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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2254


Senator PATTERSON (11.47 a.m.) —That demonstrates the point that Senator Harradine, Senator O'Chee and I are making—that, irrespective of which way they go, it is not the same as the announcement. Until people have the law in front of them and know how to arrange their affairs, it is not, I believe, legitimate to expect people to behave in a certain way on the basis of an announcement. Senator Woodley was nitpicking in some ways when he talked about whether it was a press release or announcement.

  Just how do older people respond if they are not using a financial adviser? The minister might say that all older people use a financial adviser. At church on Sunday I was chatting to someone who is 86. This person was widowed when she was 50 and has worked all her life. In fact, she still works full time two days a week. She said to me last year, `Kay, I am terribly sorry but I have to apply for a pension because I cannot manage any longer on my income. I have had to go from four days a week to two days a week.' At the age of 85 she went from four days a week to two days a week employment, having been widowed at 50.

  She looks after all her financial affairs. She assists people in her block of flats in the same way because she was a bookkeeper and has kept share portfolios for the person for whom she has been working. The other day she said to me, `I got this letter from social security that said that my part pension was going to be reduced by 70c a fortnight.' She finds the carry-on in respect of her getting a part pension absolutely amazing.

  There are people out there like her—many of them are able people—who are looking after their own financial affairs. In particular, many of these people whose portfolios are small and who manage them themselves rely on announcements in the financial part of the major newspapers in making their decisions. They would be getting a filtered version of the government's announcement because the government has not sent its announcement in its pure form to every older person who is investing. These people are getting a filtered version in line with the media's interpretation of the statement and the press release.

  I say to Senator Woodley that it really is nitpicking to criticise Senator O'Chee for mentioning the press release. Whether it is statement or press release, it is still not law; and the minister has admitted that the legislation is not the same as the original statement. We can expect people to operate only on the basis of the law and what is in the law, not what they think the government is going to do; because we know this government does not do what it says.

  We should think of pensioners who, before the last election, would have made plans because the government said they would be taken out of the tax system by 1995. The government announced that in a major statement in every piece of paper directed to older people by every Labor candidate and sitting member standing for re-election, telling pensioners they would be taken out of the tax system. That happened up until the week of the election. Five days after the election Mr Dawkins made an announcement saying, `Oh, that should not have been said. It was an error. We did not mean it. I am sorry, you are not going to be taken out of the tax system.'

  Pensioners could have made decisions before that. There was a statement by the government on material put out by ministers; they could have believed that. How are they supposed to operate when the government tells them that they will be taken out of the tax system, and they might have arranged their affairs on that basis? They have learned by now that the government does not always do what it says. I believe that it is only right and proper that these things be based on legislation and not on statements, press releases or whatever other words we would like to use, when the government announces its policy that it may or may not bring in.

  One of the problems that I have is to know whether the Greens are going to support the Australian Democrats amendment—and I suppose it would be useful for you, Madam Temporary Chairman, to know too, in terms of supporting this legislation. I wonder whether Senator Chamarette has a comment to make from the Greens and whether she agrees with Senator Harradine or with the Democrats. It would be quite useful for us to know that; and it would help us make our decision. I presume it would assist you as well.