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Tuesday, 2 October 1984
Page: 1009

Senator COLSTON —I direct a question to the Minister for Social Security. My question refers to the assets test and those pensioners who consider that the value of the contents of their home is greater than $10,000. Will these pensioners be required to itemise their assets and the individual values of those assets, or will they be required to record only what they consider to be the total value of their household contents?

Senator GRIMES —I thank Senator Colston for his question. I am sure it arises out of statements in the media in both New South Wales and Queensland over the weekend in which representatives of an organisation called Grey Power said that in fact people would have to itemise the assets they hold in their home, that these would go into a computer and that in some way this would put these people at risk. The answer is that this is not so. In fact, people will have to record just the net value of their assets. A space is provided on the form which will go out for an answer to the question: 'What is the total net market value of your and your spouse's normal household contents and personal effects?'. There will be no necessity to list those effects, nor will any such listing go on to any computer record anywhere in the Department of Social Security.

I realise that in this country people who oppose things like the assets test feel obliged to go to all sorts of extremes to oppose such legislation, but when they do so to the extent of frightening elderly people in this way I think, quite frankly, that they are beneath contempt. I recommend them and members of the Opposition to an article in the Australian Pensioner of 11 September 1984 which said this:

Opposition politicians, certain sectors of the media and certain so-called pensioners' representatives have resorted to just about everything in their campaign against the assets test-even to the point of suggesting that a . . . social security Gestapo will be created to body-search pensioners and ransack their homes to make sure they are not hiding any valuable assets.

The Australian social security system has never operated in this way and there is no reason to believe that it will start to do this now.

So how do those opposed to the proposed test justify their hysterical outpourings? They do it, they say, in the name of pensioners' rights.

Well, pensioners do have rights, and the first of those is the right to be told the truth; the right to be informed, not misinformed.

If those opposed to the assets test have a legitimate case to put, then let them put it honestly and openly. Don't play on the ignorance, fear and insecurity of this most vulnerable group.

No Opposition which sets out to win a point by creating such anxiety in a community can ever be regarded as worthy of governing that community.

No individual or organisation which uses misinformation as a means of building support to suit their own ends can ever honestly be regarded as representing pensioners. If anything, they are misrepresenting them.

I believe that that sums up the situation adequately. It sums up the contempt with which we should treat such items as appeared on the weekend. I repeat: People will be asked to itemise the total net value of their assets, not each individual item; no one will be asked to give a list of such individual items which could be put on any computer or any file in the Department of Social Security.