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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1133

Senator WALTERS(5.02) —We have heard very little about the assets test from Government senators. Indeed, I believe that they do not like to talk about it much. They spoke about anything but the assets test. They criticised the elderly and complained bitterly about the burden that they are to society. Senator Martin referred to this criticism in some detail. Senator Giles said that age pensioners were making a rort of the age pension. The Minister for Veteran's Affairs, Senator Gietzelt, told us about the tremendous increases in the welfare budget. He did not mention, of course, that the age pension represents only 31 per cent of the total welfare bill. He talked about the tremendous increases in the welfare budget and used this as an excuse for the Government's attack upon the elderly.

We are debating a matter of public importance regarding Mr Hawke's assets test and the Government's attack of aged Australians. As I said, the age pension represents 31 per cent of the welfare bill. Expenditure on the elderly between June 1979 and June 1984 increased by 7 per cent. In the same period expenditure on the supporting parents benefit increased by 146 per cent, the unemployment benefit by 109 per cent and sickness benefits by 41 per cent. As I said, the increase for the elderly was 7 per cent. Yet, Senator Gietzelt talks about the tremendous increase in the welfare budget being the cause for the Government introducing the assets test. Senator Richardson, of course, said that he was responsible largely for excluding the home from the test. We on this side of the chamber were led to believe that the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, had something to do with that. Senator Gietzelt claimed that he helped a little. Each honourable senator on the other side is saying: 'Look, I did not like the first assets test that Senator Grimes put up, but I was primarily responsible for the decision to exclude the home'. This is what they were saying . Each jumped quickly and said: 'I was the prime mover-I take credit for it'. What a tremendous insult that is to the people of Australia.

Let us have a look at the cost of this new assets test. The Government has admitted now that it has already spent $24.7m on setting up the assets test and it intends to spend another $30m. So nearly $55m is involved in setting up the test Indeed, we will be paying this immense amount in the first two years following the Government's first suggestion of an assets test. Eventually what amount will the assets test bring in? It will not bring in as much as it costs the taxpayer to set up the scheme. The Government says that the scheme will bring in $45m. The fact that it will cost nearly $55m is quite beside the point as far as the Government is concerned.

What is the assets test all about? According to Senator Gietzelt, Senator Richardson and Senator Giles, it is to get the wealthy, the tall poppies, in the community. I will give an example of the people it will get. A woman came into my office the other day and said: 'It is just not fair, Senator. My husband and I did not go on overseas trips. We did not take the luxury trips that some of our fellow pensioners took. We saved and with the money we saved we bought a holiday home for us and the kids to enjoy for the rest of our lives'. What is going to happen to that couple? What is going to happen to that woman when she is a single pensioner? She will be forced either to sell her holiday home or go into debt with the Government.

Senator Gietzelt asked: How many pensioners will have $70,000 worth of assets? What was so deceitful was his remark that those assets were just lying around in accounts. What single pensioner would have $70,000 just lying around in accounts ? Senator Gietzelt knows that is untrue and every pensioner in the community knows it is untrue. An amount of $70,000 does not have to be lying around in accounts. The only asset that is excluded is the home. When the value of the contents of a home, a holiday shack or holiday home and a car are added together , the sum can easily come to over $70,000. What woman would consider her engagement ring, bought for her perhaps 70 years ago by her husband, an asset? Not many. I would never have considered my engagement ring or other jewellery my husband bought me an asset. This Government considers those items an asset.

Senator Grimes —That is a lie.

Senator WALTERS —All personal effects will be considered an asset.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Grimes, you will withdraw that remark.

Senator Grimes —I said: 'That is a lie'. I did not say she was a liar, although she is.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Grimes, you will withdraw that. You will have a chance to rebut the claim when you speak in this debate.

Senator WALTERS —Mr Deputy President-

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Grimes must withdraw those words.

Senator Grimes —I withdraw. You are of the same standard as your friend Hodgman.

Senator WALTERS —Mr Deputy President, the papers that Senator Grimes's office handed out to me do not mention that personal jewellery is exempt. There is no mention that personal jewellery is exempt. Because it is not exempt, of course, it is included. We have been told by this man opposite us that pensioners do not have to fill in the form if they think their assets do not amount to $70,000. Many pensioners will not fill in the forms which are sent to them because they will not take their very personal effects into account. According to the document sent out to them, these items should be included. Because they will not fill in the form accurately they will then be subject to penalties. According to the document that Senator Grimes has given to us, they will be subject to a penalty of $2,000 if they do not fill it in correctly. If Senator Grimes queries the fact that jewellery is not included, I refer to the document, which provides for, 'the value of household contents and personal effects' to be stated. If my personal effects do not include my clothing, the jewellery I wear, or anything else, Senator Grimes had better make that clear and make it clear now, because it will enable every pensioner or every person in Australia approaching pension age to put their money into jewellery. If they put their money into jewellery, they will have those assets to leave to their children. If Senator Grimes is saying that I am not telling the truth by including jewellery as an asset I will finish my remarks early to enable him to say so. I am not frightened of his attacks on me. He has attacked me in this Parliament on every occasion possible. If he is not prepared now to say to the Senate that jewellery is excluded from the assets test-because that is what I am saying; he tells me I am not telling the truth-everything he has claimed by way of interjection is a complete untruth .

I will close my remarks now to enable Senator Grimes to tell the people of Australia something that nobody else is aware of-that all the personal effects are not included, that jewellery is exempt, and that people of Australia who are approaching pension age can convert all their money and all their other assets to jewellery, so the jewellery can then be left to their children and the assets that the Government is taking from them will be able to be bequeathed in their wills to their relatives.