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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 300

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(8.46) —The Senate is debating a motion which states:

That the Senate condemns the Hawke Labor Government for its failure to address the needs of the aged and notes that the Government- (a) has failed to establish an Office of Aged Care as promised during the 1983 election;

(b) has failed to raise pensions to 25 per cent as promised during the 1983 election;

(c) has consistently attacked the income security of the aged through a means test of the over-70's pension, an assets test on all pensioners, and the introduction of a savage new tax on lump sum superannuation.

That motion is factual in all that it states. It is simply a matter of fact. All the facts contained in the motion are as stated.

Senator Grimes —That is your definition of facts, is it, Senator? That is typical of your record in this place.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Mr Acting Deputy President, I invite the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) to interject at any time. I find his interjections to be valuable because we will now test whether these are facts or not. Has the Government failed to establish an office of aged care as promised? The answer is yes. That is a fact and not the kind of spurious fact put forward by Senator Grimes who, of course, was rolled in his own Cabinet. Senator Grimes came into this Senate and promised the pensioners-

Senator Grimes —Wind him up. Bore it up, John.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —He has asked for this and now he gets it. Senator Grimes came into the Senate repeatedly in recent months and promised pensioners that they would get more in their pensions than merely an adjustment for Medicare, that there would be more in real terms and that in fact there would be a real movement to satisfy the promise to raise pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. Either he was telling a falsity then or he was rolled in his Cabinet because it did not happen. Nobody has been a greater loser in Cabinet than Senator Grimes other than, of course, his close colleague the Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans, who is rolled every day. Let us come to the facts because I have been challenged as to what they are.

Senator Grimes —Come on; wind it up. Wind it up.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I will wind it up and Hansard and the public will know that what I am saying are the facts and that what the Minister is trying to deflect and distort now is just one of his usual tricks. He will not divert us. The fact is that no office of aged care was established. Is it a fact that the Government has failed to raise pensions to 25 per cent of the average weekly earnings? Of course it is a fact that it has not done so. Is it a fact that the Government has consistently attacked the income security of the aged through the imposition of a means test on the pension for those over 70 years of age? Is it a fact that it imposed such a means test? The fact is that it did. Is it a fact that the Government applied an assets test to the assets of all pensioners? Is it a fact that it introduced a savage new tax on lump sum superannuation payments? The people of Australia should note that the Minister, having challenged me, is not only silent but also has left the chamber. There is no Minister in the chamber; the chamber is without a Minister at all.

Senator Walters —He can't take it.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —He cannot take it. Indeed there is one lonely Australian Labor Party senator to support the Government. Of course what I have said are the facts.

Senator Grimes —Why don't you tell the truth? Tell the truth just once in your life.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I will tell the truth step by step. Let me say this, Mr Acting Deputy President--

Senator Grimes —You couldn't lie straight in bed.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I hope that Hansard is reporting all of these interjections.

Senator Grimes —You are a disgrace as a knight of the realm.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Because I want to make it perfectly clear that this Minister, like the Attorney-General, has no factual answer. It is only dirty abuse; the abuse of the gutter. Let the Minister take it. This is a Minister who is supposed to be solicitous for the aged, the retired and the pensioners, but what is he doing here tonight? When he is on the defensive his larrikin streak shows, but it will not deflect what I am saying at all.

Senator Grimes —I am not solicitous to you.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —The Minister invites me to tell the truth. I will tell the truth. Let me say this.

Senator Grimes —I will speak after you and I will tell the truth. You wave that little shaking finger and flaunt your knighthood round the place. You are a disgrace to your profession.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —I invite the Acting Deputy President to listen to what is being said. If this is the conduct of a Minister of the Crown, let the Labor Party wear it. I have been invited to tell the truth. I ask the Senate, I ask the Minister: Is it the truth that the Labor Party promised the people that it would not alter the means test on the pension?

Senator Grimes —No.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Oh, it is not the truth?

Senator Grimes —No.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Has no promise been made that the Government would maintain the pension for people over 70?

Senator Grimes —No.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Was there no promise?

