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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 565

Senator MESSNER —My question is addressed to the Minister for Community Services in his own capacity and in his capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. I remind the Minister of assurances he gave pensioners last year that their properties would not be subject to visits by assets test valuers and of the Prime Minister's policy speech commitment when he said:

. . . they will never see social security inspectors in their homes.

In view of today's report that Ministers Howe and Gietzelt are pushing for access by valuers, is the Government about to renege on this promise and do what the Minister claimed so vehemently last year would not be done? Will the Minister now acknowledge that he grossly misled Australia's pensioners by not telling them the truth about the need for proper and professional valuations, as strongly pointed out by the Liberal and National Parties last year? Finally, what action will the Minister now take to relieve the hardship of those who have lost their pensions and are now in financial straits?

Senator GRIMES —My understanding of the matter-I have no direct knowledge of this-is that only in those situations involving an appeal would any valuer want to go into anyone's home. There is certainly no suggestion that ordinarily anyone would go into a home just to value property. I am uncertain-perhaps Senator Gietzelt can help the honourable senator-as to what Senator Gietzelt and Mr Howe are suggesting at the moment. Secondly, I am sure that under no circumstances will valuers be entering people's homes without their permission, but I will get the details of that from Mr Howe and I daresay that Senator Gietzelt, who is here, can help us in that regard. Thirdly, anyone who may lose a pension under the assets test and who is in financial hardship can, of course, take advantage of the hardship provisions of the legislation. I suggest that if Senator Messner knows of any pensioners who believe they are in that situation, they should contact the Department of Social Security so that those provisions can be applied.

Senator MESSNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the Minister aware that the hardship provisions have been tested by numerous rural pensioners who have found that they still remain excluded? What will he do to assist those who are caught in that vice?

Senator GRIMES —I hardly think that was a supplementary question, but I will answer it. There have been some problems in rural areas, as I understand it, because of the valuations that have been put on rural properties. Mr Howe has already announced that he has taken that into account. Secondly, I repeat that if people in rural areas or any other areas believe that they are being treated harshly by the assets test, they have the opportunity of taking advantage of the hardship provisions in the legislation. I will seek details from Mr Howe as to how many people have done so.

Senator Walters —These are not wealthy pensioners.

Senator GRIMES —We hear enough of Senator Walters supporting the privileged in this community without inane interjections of that type. I will seek further information from Mr Howe as to the current situation. As I am no longer the Minister, I do not know the current situation.