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Tuesday, 14 May 1985
Page: 1875

Senator COOK —Is the Minister for Community Services aware of an article in the South Western Times, a newspaper circulating in the Bunbury-Busselton region of Western Australia, that elderly people are seeking to register for unemployment benefit, allegedly because of the assets test? Will the Minister investigate the truth of the article and the claim, which is not reported in the article but nonetheless is circulating in the region, that pensioners have been advised to register for unemployment benefit by a local Liberal State member, Mr Barry Blaikie, and when presenting themselves to the Commonwealth Employment Service have been telling officers they have been sent by Mr Blaikie? Would the Minister agree that if elderly people are being advised in this way, it is nothing short of a disgusting attempt to mischievously confuse and exploit them?

Senator GRIMES —My attention was drawn to the article by Senator Cook. The article refers to a claim by Mr Blaikie, a local State member, that elderly people in the Bunbury area who have been affected by the assets test have been applying for unemployment benefit. When we investigated the matter we found that a few people, a minimal number, had in fact done this. This is unfortunate.

Unemployment benefit is not available to males 65 years and over and females 60 years and over. That has been the case, no matter what government has been in power, for as long as most of us here have been around. The people concerned are not eligible for unemployment benefit in these circumstances.

All pensioners whose pensions have been reduced or cancelled by the assets test can use the hardship provisions and appeal, or they can use the pensions loans scheme, which is by now well known to all such people. The unfortunate thing is, as Senator Cook has implied, that this is a set up for political purposes and is exploiting elderly people.

Senator Withers —It is like opening an electoral office just before an election.

Senator GRIMES —Yes, something like that, only a little worse because one does not do this sort of thing to elderly people. Two things are happening in this connection. The first is that when people come along and apply for unemployment benefit in these circumstances-and this is peculiar to the Bunbury area-and are asked why they are taking this course, we find that in a large number of cases they have been sent there by Mr Blaikie, the local Liberal member.

The second thing is that the article in the South Western Times was written by Mr Bruce Breslin, a well known Liberal Party member in the area who was a candidate for Liberal Party pre-selection. This is a classic set up of a local Liberal member cooking up a story to get his name in the paper, to get sympathy for himself and his cause and, in the meantime, causing unnecessary stress to elderly people in the area by leading them to believe that they can apply for a benefit for which quite clearly they are not eligible. That is the sort of game that one senator has played in the past. It is not a game that any respected member of parliament should play, but I suppose it is as much as we can expect from people like Mr Blaikie.