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Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 696

Senator BLACK —I refer the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to Senator Messner's contribution to the assets test debate last Thursday in which he referred to 'the famous Senator Gietzelt list of 124 pension cheats that was discredited about 18 months ago'. In what way has this list been discredited? Is there some substance to the Minister's claims that the incidence of income test avoidance by the wealthy through contrived financial arrangements was widespread?

Senator GIETZELT —I thank Senator Black for his question. I did, in fact, expect a question from Senator Messner having regard to the statement he made in the debate on the assets test when he said that he had noted that I had not substantiated my statement that 124 wealthy service pensioners had contrived their financial affairs in such a way during recent years as to avoid the income test and indicated that, as a result of my failure to produce further evidence, somehow or other that list had been discredited by the Opposition. I should have thought that if Senator Messner believed there was no foundation to the list I read to the Senate he would have challenged me as to the details, but no challenge was forthcoming. If Senator Messner is in some doubt as to the validity of the question I raised in the original debate as to the extent of income test avoidance, I suggest that he take up the matter with his colleague Senator Chaney, who told the Senate on 14 October 1981:

. . . I get frequent reports of pensioners with tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars being involved with schemes which are not in their best interests and which are aimed at doing no more than increasing pension income, often at the economic detriment of those pensioners.

For the information of the Senate I will give several examples of cases which have arisen during the assets test assessments and which, of course, confirm what I said originally when I answered questions on this matter some 18 months ago. In New South Wales a married service pensioner had total assets of $430,000, including $325,000 in a trust account. In Queensland a married service pensioner had total assets of $425,000, including $176,000 in shares, $93,000 in bonds and $28,000 in a bank account. A single service pensioner in Queensland had total assets of $375,000, including $134,000 in the bank. A married pensioner in South Australia had total assets of $412,000, including $398,000 in a family trust. A Victorian married service pensioner had total assets of $350,000, including $202,000 in shares and $95,000 in other investments. These assets are all in addition to the owning of their own homes. A single pensioner in Western Australia had total assets of $356,000, including $354,000 in a bank account.

Senator Chaney —I raise a point of order, Mr President. This is obviously a prepared answer to a prepared question. All I am objecting to is the amount of time being taken up. I suggest that the Minister could make a statement if he wishes to put that amount of information into his answer. I request you to ask Ministers to answer questions and if they have extensive supporting material either to incorporate it in Hansard or to table it in order to give us a chance to ask the questions that we are waiting to ask.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The Senate will know that the Chair is not in a position to be able to direct Ministers as to the way in which they answer questions. However, I ask Ministers, in answering questions, to keep their remarks as concise as possible and to give consideration to incorporating material in Hansard when this can be done so that the time allotted to Question Time will not be unduly restricted. Having said that, I ask the Minister to make his remarks as brief as possible in response to the question asked by Senator Black.

Senator GIETZELT —I quite deliberately prepared an answer because I expected Senator Messner to ask me the question. I was referring to the single pensioner in Western Australia whose assets were $356,000, including-and I draw the attention of the Senate to this fact-a total of $354,000 in a bank account. This last case is particularly disturbing. It is clear that the service pensioner was doing himself a grave disservice by depriving himself of an annual income of at least $40,000 in order to qualify for a pension worth about $7,000 a year with fringe benefits. That particular bank and that particular bank manager were in fact taking advantage of the service pensioner and minimising his capacity to earn a much higher standard of living than he would have from receiving the service pension. This just proves conclusively how correct the Government's position was in taking steps to establish the assets test.