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Thursday, 7 June 1984
Page: 2761

Senator BOLKUS —I refer the Minister for Social Security to the assets test on pensions announced by the Government last week. In view of allegations by the Opposition that Australian Labor Party members of parliament constitute an extremely small minority in the community which supports the measure, can the Minister say whether he or his Department has received any indication of community response to the assets test as announced?

Senator GRIMES —I can assure Senator Bolkus, as I can assure all other honourable senators, that in fact more than just members of the Labor Party are in favour of the introduction of assets tests on pensions. Senator Bolkus will undoubtedly remember that during the controversy surrounding the first proposal a letter in favour of the assets test was sent to the West Australian by a prominent Minister in the previous Government. In the last week Sir William McMahon has come out and said that the Government was right.

An article in the Age this morning, which I viewed with great interest, reported the controversy between the shadow Minister for Health, Mr Carlton, who apparently has been completely converted to the cause of means test free pensions, and the former Treasurer, Mr Howard, who takes a more realistic approach and realises that we should have a needs-based pensions system. Of course I suppose the clearest indication of the divisions on the conservative side of politics in this country is the interview with Mr John Elliott, the managing director of the Elders company and the treasurer of the Liberal Party in Victoria. John Elliott was recently featured prominently at the National Press Club and he is frequently put forward as an alternative leader of the Opposition, even though he is not in the Parliament, which demonstrates what a parlous state the Liberals are in. Mr Elliott pointed out, despite the screams opposite, that he had always been and would always be in favour of a means-based social security system and therefore he was in favour of the assets test. He has made that perfectly clear to more than one member on this side of the Parliament .

Senator Chaney —This is about as nice as my quoting Carmichael.

Senator GRIMES —I do not have to quote Carmichael. I can quote Senator Chaney as I have done in this place who said in a speech in 1981 that he was greatly concerned about the number of pensioners who were so adjusting their affairs to get more pension than they needed while others could not get sufficient. Senator Chaney wanted to do something about it, but neither Senator Chaney nor the discredited former Prime Minister had the political guts or will to do so.

Senator Chaney —What have you done?

Senator GRIMES —We are introducing an assets test.

Senator Chaney —The assets test you asked for. It is costing $30m.

Senator GRIMES —I am amazed that we have not heard too much from Senator Chaney or Mr Howard or anyone else in the Liberal Party making a lot of noise. We have only heard all the noise in this issue from Mr Peacock who is in a state of desperation, having lost all his feathers, and Senator Messner. The simple fact of the matter is that John Elliott raises all the Liberals' dough in Victoria, runs the place in Victoria and is the senior spokesman for the Party in Victoria . On this issue he has managed to stand up on his principles and support the Government. I think Mr Elliott would be very interested to hear some of the things that Senator Withers and Senator Chaney are saying about him now. I will pass their remarks on to him the next time I see him and see what he says.