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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 972

Senator ZAKHAROV —My question is addressed to the Minister for Social Security. Can the Minister provide some information to the Senate on the impact of the assets test on farmers? Will the assets test have the effect of forcing retired farmers off their farms?

Senator Messner —Of course it will.

Senator GRIMES —I was interested to hear the interjection from Senator Messner because I was fascinated that during the long debate on the assets test in this chamber no member of the National Party spoke. I think only one senator on the Opposition side made passing reference to farmers at all. Outside this chamber they are quite happy to spread all sorts of scare stories about farmers. The fact is that the Government recognised that farmers are in a special category-as did the previous governments which administered the assets test that existed until 1976. In general, the house and curtilage of five acres will be excluded from the assets test but, of course, it does not end there because, as Senator Zakharov suggested, many farmers have lived on their properties for a long time and in some cases their sons and daughters have worked and maintained the property for very little wages. To expect those people to leave that land would constitute hardship. It is for that reason that the first option for farmers is to apply for relief under the hardship provisions to ensure that we are not unnecessarily harsh on farmers in this situation. The second option farmers have is to take up the option suggested by Professor Gruen and his Panel of Review of Proposed Income and Assets Test, which is to take out a lien on their estate. I believe very few farmers will do that, but that would provide for a pension to be paid to the farmers for a couple of years which could later be repaid out of the estate in the same way that municipal rates are frequently paid for. I think the farmers accept that the Government has made special provisions for them and, it having made those provisions, they will realise, like everybody else in the community except Senator Messner, that the test is in fact equitable.