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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 383

Senator JONES —I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security whether his attention has been drawn to a report in yesterday's edition of the Courier-Mail in which the Opposition social security spokesman, Mr Braithwaite, claimed that more than 50,000 pensioners, most on incomes below the minimum wage, would lose their pensions because of the assets test. In light of the report and the claims made, would the Minister explain the true position with regard to the assets test as it affects pensioners?

Senator GRIMES —Yes, I did see the article in the Courier-Mail quoting Mr Braithwaite's statements on the assets test. It is interesting that now the facts are out the numbers of pensioners affected by the assets test, as quoted by members of the Opposition, have been going down rapidly. A few weeks ago the figure was said to be 350,000; in a matter of public importance put forward by Senator Messner in the last sitting week it came down to 150,000; and Mr Braithwaite has now brought the figure down to 50,000. He said that 50,000 pensioners, most with incomes below the minimum wage, would lose their pension because of the assets test. The exact details of the number of people affected are not yet available because the assets test has just been introduced, but it seems that about 30,000 people will cease to receive the pension and about 20,000 people will have their pensions reduced. Many of those to lose their pensions altogether have been receiving only a small pension because of the effects of the income test as it already exists.

The current minimum award wage is $150.60 a week. Under the income test a person will receive some pension until his or her weekly income reaches $213-odd if he or she is single or $356.60 if married. Under the assets test, people will cease to qualify for a pension if assets exceed $110,000 for a single home owner or $177,000 for a married couple. These figures refer to people earning much more than $150.60 a week. The simple fact of the matter is that, although I spoke many times in this place of the perils of making an estimate, we estimated that 2 per cent of social security pensioners would be affected. I understand that the figure is about 2.3 per cent, which is an accuracy beyond anything I could have predicted at the time.

The fact is that we will get more money from the assets test than we believed, because people have many more assets than we believed they had as no asset figures had been collected. I think the same applies to Senator Gietzelt and the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Statements such as those by Mr Braithwaite-although he has lowered his sights considerably-are not accurate. They are certainly a little more accurate than those of Senator Messner and other honourable senators, but even Mr Braithwaite is quite wrong in suggesting that that number of pensioners receiving below the minimum wage will lose their pensions. It is simply inaccurate. Full figures will be available in a couple of weeks.