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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1263

Senator WALTERS —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. I refer to the injustices that now occur through the introduction of the Hawke assets test to many small farmers who are either pensioners or approaching pension age, as well as those pensioners disadvantaged because they did not choose to invest in luxurious homes. Does the Minister agree with Senator Haines, spokesman for the Australian Democrats on social security matters, who, in reply to representations made to her by a pensioner, said: 'Those anomalies which exist are limited to people in aged cottages and people on unproductive land'?

Senator GRIMES —If I get the gist of Senator Walters's question, I probably do agree with what Senator Haines is alleged to have said, although I certainly have not seen any such statements by Senator Haines. There are probably two basic problems with the treatment of farmers under the assets test, problems of which we are well aware. One has been the claim by various newspapers and by honourable senators opposite that the valuers who are checking valuations for the Department of Social Security have in some cases overvalued land. Obviously, that may be so. Mr Howe has said that that is so and we have review officers looking at it at the moment. I point out that of the 57,000 people who are affected by the assets test only 600 people have appealed about the overvaluation of their land.

Secondly, I presume that when Senator Haines said that the main problem was non-productive or unproductive land she was talking about these people who have land which could be productive, which could provide an income, but which by choice they do not make productive and therefore they do not get an income from it. We are aware, as we always were-both Senator Gietzelt and I have said this-that the most difficult area in the application of the assets test is probably the rural area. What we have done, therefore, is set up the hardship provisions, the provisions suggested by Professor Gruen. Mr Howe has introduced a review procedure which is very rapid, and there are other appeal provisions in the legislation. We will continue, as does Mr Howe, to review the application in rural area.

The question remains: Should the ordinary taxpayer of this country be called upon to pay a full pension to someone who has land which is potentially useful and is worth a considerable amount of money? Should people be able to choose not to use that land, not to make it productive and still receive a full pension? We do not allow other people in the community to do that and I do not think we should allow these people to do it. I know that cases have been presented in the newspaper and on the television, but the fact remains that the number of people who have appealed against valuation is at the moment just over 600, so I do not think we have done too badly.

Senator Peter Rae —You have plenty more coming, I can tell you.

Senator GRIMES —Of course many more will come because people such as Senator Rae and Senator Walters will urge them to do so, but that does not mean that they will succeed.