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Tuesday, 16 October 1984
Page: 1801

Senator CHANEY (Leader of the Opposition)(10.38) —I thought we would probably hear from Senator Elstob on the adjournment because that was an appropriate time for him to make his statement. I thought I would follow him to explain why I refused leave this morning. This morning Senator Baden Teague gave a personal explanation. The Senate will recall that the Minister at the table, who happened to be the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, sought leave to make not a personal explanation but a statement following that. Leave was granted, as I think was appropriate, given that he was the Minister at the table and was involved. Senator Grimes then made a statement which in my view debated the personal explanation which had been given by my colleague Senator Teague. That is not unusual in this place, but it seemed to me that when a second Government senator, in the form of Senator Elstob, then sought leave to make a statement, since it was not a formal debate it was a matter, should he wish to add to it, that could be done on the adjournment. I simply say to Senator Elstob that there is no one in this chamber to whom I would less wish to refuse leave because, in the main, he is a very courteous and proper senator. I say that with very great respect. From that point of view I thought I should on the adjournment tonight explain to him why I had refused him leave.

Having heard him tonight, I am very pleased that I did so. He very clearly did wish to debate the issue as he has on the adjournment and I think this is the appropriate place for him to do it. Having listened to him, I can only say that I am utterly amazed that he sat silent during the by-election for Lowe when his colleagues engaged in the most terrific scare campaign against the pensioners in that electorate on the basis of what the Government might do to them, not on the basis of the introduction of something that the Government had legislated for and announced its policy on but on the basis of a statement by the then Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party on the principle of an assets test. I can only say that if Senator Elstob feels as strongly as he does on this subject it really is a shame that he remained silent at that time. It is a bit of a pity, too, that he remained silent when Senator Grimes, who is at the table now, engaged at various times in what I think was quite a bit of scaremongering whilst I was Minister for Social Security.

I think that Senator Elstob, if we go back over recent history, does not have particular cause to be outraged. The fact of the matter is that his Government has done a number of things which have significantly upset many aged Australians . The first thing, I suppose, was the abolition of the income test free pension for over 70s. That, to my knowledge, upset many aged Australians who had been receiving that pension and who saw it as something of a compensation for the years of inflation they had suffered which had seen a reduction in the value of their own independent incomes.

The second thing which the Government did was to introduce a new taxation arrangement for lump sum superannuation. Although that does not affect those people who are already retired and will affect retirees in the near future, only on a shaded-in basis, the fact of the matter is that that has caused very considerable concern to superannuants or potential superannuants. Finally, I do not think there can be any doubt that the Government in reality has caused concern with this assets test. I can remember that when people such as Senator Teague complained about the assets test in this place we were all told that we were a bunch of dreadful scaremongerers and were behaving quite improperly. When we said that we would hold the assets test up the Government actually sat on it for a while and in February, five months after the Government's Budget, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke)-Senator Elstob's Prime Minister-said at the Press Club : 'You have got it wrong'. That was not a Liberal speaking; that was Senator Elstob's Prime Minister. He said: 'You have got it wrong'. He set up a committee under Professor Gruen to try to get it right. The Government got recommendations from the Gruen Panel of Review of Proposed Income and Assets Test and changed those recommendations too--

Senator Grimes —Not so.

Senator CHANEY —The Minister adopted one particular option-one of the easier options-because he knew that the aged people of Australia were deeply concerned. It is just a farce to have a Government senator blaming Senator Teague for raising this matter in a political context. Of course this is a political matter . A great many aged Australians think this Government has a damned cheek for doing what it has done. It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that that should not be a matter for political comment. Senator Elstob has had the grace to admit here that he had part of the story wrong, that his information was not correct in at least one particular. Today we have an explanation from Senator Teague about what was said on his behalf over the air. That is different from what Senator Elstob said was put across by Senator Teague. The fact of the matter is that Senator Elstob is relying on secondhand information. He was relying on reports from pensioners who had phoned his home and he has admitted here tonight that in one particular he was wrong.

I think it is absolutely scandalous that Senator Elstob should, on the basis of hearsay reports, deny the personal explanation which has been very clearly given in this place by Senator Teague as to what has been said on his behalf on the air. I think that the outrage expressed by Senator Elstob is quite misplaced. As for this business about gestapo methods, I think that is the attitude which was adopted by the Minister. He is the one who raised this question of gestapo methods. He is the one who made an inference against Senator Teague about using these sorts of methods. I think that again is the sort of rhetoric that we have got used to in this place.

Senator Grimes —I didn't send my brother to stop people voting.

Senator CHANEY —I suggest that the Minister go away and read the royal commission report. I am used to Senator Grimes's silly comments.

Senator Grimes —I will get nasty if you get nasty. Let us not be unkind.

Senator CHANEY —This is fairly typical of this place and I will not be sat down by Senator Grimes who likes to use these tactics. I can only say that when Senator Grimes interjects that I have tried to stop Aboriginals voting in the Northern Territory, which is what he has said--

Senator Grimes —Wasn't it Western Australia?

Senator CHANEY —He said that I had done so in the Northern Territory. I regard that allegation with contempt. I do not think there is any serious doubt in this place or anywhere else about my attitude on those matters. I remind the Minister that while I was Minister I obtained a training team which was set up through the Commonwealth Electoral Office and worked in the area of Aboriginal enrolment and Aboriginal training to try to ensure that Aboriginals exercised their votes. I totally and contemptuously reject the sort of thing which has been said by the Minister. It is typical of his debating technique in this place and I have nothing but contempt for it.

I simply say to Senator Elstob that I accept that he has responded in good faith to matters which have been raised with him. I say to him that Senator Teague has for his part put on the record in a clear way what he has said on the air in South Australia. I believe that the facts are now before the Senate. I conclude by saying to Senator Elstob that I am sorry that I denied him leave to speak this morning in the sense that I am sorry that it was he to whom I denied leave. I think in all the circumstances that that was the appropriate way to deal with it. If such a matter is to be debated, the adjournment is the time to deal with it.