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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3210

Mr PETER FISHER —My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. It refers to the Hawke Government's decision in the mini-Budget to apply an asset test on unemployment benefit payments to people aged 25 and over from December 1987. Does that action mean that farmers' wives registered for but unable to find employment to supplement low or nil family incomes will lose their benefits if the asset value of a property is above $108,000? As a hardship provision applies to the assets test on pensions, will that same provision apply to unemployment benefit assessment?

Mr HOWE —With respect to the honourable member's question, I think that it is only right to remind the House of a question earlier this afternoon, which puts the matter in some kind of context. In the introduction of an assets test for unemployment benefit, the Government has simply applied a principle for unemployment and sickness benefits that already applies across the social security system. As the Prime Minister said earlier, the Leader of the Opposition-the Leader of the Opposition for the Liberal Party-clearly indicated his support for that principle when applied to unemployment benefit, but I understand that it is a policy that he strongly opposes for pensions. The Liberal Party shadow Minister for Social Security put out a statement this morning in which he said he supported the assets test in relation to unemployment beneficiaries but that it did not go far enough. He said that it should cover the under 25-year-olds, many of whom would have assets to the extent that they would be knocked off the unemployment benefit and would fail to appear in the golden surf of north Queensland.

Let me turn to the honourable member's question. I understand the concern that has been expressed about the assets test within farming communities. However, let me make the point that the Government's approach is that we have either equity or we do not have equity. We have responded to numerous calls from the Liberal Party and from the National Party, whose leader wanted $4 billion in cuts. He has got them. Presumably, he also wanted some equity. In terms of achieving equity, when one is trying to achieve a certain target one needs to apply measures such as the assets test. That has been conceded on the other side of the House but in a way that seems somewhat inconsistent with earlier positions.

The asset levels will be the same as those which apply to the pensions assets test. There will be no hardship provision simply on the grounds of equity. Unemployment benefit is not available to people who are effectively involved in a business and who are going through a very difficult period. If we make those kinds of exceptions we need to make them across the board. Because of the nature of unemployment benefit, while the asset levels will be similar to those which apply to the pensions assets test there will be no provision for hardship.