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Monday, 10 September 1984
Page: 750


Senator TEAGUE(10.10) —I want to identify myself fully with the Opposition's opposition to this Bill. An unusual and special stand is being taken by the Opposition at the Committee stage which many would describe as a money Bill or a Budget Bill. Although this matter falls within a grey area relating to a relatively small amount, it is a matter of principle that should be debated. It goes to the commitment that the Opposition has made that it will not, by blocking a money bill, cause the fall of an elected government in the Senate. That guarantee or principle is, I freely admit, transgressed in this grey area of the definition of this part of the Bill as part of the Government's Budget or in part a money Bill. But because it is a unique act, a special act of the Opposition I want to put on record briefly the reasons why I stand squarely with the Opposition and, I believe, the overwhelming majority of the Australian public in opposing this measure.

We do not want the assets test in its present form. Whilst we are committed to repealing this proposed section of the Act on being elected to government-the best remedy to get rid of the assets test, should this Bill be passed tonight, is to elect Liberal-National Party government-we are taking this unusual step tonight because we feel unusually strongly about this measure. It is odious to me. Whilst the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, talks about equity, why can he not see that equity can be described as giving reward to those who have worked hard and contributed to Australia through their life and who ought, without distortion, to gain the reward in the same pension that is payable on retirement to every Australian alike? If a pensioner is able, through good fortune, to have additional income, equity or fairness can be gained through the normal processes of the taxation system.

If a person in Australia gets $5,000 as a gift or a bequest from a deceased relative and it is his only income-he has only that $5,000 income-he is not taxed upon it. If he has more income he moves into the 30c in the dollar bracket of tax and, with some appropriate fairness according to the tax threshold, he contributes government revenue by way of tax. Why can that system not apply to age pensioners? They would receive the pension and if they received other income they would move progressively into tax brackets that would take a certain proportion of their income in the same way as that of every other Australian. I put to Senator Grimes, the Minister for Social Security, that this is the way to achieve equity.

Finally, why should we penalise in particular the generation of Australians who went through the Depression and World War II and who suffered deprivation in those decades? I include also what I call the immigration generation-the generation of people, principally of the 1950s, who came to Australia with nothing, having been tossed out of their homes, mostly in eastern Europe, and worked hard in this country and built Australia along with the rest of our families. Now, in their old age, in their retirement, they are to be hit by an assets test. I am not concerned only about the formula of this assets test, which Senator Grimes says is a pussy-footing test which will affect only 1,000- odd people. What will happen in the ambush that will be before Australia should an Australian Labor Party government be re-elected at the next election? The Government has the machinery here to turn the assets test into a test that will really hurt. At this Committee stage I say that the Opposition finds great inequity in this attack on the immigration generation, the Depression generation and the World War II generation of Australians. Why should we have an assets test that will lead them to distort their investments further? Why should they distort their investments? Why should those people not be free to maximise their investment gains in the same way as every other Australian? I urge the Australian Democrats to join with us in throwing out this piece of the legislation. All Australians will then say with great cheer: 'We do not have the Labor Party's assets test any more'. The people will not have to wait to re- elect a Liberal government to get rid of it. They can get rid of it tonight if the Democrats join with us in opposing it.