Senator Grimes —No.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —The Minister should keep talking. Was no promise at all made that the Government would not tax lump sum superannuation payments?

Senator Grimes —No.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Was no promise made that the Government would increase the pension to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings?

Senator Grimes —Yes, but within three years.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —But this is the term of the Government. This is the second Budget of the Government.

Senator Grimes —Oh no. You are distorting, aren't you?

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Mr Acting Deputy President, if it is the decision of this chamber that the Minister shall act like a larrikin all the time, let it be a reflection on the Labor Party.

Senator Grimes —I will let you go.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —What rot! What a generous concession! Let us take it step by step. Mr Acting Deputy President, the public of Australia will know the defensive arguments of this Government on this whole matter. It will know of the abusive and larrikin behaviour of this Minister who can never direct his arguments to the facts relating to his portfolio. He makes insinuations and engages in personal character abuse and assassination. He will be at it again tonight. I have challenged him in the past to stand up and be counted, to come outside this Parliament and say these things, but he deflated like a balloon. He has not got the guts.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Elstob) —Order! Senator Sir John Carrick should withdraw that comment; it is unparliamentary language.

Senator Grimes —I am not asking for a withdrawal.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There is too much interjection. I ask Senator Sir John Carrick to address his remarks through the Chair.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask you to confirm that I have addressed the whole of my remarks through the Chair. If there are to be any kinds of restraints I suggest that they be where the mote is in the eye. Mr Acting Deputy President, only in deference to you do I withdraw because I do not believe that under the Standing Orders what I have said is unparliamentary. I want to say this to you: Government members are allowed to be abusive all the time and if that is the standard for them, my goodness I am speaking with the tongues of angels.

Senator Grimes —Mr Acting Deputy President, with due respect I raise a point of order. I make it perfectly clear that first of all I did not ask the honourable senator to withdraw. Secondly, I point out that Senator Sir John Carrick has said to you, as the person in the chair, that Government members are allowed to interject and be abusive without any penalty being imposed on them. I think that that is a reflection on the Chair. It is typical of what the honourable senator did day in and day out when he was Leader of the Government in the Senate. I just point out that it is a reflection on the Chair and I am not sure that even a knight of the realm should be allowed to behave like that in this place.

Senator Messner —I have watched this matter develop and Senator Sir John Carrick , in all his graciousness, has, at your request, withdrawn the words. It does not matter what the Minister has to say about the matter; Senator Sir John Carrick has done the right thing in deference to the Chair.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. I do not take what has been said as a reflection on the Chair at all. There have been many interjections and the heat is starting to rise. I ask Senator Sir John Carrick to continue his remarks.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Mr Acting Deputy President, I will continue to address my remarks to you. I expect that the Minister, in a responsible way, will address himself to the facts. The facts of the motion that is before us are irrefutable. The fact is that the Government made a whole series of promises to the people. The Government led the people to believe that they could vote for it in March 1983 and, if it were elected to office, there would be no change in the non-means test on pensions. For the Minister to say tonight that no such promise was made is to deny the facts of history. Indeed for him to say that no promises were made that there would be no tax on lump sum superannuation payments is to deny what has been said in the media.

The situation simply is that the Government has attacked the taxpayers. Over the past year it has taken $22 a week from them and given them back a miserly $7 a week, and on top of that it has imposed new indexed taxes so they will not even get the $7. It has forced them into higher tax scales so rather than receive a tax cut they will pay more taxes. If that is tough on taxpayers how much tougher is it on the aged, the indigent, the pensioners and retired people? These people were led to believe that they would get a real increase in their purchasing power. I draw attention to the fact that the Minister has again left the chamber while this debate is proceeding. For a long while people were led to believe that what they got would be an increase.

