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Thursday, 25 August 1988
Page: 254


Senator COLSTON —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Finance, is prompted due to my membership of the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Trust. Has the Minister seen the transcript of an interview of Mr Robert Wood on an Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio program earlier this week in which Mr Wood claimed that the Government had confiscated his superannuation payments? Is there any basis for this claim? What, if any, action is the Government taking in relation to this matter?


Senator WALSH —I have seen a transcript containing the sorts of allegations to which Senator Colston has referred. I have also had referred to me by Senator Robert Ray a letter from a firm of accountants acting on behalf of Mr Wood, seeking a payout of superannuation contributions that were made by him during the period that he received the salary of a senator. Of course, we all know that on 12 May the High Court of Australia ruled that the place occupied by Mr Wood since the previous election to that time had been contrary to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Therefore, the High Court declared his place vacant, which throws doubt on what entitlements Mr Wood might have had to a salary during the period-how should one put it-that he never was Senator Wood. I have asked my Department to seek legal advice about that matter and about the consequences of the High Court's disqualification of him, including whether there is any legal obligation for him to repay the salary that he received and to which the court later said that he was not entitled.

Under the Social Security Act there is, of course, provision for repayment of overpayments. The standard repayment, if I recall correctly, by pensioners is that they are required to repay 11 per cent of the gross ongoing pension until such time as any overpayment they may have received in the past has been erased. Senator Chaney is looking surprised about that. I point out that that may be waived under special circumstances.


Senator Chaney —I was curious. I was not aware that there was a standard procedure.


Senator WALSH —It has applied for at least the last two years. It normally applies even if the overpayment was not the fault of the pensioner concerned. In Mr Wood's case the court found that he was not entitled to be a candidate even though he had made a declaration that he was entitled to be a candidate. Indeed, all the confusion and the costly litigation which has occurred since then was caused by what was Mr Wood's negligence or worse in making that declaration.