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Address to the house of representatives on "the government's attack on thrift in its proposed assets test"



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Leader of the Opposition ιη o

PRESS RELEASE 176/83

ADDRESS TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES ON "THE GOVERNMENT'S ATTACK ON THRIFT IN ITS PROPOSED ASSETS TEST", WEDNESDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 1983

Yesterday, the Labor Caucus approved the Government's assets test and yet again, confirmed that it is not a Party of compassion. Yet again, it confirmed that it is a Party not interested in thrift, and it yet again confirmed that

it is a Party not genuinely interested in consultation.

The Caucus approval again confirmed that the majority of the Labor Party is not seriously worried about their proposed legislation being discriminatory and full of anomalies.

This is the very same assets test which has been labelled by the Labor Party's own National President as "discriminatory", as full of "anomalies" and which is "not achieving its purpose".

This is the very same assets test which is opposed by the largest pensioner organisation in Australia, and which is opposed by the Australian Council of Social Service because it discriminates against the elderly.

And it is the same assets test referred to by Canon Peter Hollingworth, the Executive Director of our most highly regarded social organisation, the Brotherhood of St Lawrence, when he said:

"The Government's assets test on pensions attacks those least able to bear the burden".

The Labor Party was allegedly voted into Government because it claimed to have a commitment to caring and consultation. What a tragedy that has turned out to be. It is a tragedy which hits the elderly, the most vulnerable

group in the" community, the group least able to adjust their affairs . · '

This imposition of an assets test has created only alarm and confusion. Is this what the Labor Party calls caring? Is this what the Labor Party calls., compassion?

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And what of Labor's claim of consultation. Why will they not agree to lay the legislation on the table? Why do they insist on it being passed at this stage? Did they insist on the same thing for the new lump sum

superannuation tax? Did Labor insist on that legislation being introduced before consultation?

Of course they didn't, because they were then confronted by organisations with industrial muscle like the ACTU, but then they had an Accord with the ACTU, an Accord which extended privileges to the strongest unions. As the Opposition said at the time, there was no Accord with elderly Australians and they would be inevitably

penalised. Now that apprehension has sadly been justified.

We and Australians are sick and tired of this Government lamenting that it hasn't had time to introduce measures to achieve its solemn commitment of 500,000 new jobs. But it has taken the time to attack the elderly.

It has taken the time to hit the most vulnerable group in the community.

And it claims to have done this in the name of fairness and equity, of spreading the burden. You'd need a twisted mind to understand how Labor's assets test will increase equity.

Under Labor's test, you don't lose your pension if you own a Rolls Royce, but you may lose your pension if you're contributing to this country's development by putting some money into a local company.

Under Labor's test, you don't lose your pension if you own diamond rings, but you may lose your pension if you've put aside some money in a savings bank.

Under Labor's test you don't lose your pension if you own hundreds of thousands of dollars of antiques, but you may lose your pension if you're part owner of an antique shop.

Under Labor's test, you don't lose your pension if you blow your money on overseas trips, but you may lose your pension if you want to pass something on to your kids.

Under Labor's test you don't lose your pension if you own your own: home, but you may lose your pension if you rent.

The list goes on and on. And let's not forget that it's individual elderly people who are being hit.

Let me quote the example of Mrs F - one of the many ordinary Australians who are being hit by tfhis Government.

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Mrs F is an aged pensioner living with her 25 year old son who receives an invalid pension. Mrs F is immobile due to a very bad leg condition. Both her husband and daughter died recently, and the funeral costs absorbed the small amount of savings she had acquired.

Mrs F owns a unit in Sydney worth $60,000 which both her son and herself live in. Due to maintenance costs she will probably have to sell this unit; she has no other cash or assets. Should she sell her unit, she will be

forced to rent on the private market.

Cash from the sale of her unit for $60,000, if deemed to be earning 10 per cent interest, will mean that Mrs F will be deemed to be receiving $115.38 income per week. This weekly income will cut out her fringe benefits

completely and reduce her weekly pension from $85.90 to approximately $43.00.

' Now is there any Member on the other side of this Chamber who is prepared to face Mrs F and tell her that her pension will be partly cut off?

If you are not prepared to face these people then why are you going ahead with the assets test? Is this another of those ideas that the Prime Minister has put forward for you all to rubber stamp?

But then, according to the Prime Minister on August 5, the only people who would be affected by the assets test are: "Pensioners with substantial assets, who are artificially avoiding the current income test for pensions".

How can anyone claim that Mrs F would fit into these categories? The fact is that the Prime Minister, in his obsession to justify the unjustifiable, has misled the elderly.

No wonder the National President of the Labor Party says: "There are too many inequities and anomalies in the assets test ... I think they've got to start all over again, frankly".

I could keep going on with these distressing examples all afternoon. It is almost beyond belief that a Government which says ft is compassionate, which says it believes in "social justice"", which says it believes in fairness, could

impose such hardship and uncertainty on our pensioners.

And what is even more disgusting, is that what they're doing is the opposite of what they said they would do before the election. Let me quote from a letter written by Senator Grimes on January 6, 1982:

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"What we need is consistent treatment of the disadvantaged. If people plan for their retirement, they should be able to do so in the expectation that policies will be continued and be consistent. This consistency, the ALP cam promise you".

What consistency is there in introducing an assets test of which not a whisper was heard before March 5? What consistency is there in introducing an assets test which penalises those who try to look after themselves? What consistency is there in introducing an assets test which treats people with similar savings in quite different ways?

And this is not the end of the consistency the ALP can promise you. We now learn that the assets test on pensions is a stop gap measure introduced until Labor hopes to implement its national superannuation scheme.

It is now clear that Labor has no idea what consistency is. It has no comprehensive retirement policy. It hasn't got further than establishing committees to examine the issue. But in the meantime, it is imposing discriminatory and punitive measures on one of the most vulnerable groups in our community.

And no wonder all Australians are alarmed at the whole direction of Labor's policies. The Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, signalled his intentions in this year's Labor Essays when he said: "To be consistent,

those who argue for a pensions assets test should also argue for ... a wealth tax".

In stark contrast to Liberal policies, this Government just does not seem concerned about helping people to help themselves.

Labor's assets test makes many Australians feel that they have been penalised because they have been thrifty during their working lives. Because they have put away a nest egg to avoid being dependent in their

retirement on others - on the State and on their families. Because, like the average Australian, they want to be self-reliant, and to build during their working life the means to enjoy a well-earned and worry-free retirement.

Big taxing Labor is planning to tax these pensioners as if they were "wealthy". In the eyes of this Government, modest assets are not for people to keep as a hedge against inflation, against job loss, or against retirement. Instead modest assets are there for the Labor Government to tax.

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What is the point of working harder under Labor? What is the point of providing for your own future, if the reward is that the Government takes away your pension?

There is no point at all.

Under Labor, you won't work for your future, for . . what is the point? Under Labor, you won't save for your future, for what is the point? If you do have any spare money, you'll blow it on a trip overseas or on a new boat.

In summary, Mr Speaker, the Labor Party has now approved an assets test, which is nothing but a discriminatory, arbitrary attack on the elderly. It is full of anomalies, full of injustices, which can only cause further alarm and anxiety.

If the Government proceeds with the assets test, and if it tries to have the proposed legislation passed this Session of the Parliament, then there is no way this Government can claim to represent itself as a Government which cares, which has any genuine compassion, and which

has any genuine desire to consult.