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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 749

Senator MESSNER(9.59) —by leave-I move:

1. Page 1, clause 1, line 6, leave out 'and Assets Test'.

2. Pages 8-39, Part III-Pensions Assets Test, leave out the Part.

The Opposition's first amendment seeks to change the name of the Bill to the Social Security and Repatriation (Budget Measures) Bill 1984, thereby excluding the reference to 'and Assets Test'. The second amendment seeks to delete the assets test clauses. This amendment relates to clauses 33 to 64 and includes the Schedule.

We indicated in the course of the second reading debate our very strong views on this matter, including our opposition in principle to the Government's assets test proposal. We hold strongly to that point of view and will seek to amend this Bill in order to get rid of the assets test once and for all. Being in the minority on this side of the House we require the support of the Australian Democrats but, having had some indication from the Democrats that they intend to support the Government on this issue, we are looking down the barrel in trying to win. We do, though, as a last ditch stand, call upon the Democrats to change their ways in the dying hours of the debate on this legislation and support the Liberal and National Party Opposition in trying to strike out this damnable clause in the legislation aimed at taking away people's rights of thrift and their ability to save for their own futures.

It is with that in mind that we have moved these amendments. In the course of my remarks in the next few minutes I would like briefly to canvass a few of the issues that have come up. Firstly, we have just now had an explanation from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) as to what is the real intention of this legislation. He gave us his point of view but we on this side of the chamber have another one. We see this legislation as the first foot in the door and we believe that a far harsher measure will be introduced sometime after the re-election of the Labor Government if it is successful in the forthcoming election. It is that which people have to have clearly in their minds in the next few weeks and months as they go forward to the election. If this Bill succeeds this assets test will not be that Government's assets test when it comes to the new financial year. All of us on this side of the chamber know that and it is time that the people of Australia were told the truth by this Government.

The second point is that this Government has sought to say that the only people who will suffer as a result of the introduction of this legislation are those who hold very large amounts in assets. As the Minister has rightly forecast and has been published in this week's Business Review Weekly, there is some indication that this legislation will lead to a brand new avoidance industry. The Australian Labor Party is spawning such an industry with the introduction of the assets test. It is creating a new avoidance industry which will lead to a whole new field of investment advisory work, which of course members of the Labor Party have decried in the course of the last few hours of this debate. The point is that it is not the really rich who will be the object of this legislation; it will be the battler, the person who has sought to build up relatively modest sums of money-something like $70,000.

Senator Zakharov —Ha!

Senator MESSNER —Senator Zakharov laughs at that but the fact is that the people who will be caught by this legislation are people like the widow who in her last years sells a house, in Sydney on high value areas along the coast, she realises $100,000 or $150,000, buys an elderly citizen's cottage or whatever and then invests some money. That is the sort of person who will be the subject of this legislation. That is what this Government is on about-attacking the ordinary, modest person in the community. The so-called tall poppies are a figment of the Government's imagination, and it knows it. There are not 40,000 millionaires in this community. That is the number members of the Government claim they will be hitting. There are not 40,000 people who draw pensions and at the same time have assets of more than $1m. It is the average, little person they will hurt. I hope that members of the Government enjoy that experience in the next few months.

As has oft been quoted around this place, the new candidate for the seat of Mayo in South Australia, Mr Alexander Downer, who was formerly the Assistant Executive Director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce, has been somehow interpreted as a supporter of this legislation. Nothing could be further from the truth. I suggest that the Minister inquire of Mr Downer about his views on this matter in the not too distant future so that he can stop misrepresenting Mr Downer's position.

There is a fundamental question concerning what should be done in the whole area of social security. We covered that adequately in the course of the second reading debate but one issue about which the Government apparently has a fixation is the so-called question of double dipping. The Government sought to introduce a confused series of adjustments and assessments to the system. It first of all sought to introduce an income test for the over 70-year-olds; then it said the real problem with double dipping concerned lump sum superannuation, so a 30 per cent tax was introduced. That has now been followed by an assets test which is entirely contradictory to the second proposal and consequently we have seen higher tax levels introduced for pensioners. All of those things are consistent with the pattern of this Government not having a clue what it is doing in this area. It was for that reason that back in September of last year the Opposition successfully moved, with the support of the Democrats, for a reference to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare of the whole area of income security for the retired. That is probably the most important report yet to be handed down and it will form a basic part of the debate on this vital matter.

If the Government had any sense at all it would delay the introduction of any silly measures like this assets test so that it can look forward to a rational, all-party approach to the whole question of retirement income security and prepare its longer term policies based on those philosophical determinations. I know it is too much to expect this Government to do that; it would rather go ahead with its proposals, seeking to create a false impression in the community that it is doing something of importance, while at the same time needlessly hurting the community now, including those who are in need, for some perceived advantage that may be 30 or 40 years down the track. The Government has ignored all the time, in the course of that misguided thinking, what might transpire in the next 30 years. It also has ignored the very basis of its proclaimed policies in altering the direction of economic and industrial policy generally. Those things as well are vital to this whole proposition.

I finish by pointing out that, first and foremost, the double dipping proposals that this Government is seeking to attack with this legislation have not been thought through very clearly at all. The Government has not analysed why people arrange their affairs in such a way as to obtain the benefits that the Government claims they do. It has not thought about the terrific incentive that exists by way of the pensioner health benefit card and its attached fringe benefits. A report from the Social Welfare Policy Secretariat indicates that that could be worth at least $100 a week to the average pensioner but the Government fails to take that into account as part of the total incentive available to people to arrange their affairs to get around the system. The Government has no answer to these things but carries on in its usual bumbling fashion, trying to deal with issues that are ill-thought through and which certainly have no basis in logic. For that reason, as well as the many others we have outlined in the course of this debate, the Opposition has moved these amendments which are designed, as I say, to remove the assets test proposal from this Bill.