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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1670


Mrs DARLING —Is the Minister for Social Security aware of a letter which has gone to pensioners in the Brisbane district from the Brisbane City Council claiming that they could lose their rate rebate because the Federal Government has introduced an assets test? Has there been any change in the manner in which the Council rates rebate eligibility is determined following the introduction of the assets test? Will the Minister comment on what is proving to be a provocative and worrying letter for age pensioners to receive?


Mr HOWE —I thank the honourable member for Lilley for her question. I have seen a copy of the letter which has now become something of an issue in Brisbane. The facts appear to be that the Brisbane City Council last August asked the Department of Social Security to match its records of pensioners on full pensions, who were therefore entitled to rebates, with our records in the Department. The Department gave the Council that information and only that information. That is, the Council was told either yes or no in respect of each of the names submitted on the computer tape. The Council was not entitled to know any more and was not told any more. Some seven months later the Council sent to some 3,500 social security and veterans' affairs pensioners a letter which told them that they were no longer entitled to their rates rebate because this Government had introduced an assets test. This letter has gone to many eligible pensioners on full rate rebates who are now uncertain of their eligibility. It has caused a great deal of anxiety in the pensioner population.

In the first place, I would say that confirming eligibility under the income or assets test was a long-standing practice under Liberal as well as Labor governments and it is misleading to link this exercise to the introduction of the assets test two years ago. I suppose that this is not unconnected with the fact that the Liberal Party leaders in the Brisbane City Council have never accepted that the wealthy aged should be subject to an assets test. I wonder whether they support so enthusiastically the proposition that women over the age of 60 should not be paid the age pension. I am asking my Department to review the matching of those records to ensure that accurate information has gone to the Council. I would suggest that the Council check its list of pensioners with a view to confirming the letters to pensioners no longer eligible for the rate rebate. At this stage I urge all Brisbane pensioners who have been wrongly classified to contact the Council immediately.