensions if they put aside some money in a savings bank. People will not lose their pensions if they own hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of antiques, but, irony of ironies, they may lose their pensions if they are part-owners of an antique ship. People will not lose their pensions if they blow their money on overseas trips, but they may lose their pensions if they want to pass something on to their kids. People will not lose their pensions if they own their own homes, but they may lose their pensions if they rent homes. The list goes on and on. All the inequities are there and all the confusion is there. Let us not forget that it is individual elderly people who are to be hit.

Let me give just one example which was put to me by a large group of retired persons who came to see me. I give the example of a lady-let us call her Mrs F- one of the many ordinary Australians who are being hit by the Labor Government. She is an aged pensioner living with her 25-year-old son. Her son receives an invalid pension. This lady is immobile due to a very bad leg condition. Both her husband and her daughter died recently. The funeral costs absorbed the small amount of savings that she had acquired. She owns a unit in Sydney worth $60,000 in which both she and her son live. Due to the maintenance costs she will now have to sell the unit and she will have no other cash or assets. Should she sell her unit she will be forced to rent on the private market. Cash from the sale of that unit for $60,000, if deemed to be earning 10 per cent per annum interest, will mean that this lady will be deemed to be receiving $115.38 income per week. This alleged weekly income will cut her fringe benefits completely and will reduce her weekly pension from $85.90 to approximately $43. Is there any member on the other side of the Parliament who is prepared to face this lady and tell her that her pension will be cut off like that? Of course there is not. If honourable members opposite are not prepared to face these people, why are they going ahead with the assets test? Is this another of those ideas that the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has put forward?

Government members interjecting-

Mr PEACOCK —Honourable members opposite are noisy now. They would not answer the question whether they would see this woman and explain the inequities to her. Of course, they were silent then. They are gutless, hiding behind an iniquitous test which we will repeal. I assume that this is just another of the ideas that they will toss out at their branch meetings-an idea that the Prime Minister put forward and they all had to support. They are just some of the collective little rubber stamps adding to the numbers in this Parliament, supporting a Prime Minister who is heaping inequity upon inequity. On 5 March-honourable members opposite should bear in mind the example that I have just given them, which reduced them to silence-the Prime Minister said that the only people who would be affected by the assets test were the following:

Pensioners with substantial assets, who are artificially avoiding the current income test for pensions.

What a lie. It is known to be a lie out in the community. This Government will suffer the consequences. Worse still, people will suffer the consequences of this iniquitous measure that will be brought into this Parliament during this financial year. How can anyone in this Parliament claim that the lady I referred to would fit into the category referred to by the Prime Minister? He, in his obsession to justify the unjustifiable, has misled the elderly. No wonder the National President of the Labor Party, Mr Wran, said:

There are too many inequities and anomalies in the assets test . . . I think they've got to start all over again . . .

I could go on with the distressing stories that I referred to earlier. It is almost beyond belief that a Government which says it is compassionate and which it says believes in social justice and fairness could impose such hardship and uncertainty on our pensioners. What is even more disgusting is that the Government is doing the opposite of what it said it would do before the election . I shall quote from a letter from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) which he wrote on 6 January 1982 when he was the shadow Minister. He stated:

What we need is consistent treatment of the disadvantaged. If people plan for their retirement, they should be able to do so in the expectation that policies will be continued and be consistent. This consistency the ALP can promise you.

What consistency is there in introducing an assets test of which not a whisper was heard before 5 March? What consistency is there in introducing an assets test which penalises those who try to look after themselves?

Mr Braithwaite —They have no mandate for that.

Mr PEACOCK —What consistency is there in introducing an assets test which treats people with similar savings in quite different ways? Someone mentioned a mandate . The Government has absolutely no mandate. Can we imagine what would have happened if Government members had said in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Bourke or Poddy-Pom-Pom: 'We will income test over 70s pensions; we will lift the tax on superannuation from 5 per cent to 30 per cent; we will bring in an assets test; we will abolish the independent schools'? Government members would not be where they are now. They are a bunch of hypocrites and they will face the consequences. Now we learn that the assets test on pensions is a stop gap measure. I see the honourable member for Lilley (Mrs Darling) in the chamber. I saw a Press statement which she put out after the Caucus meeting. It is interesting to reflect on the Press statement. We now learn that the assets test on pensions is a stop gap measure until Labor hopes to implement its national superannuation scheme. It is now clear that Labor has no idea of what consistency is about, yet this is what Senator Grimes referred to. The Government has no comprehensive retirement policy; it has not got further than establishing committees to examine the issue. In the meantime the most vulnerable groups in our community are suffering.

Mr Chynoweth —What happened to the #46,000 you ripped off?

Mr Tuckey —What about the money Dawkins ripped off the pensioners?

Mr PEACOCK —The reality is that Labor's assets test makes so many Australians feel that they have been penalised.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! The honourable member for Flinders will cease interjecting and the honourable member for O'Connor will cease interjecting.

Mr PEACOCK —I do not object to the honourable member for Flinders interjecting because there will be so few opportunities in future for him to play any role in the Parliament after the next election. He knows what I know only too well; that many people in his electorate of Flinders feel that they have been penalised because they have been thrifty during their working lives. They will take it out on him and on many others on the other side. They feel they have been penalised because they put away a nest egg to avoid being dependent in their retirement on the State and on their families.

Mr Keating —He sold his racehorses.

Mr PEACOCK —The honourable member who interjected has one of the finest antique collections in Australia. He deliberately wrote the antiques provision into the assets test. Not only is his colleague the Minister for Finance (Mr Dawkins) a tax evader, but he will get around the assets test because of his antiques.

Mr Keating —I have made this point before. On a point of personal explanation-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Les Johnson) —Order! There is no point of personal explanation. The honourable member will resume his seat.

Mr PEACOCK —Why does the honourable member not declare the value of his antiques ? He should tell us all about it. Is it a prerequisite to introducing an assets test that excludes antiques to have one of the best collections in Australia? It shows how two-faced the honourable member is. He wants to exclude his assets and include other people's assets. Labor is planning to tax these pensioners as though they are wealthy. The harsh reality is that this assets test is full of anomalies and injustices. We know it can only cause further alarm and anxiety. If I had to rely on my racehorses to keep me in my retirement, I would be drawing the pension. If the Government proceeds with the assets test and if it tries to have the proposed legislation passed during this session of parliament there is no way it can claim to be a Government which cares, a Government which has any genuine compassion or any genuine desire to consult. The Government is trying to ram the legislation through before it has consulted with groups it said it would consult. We will stop the passage of this legislation until the Government consults those groups.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.