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Wednesday, 10 October 1984
Page: 1552

Senator CHANEY —My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security and follows his recent response on the question of the assets test. I ask the Minister: In this pre-election atmosphere is he asserting that under no circumstances will valuations put on assets by pensioners be queried, and is he asserting that under no circumstances will Department of Social Security officers or tax officials enter homes for purposes related to the valuation of assets?

Senator GRIMES —The answer to the second part of Senator Chaney's question is yes . Officials will not be entering people's homes under any circumstances. The only circumstance in which they could enter anyone's home would be if they were invited by that person, and I cannot imagine many people doing that. The first part of Senator Chaney's question was whether the assessment of assets by all pensioners would be accepted. The answer to that is no. The Government believes that the vast majority of pensioners in this country are absolutely honest and therefore in the vast majority of cases their assessments will be accepted. In the vast majority of cases the assessment of the assets that Senator Chaney is talking about will be of no effect at all. I think Senator Chaney knows, just as everybody else knows, that the vast majority of pensioners in this country do not have enough assets to get anywhere near being affected by the assets test.

If someone lives in a suburb such as Vaucluse or Toorak in a house worth $750, 000 and says that the other assets come to a value of only $2,000-to use a ridiculous case- of course we might question that. However, we will question it only in those circumstances in which there is reason to question it. Senator Chaney and his colleagues when in government did not believe that the vast majority of pensioners in this country are honest. They based the administration of the Social Security Act on that. If we assume that the vast majority of people in this country, be they pensioners or anybody else, are dishonest we get ourselves into great difficulty and tie ourselves in great knots with our administrative structures. I suggest that that is what has happened in the past. That is why we are trying a new tack, as other countries have done.

Senator CHANEY —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. I thank the Minister for his acknowledgment that there may well be cases where there will be a non-acceptance of the valuation of assets. As a supplementary question I ask the Minister: What procedures will be followed by the Department to determine any dispute where the valuation is not accepted?

Senator GRIMES —The first thing that will happen will be that the Department will question the valuation. The pensioner may then have another look at that valuation. Secondly, an independent valuation, at the cost of the Department-at the cost of the Government-can be obtained by the person involved. Thirdly, as Senator Chaney knows, we have appeals structures in the social security system now unlike that which existed before 1976 when the assets test was previously removed. Any pensioner dissatisfied with what has happened can then use those appeal and review structures which we have and have had for some time.