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Monday, 22 October 1984
Page: 2096


Senator COLSTON —I ask the Minister for Social Security whether he is aware of this comment attributed to Senator MacGibbon in yesterday's Brisbane Sunday Mail :

. . . the Federal Social Security Minister, Senator Grimes, had been 'less than truthful' when he said pensioners would not face door-knocks from . . . 1500 to 2000 Social Security inspectors recruited to investigate pension entitlements.

Is the Minister also aware of a claim by Senator MacGibbon that the Department of Social Security 'has seconded 120 inspectors from the Tax Department, who don 't need a warrant to enter a house'? Should Senator MacGibbon's comments be taken seriously by pensioners, or is he irresponsibly playing politics by unnecessarily worrying Australia's senior citizens?


Senator GRIMES —Yes, my attention has been drawn to the statement which has been admitted--


Senator Chaney —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The Standing Orders clearly provide that a question should not seek an expression of opinion from a Minister. Since those are the terms in which the question has been asked, I hope the Minister will bear the standing order in mind. I draw it to his attention.


The PRESIDENT —Order! The matter is clearly within the Minister's portfolio. I will allow the question.


Senator GRIMES —Thank you, Mr President. I am not going to give an opinion, nor am I going to indulge in flights of fantasy with no regard for the truth in the way Senator MacGibbon did. My attention has been drawn to the statement allegedly made by Senator MacGibbon. Let me make just two points to demonstrate how inaccurate that statement is. Senator MacGibbon allegedly talked about 1,500 to 2,000 inspectors from the Department of Social Security. First of all, for the implementation of the assets test about 1,100 employees of the Social Security Department will be employed in the establishment stages. Those employees will process people's claims. Some field officers but mostly clerks and clerical officers will process those claims.

Senator MacGibbon said that we had acquired 120 inspectors from the Australian Taxation Office. In fact we will be using about 90 valuers from the Taxation Office and they will be employed in assessing the valuation of properties, et cetera. They will be mostly desk top valuations. As I have said in this place on many occasions, they will not be knocking on people's doors or entering people's homes. They do not need warrants to do so because they will not be doing so under the Social Security Act and under the assets test. One can only assume that Senator MacGibbon makes remarks like this in order to frighten pensioners, as Senator Colston said. Senator MacGibbon is deliberately misstating the facts in order to frighten pensioners, to confuse pensioners and to misrepresent the assets test for his own party political purposes. I understand that people campaign in certain ways. I also understand that the conservatives in this country have traditionally campaigned on the basis of fear, even if that basis is without any regard to the facts, as it is in this case.


Senator Chaney —What were you doing during the Lowe by-election?


Senator GRIMES —I am sure that Senator Chaney, who obviously approves of Senator MacGibbon's tactics, and Senator MacGibbon will be treated with contempt by the pensioners of this country in the forthcoming election, as they should be. I believe that they will also be treated with contempt by the Press and the media in these circumstances.