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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1124

Senator SCOTT (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(4.03) -I rise to contribute to the debate on the matter of public importance this afternoon concerning the Hawke Australian Labor Party Government's revised assets test which continues its attack upon the retirement security of aged Australians. Indeed it is exactly that, a revised assets test. It has been revised I think two or three times, clearly because of the concern that basically exists in the very people to whom it is directed, to whom it is supposed to be a contribution. The measure of doubt and inconsistency and the measure of concern are very considerable and certainly genuine. Consequently it is little wonder that it has been revised many times. One of the fascinating things about this is that the legislation, when it is eventually put into effect , will have little capacity to raise any significant amount of money. It will have an insignificant capacity to raise funds that might be properly and hopefully directed to people whose need is the greater. Indeed there is almost a boastful measure in the assertion that it will affect only 2 per cent of pensioners. That is a figure that is widely disputed. Some would have the figure at 15 per cent and some would have it at 20 per cent. The variation ranges from 40,000 to perhaps half a million people who will be affected. So there is a great deal of variation and that, in itself, is the evident background of doubt and concern that the community has about the assets test legislation.

I make the point that in the first place the actual contribution in terms of money in regard to this much discussed and debated legislation is almost nothing to the people that it purports to aid in their various circumstances. So there must be another objective. I want to look at that objective rather than at a range of statistics, which I am sure the community from time to time becomes a little tired of. What could the other objective be? It could be found in an examination of the philosophical base of the legislation that was put before us. The philosophical base of it is that there is no reason to have a society in which there is an element of reward for initiative, in which there is an element of reward for people who seek to provide for themselves the capacity to enable them to pursue in their retirement years the type of lifestyle that they want. That is the very essence of a free society and, I believe, the very essence of the sort of Australian society that we seek to pursue.

Indeed, on the philosophical angle, there can be no doubt that the assets test has been watered down because in the relatively near future an early election appears to be part of the program of this socialist Government. Consequently it is reasonable to assume that the legislation, which is philosophically socialist legislation, needs to be watered down, at least in the short term. I suggest that that is exactly what has happened. The philosophy of this Government quite clearly is socialism. It has every right to pursue its philosophy, as that is the right of us all, but let us be aware of it. Around the world today, in most of the developed countries, the philosophy of socialism is being or has been very largely rejected. For instance I think of recent elections in Canada where one of the most enormous majorities was achieved by basically an anti-socialist government-if I recall, 211 out of 280 seats, or something in that area. The socialists in the United States of America are not prominent but the political party that represents them more closely than any other has not been doing remarkably well in recent times. The situation of the socialist dominated Labour Party in the United Kingdom is probably worse today than it has been for many years. I could go on to mention West Germany or I could refer honourable senators to Mitterand's France. He had to do a complete about-face within 12 months in order to keep a few of his industries within the boundaries of his home country. The point I make is that quite clearly this legislation is the product of a socialist government, a government that sees that government should be the master and not the servant of the people. That is the basic question that confronts all Australians. It is clearly to the fore in this legislation, reduced as it has been.

The amount that is to be saved by this difficult and complicated intrusion into the privacy of people-the ultimate result of this in a financial sense-is virtually negligible as far as the Australian retirement population is concerned . On the other hand it intrudes into this field a socialist philosophy which I do not believe Australians en masse promote or believe in. The whole history of this country-the whole of its tradition and its exercise-has been far removed from socialist theories and it is my view at least that it is still that way. So , on grounds of financial contribution and certainly on the ground of philosophical contribution, this legislation is of little or no benefit to the Australian community.

I confine some of my remarks to a couple of sections of the community-the range of ex-servicemen and women, the veterans' field. These people are dramatically involved because 80 per cent of their numbers are now in the over-60 age group. In 15 more years it is estimated that 150,000 of Australia's veterans will be over 75 years old. Consequently, they have an enormous concern with the measures that are brought about by Australian governments in relation to retirement incomes. It seems to be totally wrong that a retirement income should have so many conditions surrounding it that any attempt by people to provide the circumstances, in the form of assets, for their retirement in order to have that extra capacity to lead the lifestyle they might seek, is to be denied them. To some significant degree that is the circumstance in this proposed legislation.

Indeed, there is a cut-off of $100,000. On the surface that appears to be generous, but if a person exceeds that by just $21,000 he or she stands to lose about $42 a week. In those circumstances, it is rather farcical to try to promote the view that this is of no consequence, that only 2 per cent of the population will be affected. Of course it is more than 2 per cent of the people and of course it is of significance and widespread consequence. That is just one simple example-$21,000 extra and one is cost $42 a week in retirement income.

There is a fallacy around that this legislation affects virtually no one and that it will provide more money for those who really need it. That is certainly not the case. Indeed, the real danger is much more important and people should take note of it. The real danger is that the assets test in its relatively small circumstance at this stage is the base and the absolute and clear foundation for an assets tax, which indeed is a wealth tax.

Senator Messner —Senator Grimes agrees with that.

Senator SCOTT —Of course Senator Grimes agrees with that; he has said so many times. People are rapidly realising that it is not the legislation before us today-the proposition that affects the retirement population in Australia, 2.5 to 3 million people-that is so important. The proposition that is important is its nature as the thin end of the wedge-the imposition of a wealth tax in this country. There can be no doubt about that. The assets tax can be seen purely and simply as the basis for a wealth tax. That is what it is all about. In philosophical terms a wealth tax has the capacity to deny people a real opportunity to pursue whatever they seek to pursue within the laws of the land and to benefit from the production, to gain reward from the initiatives, and indeed in some cases from the privations, that they observe during their lifetime.

I have in mind particularly the Australian soldier settler who may have been settled on a relatively small block of land. With his family he has not only cleared the block, fenced it, developed it and cultivated it but has battled to make something of it. Very often those are the people who went through the Depresssion years in their teens and, having converted their relatively small asset into a unit which is productive for its size, they are now to be faced with the fact that increased land valuations and so forth will create a value on that, 10 per cent of which is presumed to be income when the fact is that the return to capital in Australia's primary industries is something like 2 per cent . It is assumed that someone in the retirement age group who has battled on a property for most of his or her life is to be granted 10 per cent of that value as income and consequently put outside the field of a retirement income capacity . That is an impossible situation.

If one looks at that particular group of people in another field-the repatriation-hospital-medical area, for example-one finds that the Medicare legislation has given them an alleged alternative or option between Medicare and repatriation, yet no one is choosing the public hospital in the Medicare area. Recently the 60 days in hospital was reduced to 35 before the imposition on these people of $11.85 a day as a nursing home payment if they wish to remain in hospital. This legislation is totally in--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Collard) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.