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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2039


Senator TEAGUE(6.00) —Madam Acting Deputy President, we have had demonstrated today in this urgency debate the continuing saga of the Hawke Government attacking the pensioners of Australia. More than two million Australians are involved and we in the Opposition, and I believe yourself, because of your speech on behalf of the Australian Democrats, want to bring to the attention of Government members the enormous concern of those people in all the States and Territories of Australia. Whatever the political aspects of this debate in the Senate, the people of Australia are concerned. They are ringing us up; and following the leaks of the report of the Gruen Assets Test Review Panel which have appeared in the newspapers over the last week and the television statements and debates and arguments and assessments, the Australian people are doubly worried. There has been a continuing reinforcement of the public's awareness that this Hawke Government has double crossed the voters in regard to its election promises. It is bringing down heavy burdens upon the aged, upon pensioners, upon those for whom I believe we should provide a strong, sound, coherent social security policy.

In the debate today we had a clear and strong statement from the Opposition spokesman on social security, Senator Messner. It was not just an outline of the community's concern it was an informed analysis of the questions presently before the Government, because Senator Messner was able to table the Gruen report, with great embarrassment to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes). In the response from Government speakers today only left wing members of the Australian Labor Party have spoken, and the only one who forthrightly and honestly put forward the view that he did not make any apology for laying this burden on the pensioners of Australia was the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator Gietzelt. He has been on the public record for a long time, including in recent days, as saying that he makes no apology for laying every degree of burden upon the age pensioners of Australia. He has no wish to counsel caution about the policy the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) seems so intent upon, using this community committee as an excuse to overburden the pensioners of Australia. The other spokesmen, both from Tasmania-the Minister, Senator Grimes, and his colleague, Senator Coates-were apologetic and were not ready to give any options . They were not going to declare themselves; they have to be ready to jump whichever way the Prime Minister goes at the end of the week. They will be just as interested as the public at large to know what the Prime Minister has decided by Friday. When he makes that announcement, they will jump into line with it and argue for whatever the Prime Minister says. The Minister, Senator Grimes, has already done that. Back in February, the Prime Minister, without telling his Minister, went to the National Press Club and, as was outlined particularly by Senator Walters, just announced that the whole assets test was suspended because he knew that the suffering people of Australia would not wear it. Those people were concerned, and the Labor Party was copping the flak. He decided to try to pin this design upon some independent community committee. Of course, whilst left wingers are not in any way wanting to demur that there should be such a test, the rest of the Labor Party members are shaking in their shoes because they do not want to lose the support on which they think they might have a little fingerhold at the moment.

The Opposition has carefully argued this matter of urgency, and in particular the need to ensure that a pensioner's home remains an exclusion from all such tests that relate to pension assessments, and that was referred to by Senator Messner, Senator Scott and Senator Walters. Given that we have only half a minute remaining and that the cases have been so soundly put, I move:

That the question be now put.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Original question put:

That the motion (Senator Messner's) be agreed to.