The fact of the matter is that the Opposition was able to show to the people of Australia that the device used of reducing the consumer price index by 2.6 per cent because of Medicare was a fiddle. I hope that everybody understands that. What happened was simple. In the past people paid their hospital insurance out of their pockets in a form of indirect taxation or charge and that factor was taken into account in the cost of living. Now people pay their health insurance through direct taxation and by an accident of history the consumer price index does not take direct taxes into account; it takes indirect taxes into account. Medicare costs the taxpayer more. The CPI has been forced down by arithmetic and not by a drop in prices. There has been no drop in prices. There has been only an alteration in the arithmetic. This means that the $2.50 that single pensioners are to be given will almost totally be taken up by the increase in the consumer price index. Had there been no alteration they would have got the extra amount anyhow. They are getting a handful of cents, 35c or something of that order, a week. But they are not getting even that, of course, because indirect taxes are indexed. Without any further Budgets the prices of the little pleasures of the people, the little simple things such as petrol for their cars, tobacco and liquor, are indexed and are going up all the time. Before they get the 35c it is taken from them. In fact, pensioners will get less in the coming months than they had before. In other words, the real value of the pension will be downgraded. That is the situation of the pensioner.

The retired person is in a much greater dilemma. It is important to remember that the Minister for Social Security is on record as saying with regard to assets tests No. 1 or No. 2 that less than 400,000 people would be affected-I hope he admits that that is a factual representation of what he said-as though that did not matter. That is 400,000 people out of two million-a major percentage of two million. That is what he was setting out to do. Had the Senate not acted, had the Opposition in the Senate not been vigorous in drawing attention to all these matters and had a Senate committee not been set up this assets test would have gone on, because the Prime Minister said: 'We will stop this assets test and put it aside. We have made a mistake in judgment and it has to be altered'. Now, of course, we have an assets test that looks more benign. But the only reasons the assets tests were put forward were to stop double dipping and to save money for other purposes. As I remember, the Government had in mind to save between $200m and $300m a year. Let nobody be fooled by the fact that this Budget has a negative gain because of all the inspectors who are to be employed to intrude into and search homes. Let nobody be fooled by that.

No government puts in place an assets test and employs 1,500 additional people unless in the end it wants to save hundreds of millions of dollars and unless in the end it is attacking the target of 400,000 people, as it set out to do. Here we have a real raid. It will not happen before the next election, but just as the promises given prior to the last election were confronted by a punitive mini -Budget afterwards, so in the months ahead, should the Government unfortunately win the next election, there will again be a real raid upon the pensioners. Those aged over 70 had planned their lives on the basis that there would be no means test. Their way of life and that of their family were adjusted because of that. They were led to believe by the Hawke Labor Party and by the present Minister that there would be no attack on that. No sooner was this Government in power than in a mini-Budget it raided about 50,000 people in their seventies who had their pensions altered, taken away or denied them-a broken promise again.

Of courses, the Government then looked at superannuation. Over the last 30 years superannuation had been encouraged by successive Liberal governments. The aim was to encourage voluntary providence by giving people tax incentives. We said to the people: 'We want you at the time of retirement to have savings that you can deploy according to your own wishes-to pay off the mortgage on your house, if you want to; to set yourself up in a small business, if you want to; to help your kids, if you want to; or to leave to your family in your will, if you want to'. All those things were regarded by the Australian people as having virtue. No mention was made that this would be touched. A little more than 1.5 million people-maybe as many as 1.8 million-are involved in superannuation. They are not all airline pilots. No, they are people such as ironworkers, waterside workers and shop assistants, and one million of them are forced to take lump sum payments because of the nature of their schemes. The whole of their lives are organised and geared to their having full use of that sum on retirement. It is of no use saying that there has been no retrospectivity. Of course there has been, because the schemes were designed from the start to give people the total sum at the end of the journey. Now the tax is to start and people will not get the total sum.

In any case, a very ugly thing has happened. The Government has said that it wants to persuade-let me say 'coerce'-people into purchasing annuities. What do we do when we purchase an annuity? We surrender our capital to get income; we surrender our right to invest capital, to be the small investors that Australians ought to be; and we surrender forever capital we might have willed to our families. So there is an attack on the estates of people. Now the government has put forward a pay-as-you-die scheme, an extraordinary scheme whereby it will say to people: 'If your property test puts you outside the limit at the moment we will lend you the pension and you owe us'.

