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Tuesday, 5 June 1984
Page: 2482

Senator TOWNLEY —My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Is it a fact, as reported in at least one newspaper today that, under the revised assets test, pensioners who lose a partner will have only six weeks to rearrange their affairs before being subjected to the single assets test threshold? Was this period to be six pension instalments or twelve weeks under the original assets test proposal? Did the Government's panel of review-the Gruen Panel of Review of Proposed Incomes and Assets Test-recommend a 12-month period of grace for pensioners who lost their spouses? How has the Government reached that decision? Can an assurance be given that the short period will not disadvantage widows or widowers? Finally, after the election, are all those who receive money from the Government by way of unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and family allowances to be subjected to an assets test and the same kind of intrusion that pensioners will be subjected to?

Senator GRIMES —No, it is not accurate as was reported, as Senator Townley said, in at least one newspaper today that six weeks after the loss of a spouse a pensioner will be subjected to an assets test. I do not know how that reporter came to such an interpretation, but that is a matter for him or her to answer, I suppose. Certainly, when one partner of a married pensioner couple dies, the pension entitlement of the surviving spouse is reassessed. Under the existing income test provisions there is no immediate reduction in pension when the pensioner spouse dies. Instead, the spouse receives, as I am sure Senator Townley knows, 12 weeks of payments, that is, six pension payments. For that six weeks he or she receives the equivalent of two pensions that would have been paid if the spouse had not died. Professor Gruen recommended that the assets test exemption that is applicable to the married couple should continue to be applied to the surviving spouse for 12 months. However, that was in the context of the Panel's preferred option under which the pensioner's home was not exempted as it is under our option and under Professor Gruen's third option.

The Government's approach to this is that, certainly, there should be no reduction in the period of 12 weeks which applies now. We are, certainly, and have been, as I have already stated, considering whether that period should be longer; it certainly would not be shorter. On the surface, there would not appear to be strong arguments as to why the approach adopted under the assets test should be different from that used for the income test. Certainly, we are open to suggestions in that matter. The period of six weeks mentioned in the newspaper this morning is not correct. I believe the newspaper should correct that. In relation to the second part of Senator Townley's question, there is absolutely no intention nor has there ever been any intention to introduce an assets test on the short term benefits about which he was talking. There is no intention to do so on family allowances.