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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 560


Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —My question is to the Minister for Social Security. Is it a fact that the Government's assets test cost almost $25m last financial year without providing any revenue whatsoever and that this year it will cost a further $30m, making a total of $55m in its cost of implementation? Will this year's revenue from the assets test total only $18m, providing a net revenue loss over two years of $37m? After the first full year of operation of the Hawke assets test in 1985-86, will the Government have spent almost $65m and have raised only a net $13m? Will the Minister now admit that the only way in which the Government can achieve worthwhile revenue from the assets test is to increase the severity of its impact on pensioners? Will he give an unequivocal undertaking before the coming premature election that if the Government were returned, which of course I do not think it will be, it would not change the assets test to pensioners' disadvantage?


Senator GRIMES —The answer to the last part of Senator Bjelke-Petersen's question is yes. Mr Hawke, Senator Gietzelt and I have in fact done that. Senator Walters is trying to interject. As I say every time that happens, I always find it surprising that someone like Senator Walters, who is becoming more and more notorious for her defence of privilege and the wealthy of this country, should join in this little debate.


Senator Chaney —Stop protecting criminals then.


The PRESIDENT —Order!


Senator GRIMES —Senator Chaney knows all about protecting criminals.


The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister will resume his seat. The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw.


Senator Chaney —Mr President, you ordered me to withdraw that yesterday and I will withdraw it today. I did it again because I am sick of sitting opposite sanctimonious hypocrites.


The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the phrase 'sanctimonious hypocrites'.


Senator Chaney —Mr President, I withdraw.


Senator GRIMES —We will never have a greater example of Satan condemning sin than we have just had from the Leader of the Opposition.


The PRESIDENT —Can we get back to Senator Bjelke-Petersen's question?


Senator GRIMES —Yes, I will get back to it. I can give that guarantee to the good senator.


Senator Withers —Yes, but it is not worth much.


Senator GRIMES —If honourable senators opposite want more of it, I will give it to them, but it is their Question Time that they are taking up.


Senator Walters —Mr President, is the Minister meant to be answering questions or is he meant to be abusing other people on this side? He has attempted to intimidate me so often and it is about time he realised that there is no way in the world he is picking on the right person to intimidate. He cannot intimidate me. Better men than he have tried, Mr President, and there is no way the Minister opposite can intimidate me to prevent me making my comments.


The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. I ask the Minister to try to ignore the interjections and respond to Senator Bjelke-Petersen.


Senator GRIMES —I will never try to intimidate Senator Walters. In fact I find her intimidating. If I can remember Senator Bjelke-Petersen's question correctly , yes, I believe the establishment costs of the assets test last year were in the order of $24m. I have not the exact figure but, as Senator Bjelke-Petersen was sitting in the Estimates committee the other night when all these answers were given, I thought she would have them exactly. In the first full year of the application of the assets test the quantifiable returns to the Government will be a net $50m. Senator Bjelke-Petersen may not think that is very much. I can assure her that we think it is a lot of money and that the taxpayers will think it is a lot of money.

The second thing is that there are unquantifiable gains which are probably more important in the introduction of an assets test because since 1976, when the assets test was removed by the previous Liberal-Country Party coalition at the urging of the Country Party in particular, there has been a rapid increase in the number of artificial schemes introduced by various organisations, including the one mentioned by Senator Gietzelt in answer to a question a short while ago. The number of these schemes has been increasing so rapidly that it is impossible to read financial journals, journals aimed at pensioners or nationally distributed newspapers in this country without reading the sorts of advertisements which say: 'You can be a millionaire and still get the full pension and full fringe benefits if you join our scheme'.

One of the purposes of the assets test is to curb the growth of those schemes, which would continue to grow as more and more people have larger and larger sums to invest. We do not think the $50m is an insignificant sum; we think it is a very significant sum, and it will increase our capacity to make our social security system more fair. That is what it is all about. If Senator Bjelke- Petersen wants to cite figures of that type, allegedly demonstrating that the assets test is inequitable, she can, but I suggest that not many people will believe her, and she will know that after the next election.