Senator Walters —With interest.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —With interest compounding. It says: 'We want to erode your estate in that regard just as we do when you purchase an annuity'. What an ugly concept this is. Of course, the Government cannot stop there, as I have said repeatedly in the Senate. If it is pursuing people's capital and the income they get from the disposal of capital, it then has to turn to people who get capital at or about retiring age from other sources-from all sorts of fixed trusts, from buying and selling properties-to build up an asset for themselves. How can the Government say: 'We will attack a person's superannuation only at the point of collection but we will not attack people who are doing the same thing in different ways'? Quite clearly, therefore, a capital gains tax structure must be coming in. Otherwise the answer is that the Government is attacking one group and not another. What can be more ugly than that?

Everything that has been said in the debate on this motion is perfectly correct . There has been a wicked erosion of the standards of those who are retired. People who are retired or approaching retirement have been put into a state of anxiety because they cannot be sure while a Labor government is in power that the plan today will be the plan tomorrow. How can they know that where the Government stops before the next election will be where it will start after the election, should it win? Quite clearly they now know that they can never plan for security in retirement. They can never plan on their homes being inviolate. If they are pensioners they can never be sure that there will not be a knock at the door, endless forms to be filled in or a demand to search and evaluate their property. What we are doing, therefore, is having a race of inquisitors, a race of inspectors. It is no good governments denying that they will do this. A simple bit of arithmetic is necessary. On the Government's own say-so, I think some 1,500 people are to be employed to supervise this new assets test.

Why would one employ an extra 1,500 people unless one were aiming to lower the pensions of tens and hundreds of thousands of people? It would be an exercise in nonsense. The very magnitude of the task force that the Government is setting up and the way in which it will evaluate the assets of an individual mean that the Government has to have a huge inquisitive inspectorate. Can there be anything more ugly than the threatening of the aged, putting insecurity into them by stating that what they have might be looked at tomorrow and what they have stated might be wrong? After all, the Government does not mind Mick Young making wrong statements. That is all right if they are made in good faith. But it does want to pursue the aged and the retired.

This notice of motion confirms that there has been no establishment of an office of aged care. The Government has failed to raise pensions to 25 per cent of the average weekly earnings. It is of no use the Government saying to us: ' But we have not run for three years'. That was a decision of this Government. This Government has made the decision that it will not run for three years. Every Australian will ask: 'Why is it not? What does it have up its sleeve for tomorrow?' After all, we now know that the Government does have things up its sleeve. Why is it not going to run for three years? After all, no one has given us more lectures on parliament running a full term than the Australian Labor Party. The Labor Party and Mr Hawke made a pledge that they would run for a full term. If Mr Hawke can break that promise for his own self-interest how many more promises will this Government break on this and other things?

Senator Boswell —They can't break any more; they have broken the lot.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —They have broken the lot. It is no good saying: 'We have not really caught up 25 per cent but we would have if we had stayed in office for another year'. That was a decision that the Minister for Social Security and the Government made. That is a decision that they have to stand with. Indeed the Government has not gone a bone fide distance in this regard in any case. The Medicare fiddle means that it has made no progress at all. The Medicare fiddle, taken with the raid on indexed taxes, that is, excise charges and charges on people's beer, cigarettes and petrol, means that these people will have less real purchasing power than they did after the last Budget because , of course, the indexing runs on.

Senator Walters —They are not counted.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —They are counted but they are counted ahead in the end . Demonstrably, because of the higher charges, there has been no increase at all in pensions. Along with that there is a clear understanding that the Minister is after 400,000 people. To be honest, he said that something fewer than 400,000 people's pensions would be affected; let us be puritanical in this. I believe that the Government was talking of a $200m or $300m saving in this situation. That is what is in store after this election. That is what is in store on all these matters. The simple fact is that the Government is running scared. The Government is running 18 months before it should because it knows that its chickens will come home to roost next year. It knows that it will be found out on taxes and pensions. It knows that its tax cut is the greatest sham and swindle that there is. How can one take $22 a week out of people's pockets and pretend that one is doing something for them when one gives barely $7 back and one then puts extra taxes on wine and other things and introduces indexation? The taxation cuts are a fraud and demonstrably so.