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Friday, 22 March 1985
Page: 675

Senator GILES —Has the attention of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs been drawn to the lead story in yesterday's Sydney Daily Mirror headed 'Assets: Home checks', with no question mark, as if that is a fact? If so, can he advise whether the headline and contents of that story accurately portray the procedures to be followed in the event of appeals against property valuations under the assets test?

Senator GIETZELT —I have seen the lead article in yesterday's copy of the Sydney Daily Mirror and I am completely disgusted with the tone of both the heading and the article. It is an example of gutter journalism at its very worst. It is an article of the most gross misrepresentation and designed to cause a great deal of stress to two and a half million pensioners who obviously would be affected by the tenor and the words expressed in the article. Every time this sort of scurrilous misinformation surfaces it causes tremendous distress among pensioners. My Department, as well as the Department of Social Security, is immediately flooded with a great number of inquiries from elderly persons and infirm persons. It is indefensible that these sorts of people should be made to suffer from grossly irresponsible reporting. One can only describe the article and the heading as sloppy and despicable. It earns condemnation not only for the journalist but also for the editor for allowing this prominent expression to be placed on the front page of the paper.

It is important to stress that the journalist made no attempt whatever to check his facts with either the Minister for Social Security or me which one would think was rather elementary. If Mr Gibson had bothered to check with me, I would have been able to point out how far he was off beam. I repeat-I hope it will be the last time-that there will be no inspectors from my Department, the Australian Taxation Office or the Department of Social Security entering pensioners' homes in connection with the assets test. As the Senate knows, more than 95 per cent of pensioners were not affected in any way, shape or form by the assets test, yet that article stressed that inspectors would be entering the homes of pensioners. There was no qualification; it stressed that all pensioners would be affected. This will not happen. Assurances have been given by me, the Minister for Social Security and the Prime Minister that no such persons will intrude into the privacy of those in receipt of social security benefits or service pensions.

In conclusions, I wish to inform Senator Giles that the Minister for Social Security and I are so concerned about the article that we will refer it to the Press Council of Australia in view of its gross misrepresentation, the great stress it has caused to many of the most vulnerable sections of the Australian community and the author's failure to carry out the most elementary checks on the accuracy of his information.