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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1644


Senator WALTERS —My question is to the Minister for Social Security.


Senator Crowley —Oh!


Senator WALTERS —Well, it is a change. I refer to the Minister's statement that under the assets test there will be no inspections of pensioners' homes. Does this mean that the assets in question will never be inspected and that the Department will accept a pensioner's word as to the nature and value of all assets?


Senator Gareth Evans —Boring.


Senator Ryan —Tedious repetition.


Senator WALTERS —Mr President, would you like me to start again?


The PRESIDENT —No, I would not. Just continue, Senator Walters. Get it over as quickly as possible.


Senator WALTERS —I am sure that Senator Grimes has not been able to concentrate for so long, so I will start again.


The PRESIDENT —Order! Will the honourable senator ask her question?


Senator WALTERS —Does this mean that the assets in question will never be inspected and that the Department will accept the pensioner's word as to the nature and value of all assets? How can the Government possibly know without inspection the true nature of the assets? If the Government cannot inspect, what is the sense of having a test?


Senator GRIMES —I hope I have less difficulty with the answer than the honourable senator had with the question. First of all, the Government has a belief, which I know is not shared by Senator Walters and others, that the vast majority of pensioners and potential pensioners in this country are honest and law abiding citizens.


Senator Chaney —Like the vast majority of taxpayers.


Senator GRIMES —Of course. If Senator Chaney wants to use that analogy, we provide in the social security and assets test legislation for those pensioners to give information to the Government. There are penalties for those who wilfully give wrong information.


Senator Archer —How do you know?


Senator GRIMES —Senator Archer would be an expert on this. I will give everyone a little lecture on the honourable senator's expertise in this area if he wants, but I do not want to take up Question Time. There are penalties, but the vast majority of pensioners or applicants for pensions, firstly, will not be affected and, secondly, are honest.

Quite clearly, there may be some people who, as I said yesterday, will try to get around the test. On the whole they will not be trying to get around it by filling their houses with Rembrandts, Renoirs and whatever else Senator Walters may think. Quite clearly, there will always be someone who lives in Vaucluse, Sandy Bay or Toorak, who has a very expensive house and who will declare that he has very few assets.

Under those circumstances they will be questioned about those assets. If they wish to have an independent valuation because they claim that their valuation is right and if the Department thinks they should have an independent valuation, they can have it. We will not be sending officers of the Department of Social Security or officers of the Department of Veterans' Affairs around knocking on people's doors and going into their houses against their will to-


Senator Messner —What about officers of the Australian Taxation Office?


Senator GRIMES —Nor will officers of the Australian Taxation Office go into people's houses, against their will, to go through their assets. The only people who are likely to be in these circumstances are those who are dealers in various goods that can be held in a house.

I point out that if people have very large asset holdings and if they do not want to apply for the pension, they do not have to. They do not have to fill out a form; they do not have to declare their assets if they do not want to apply for a pension. One would think, from the way the Opposition was going on, that everyone in this community is forced to fill out these forms.

The simple fact is that, as I have said, in general we will accept the pensioner's assessment of his or her assets. If there is clearly an anomaly between the value of those assets and other things we will ask for further evidence. If people want a valuation they can have it. But inspectors of the Department of Social Security, the Department of Veterans' Affairs or the Australian Taxation Office-to satisfy Senator Messner-will not be going around, knocking on people's doors and going into people's houses; nor have they the power to do so. They have no power to insist on going into people's homes at all .


Senator WALTERS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does that mean that the pensioners who receive the simple form will never have their assets inspected unless they invite inspection?


Senator GRIMES —Senator Walters must remember that those who get the letter and the more complicated form are selected by both departments. Those who fill out forms and put down their assessments will have their assessments accepted. They will be reviewed, as all pensions are reviewed now and have been reviewed except for a short period in the late 1970s when the previous Government cut down the number of staff so much that no reviews could be done. All assessments will be reviewed on an annual basis. If any anomalies appear then or initially further questions will be asked.

But inspectors will not be going around knocking on people's doors, nor will they be going into people's houses as they would if the Opposition were in charge of the whole exercise. The simple fact is that the vast majority of people in this country-including taxpayers-happen to be honest, law abiding people. If we start making laws in this country just to pick up and restrict the rest of the community because of those few who are dishonest we will end up in a fearful situation.