Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 25 March 1985
Page: 703

Senator CROWLEY —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. Given the increased return from the assets test over the predictions of government at the time of introducing the legislation, can the Minister say whether the Government is satisfied that the assets test is working adequately? What steps, if any, is the Government taking to monitor the assets test? Can the Minister make clear to the Leader of the Opposition the advantages of the assets test in the light of his objections at the time of its introduction, particularly as he thought that the money to be recouped was insufficient?

Senator GRIMES —I must say that I was surprised-I am sure that many members of the Government and Opposition were surprised-at the extent to which people had been avoiding the previous income test. I said at the time we were discussing the introduction of the assets test that we thought that about 2 per cent of the pensioners would be affected. I understand that the figure is about 2.3 per cent or 2.4 per cent. The amount of money collected in a full year, we thought, would be about $50m. In excess of $100m will be collected in social security and a similarly increased figure will be collected in the area of veterans' affairs. One of the Opposition's complaints at the time was that insufficient revenue was being obtained from the assets test. I note that that complaint is no longer heard from the Opposition. It is apparently saying now that too much is being obtained. When we consider the saving of over $100m in the social security area it is worth while remembering that that is heading towards the amount of money one would need to increase, for instance, supplementary assistance to the poorest of pensioners, those in private rented accommodation and those who have little other income.

Senator Messner —What about the 25 per cent of average weekly earnings?

Senator GRIMES —That is a valid and reasonable question. We maintain our policy of getting pensions up to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings as soon as possible. The percentage of average weekly earnings has increased from what it was when the previous Government was in power. I suppose that the sensible thing to do would be to suggest to Senator Messner that he tell us where he will obtain the $140m or $145m obtained from the assets test to increase supplementary assistance or the pension as a percentage of average weekly earnings, should he be in government. Will he do that by increasing taxes so that we can raise $140m or would he do that, as the previous Government did, by reducing pensions as a percentage of average weekly earnings?

As Senator Gietzelt and Mr Howard demonstrated, unfortunately people in this community with large amounts of liquid assets either have been not getting an income from those assets in order to get the pension or have been used by their bank managers or their accountants to the benefit of the banks and the accountants. That is deplorable. In fact, it is one of the reasons we introduced the assets test. The test is being monitored by the Department of Social Security, by the Government and by committees of the Government. It will continue to be so monitored. Before the assets test was introduced, we said that there were difficult areas. I talked about them in this place. One can go through the Hansard to find what we said about them. One such difficult area relates to people in rural areas. That is why we brought in special provisions for them. If honourable senators know of genuine instances of people having been unfairly disadvantaged, they should bring them to the attention of the Minister.

Senator Messner —Why don't you do something about it?

Senator GRIMES —Senator Messner brought in phoney issues in two debates here. Those issues having been demonstrated to be phoney, he has remained silent on this matter since. Senator Messner and a few of his colleagues are protecting a few people who have been taking advantage of the system that they introduced.

Senator Boswell —That is absolute rot.

Senator GRIMES —I am sorry that situation has arisen. In view of Senator Boswell's interjection, it is interesting to note that a large number of those with the largest amounts of money, in excess of $500,000-including the type of person with five farms worth over $900,000-in receipt of the full pension and full fringe benefits, as a percentage of the population, come from Queensland.