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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1725

Mr DOBIE(12.35) —I will be brief. I will not fall into the temptation of answering the comments made by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Wells (Mr Petrie). From my scant current knowledge, I doubt that his figures are right. Some of us in this Parliament have been faced for a very long time with the problem of children who cannot use cows' milk. I suggest to the previous speaker that he go back to his books and look at some of the facts. I was very pleased to hear the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) refuting him and saying something along these lines.

I want to raise only two matters in the time alloted to me in this debate. First of all, the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Free) quoted the NSW Building Society as saying that the assets test was not sinister or unreasonable , that it was overcoming exploitation of the system and that only a small percentage of people would be worse off. That may well be the eventual situation , but at present the problem is that never before has a government caused such complete distress amongst the elderly in the community because of the uncertainty and confusion it has placed in their minds. As someone who has been very involved with social security matters for the past 20 years, not the last six months, let me assure honourable members that I have never seen as many people come to my Caringbah office in Sydney totally concerned, totally confused and, as a result, totally worried.

Mr Lloyd —It is the same all over Australia.

Mr DOBIE —I agree with that.

Mr White —And in McPherson.

Mr DOBIE —I am sure that McPherson is having the same problem, although I expect it is not quite the same as my area. Unlike some previous speakers, I do not single out the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes), but the Hawke Labor Government. In its approach to social security, it has singled out-this has to be repeated over and over again-a section of the community which is not capable of changing its incomes, its assets or its lifestyles. These people are in a state of sheer confusion. 'Should we sell the house to our children or should we put money from our bank account into our grandchildren's names?' These things are being said not by very wealthy people who drive limousines and big cars but by the ordinary people in my electorate, those wise people who voted me here in March of this year. They come to me complaining that they do not know which way to turn. What do I say to these dear people? I say: 'Please do not change your asset holdings. Please do not get panicked by this Government. Please do not believe that this Government knows what it is about because it does not'. The Government brought in the appropriations that we are now debating and then said: 'We will do this, we will help these people'.

There are some aspects of the Budget of this Government of which I do approve. I am very pleased that the Minister has shown great initiative in the areas of disability and rehabilitation. His wish to get rehabilitation patients involved in the administration of their own affairs is a very good and forward looking move. I congratulate him for that, but that is about the only thing I can congratulate him for when I see the concern that he is causing to the elderly. That applies to not just the elderly but also to the frail who are not elderly. It applies to the infirm. It applies to the ill. It applies to those who are dependent on pensions of any description. The younger a pensioner, the more distressing this becomes. I criticise the Government roundly for having brought in an assets test which will not be promulgated for a year. During that year we will hear people ask whether the beach house will be ignored in the assets test, as the caravan is now ignored. How many people live in caravans when they retire ? Not too many.

The measures that the Minister has introduced have no sanity, sense or logic. With regard to this lack of logic, I sincerely hope that the Minister is not being confused by the advice from his departmental officers. I hope this lack of logic is soon cleared up. The Government is playing with people's emotions and not with social justice, which is what it should be trying to introduce. I will pardon the Minister this year because it is his first year as a Minister. But I hope he makes some quick decisions and does not rely on spending his money, as the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) quickly pointed out, in increasing the public relations section of his Department. We cannot blame the Minister for this because every department in the Government has increased its public relations expenditure. How marvellous this is! Have they done so because it will take such an extra effort to stop people from being confused? I suspect that, if the Government implements public relations campaigns as it has implemented its policy statements, there will be more confusion in every honourable member's electorate in this country. I know of the personal concern of some of the Government members who have spoken in this debate. They will find themselves faced with this problem. I say in all fairness to the honourable member for Macquarie that he may regret having said in the House today that there is nothing sinsiter or unreasonable in the Government's policy. The point to be borne in mind is that all his constituents in Macquarie are totally and utterly confused and quite devastated.

Mr Free —They understand it.

Mr DOBIE —It may be the mountain air. But to use a word, it is one of the obscenities of politics and it should be understood as such.

Mr Hand —Ha, ha!

Mr DOBIE —The honourable member giggles. Perhaps he should bear in mind that this is not a giggling matter. I conclude by saying that I agree with the remarks of my counterpart and friend, the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys), the Government Whip. I, too, pay tribute to the Department of Social Security staff in my electorate. I pay tribute to the staff of the Caringbah branch, who refused to go on strike when strike action was taken. They did not refuse because they disagreed with the issue of the strike, but because they believed, and said so publicly in my area, that they were more concerned that it would interfere with the people whom they had to deal with. I pay tribute to their humanity and to their deep concern. My secretary, Mrs Ridoutt, and Mr Thomas and his staff have a close relationship.

The other matter that the honourable member for Griffith discussed was fraud. We all know it can happen. We know people are guilty of doing it. Proving it, as we saw in the Greek conspiracy case, is impossible. When these matters are pursued, it becomes unfair to some people. I caution the Government to be careful in its investigations in this regard. But I encourage it, to use the positive words that the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Brumby) dared use, to move into the field of identity cards. In this age of high technology we require proof of identity for almost every second thing that we do. People need an identity card to enter this building. As members of parliament, we need an identity card to enter any government building in this city. Whenever we, as individuals, enter any defence establishment, even thought we are members of the highest forum in the country, we still require an identity card. I believe that in order to solve this grass roots problem of identity, we should bring in an identity card system. It will in one fell swoop help to resolve, if not the problem of unemployment, the constant accusations that are made against the unemployed. I do not believe that as much fraud exists as one would think. If we had introduced an identity card system some years ago, when I tried-I regret to say unsuccessfully-to persuade the previous Government to introduce an identity card system, it would have cost $8m. I suspect it would now cost $10m. But it would be far better spend than that spent on public relations sections. As I say , I grieve for the people in my electorate who are having sleepless nights-this is the truth; it is not political rhetoric-because of the confusion that the present Minister has caused with his Budget statements.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Millar) —Order! It being 12.45 p.m., in accordance with sessional order 101A, I shall report progress.

Progress reported.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) —The House may, at a later hour this day, again resolve itself into a Committee of the Whole.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2 p.m.