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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1641


Senator MESSNER —My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security. In ascertaining the truth or otherwise of pensioners' statements with regard to the assets test, will the Government have access to, firstly, the tax records of the pensioner; secondly, bank, building society and credit union accounts; and, thirdly, investment registers in fixed trusts, stocks and shares or any other records of asset holdings? What powers of search or inquiry are available to the Government under existing legislation?


Senator GRIMES —The answer to the first part of Senator Messner's question is no; the tax records are not available to us. I am not sure about building society accounts but, as Senator Messner will know, under the income test pensioners must give information to the Department about the contents of bank accounts.


Senator Walters —That is not the question.


Senator GRIMES —The honourable senator should wait a minute. Off the top of my head I am not certain about building societies. I will certainly find out about that. Perhaps Senator Chaney can help us. There is limited access to bank accounts by the Department of Social Security. But there is nothing in the legislation, as Senator Messner knows, which changes the situation this year; the situation remains as it was before. I am uncertain about investment registers in fixed trusts, stocks and shares. I will find out the answer before the end of Question Time today.


Senator MESSNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the Minister for his reply, but I ask him to confirm his earlier comment that tax records would not be available. In view of the fact that there is legislation under the income tax Act and since valuers from the Australian Taxation Office will be used, is there provision for cross-referencing to the Department of Social Security in the sorts of circumstances which we envisage?


Senator GRIMES —The valuers from the Australian Taxation Office who will be used to value assets where that is necessary will be operating under the social security legislation, not under the taxation legislation. That is why, under those circumstances, they will not have, for instance, access to properties in the way in which they do under the taxation legislation. The cross-referencing, as much as it exists between the two departments, is for the benefit of the Australian Taxation Office, as I understand it. It is my understanding that taxation records are not available. That has always been my understanding; I know of no changes which have been made to alter that. I will confirm all that too for Senator Messner. But I am as certain as I can be.


Senator Messner —So it is not a categorical no.


Senator GRIMES —It is at the moment.