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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 537

Mr DOWNER(10.35) —Honourable members will be aware that the assets test is creating a great deal of poverty in rural areas around Australia. To demonstrate that point I would like tonight to give an example of how that assets test is affecting a couple living in my electorate, in the town of Milang. As a result of the introduction of the assets test that couple is now living on $1,575 a year, or $30.30 a week. Honourable members will be aware that that is less than 20 per cent of the unemployment benefit for a married couple. To reduce a couple to that sort of income can be described not as inconsiderate but as callous. I point out to the House that the husband has already suffered a series of strokes and is now suffering from advanced emphysema.

In addition to the $30.30 a week which the couple has as a result of the reduction in their pension they do have some assets. They now have $600 in the bank and they own a 1968 Holden car valued at just $500. In addition-this is the reason they have been hit by the assets test-this couple has a farm which is valued at $161,000. That farm is run by their son, who last year derived an income of $9,222 from it. This financial year he is expecting to gain an income in the region of $6,000. This is a dairy farm, and honourable members will be aware that the dairy industry is in a state of very serious decline in Australia. That decline has hit this family very hard. The son, who is now running this farm, has a wife and a son and with his $6,000 this financial year he will be expected to support not just his wife and son but also, apparently, as a result of the assets test, his parents.

Honourable members may wonder what that couple has done as a result of being reduced to an income of $30.30 a week. They may argue: Why do they not apply for relief under the hardship provisions of the assets test? Indeed, they have applied for relief under the hardship provisions of the assets test. I point out to the House that they have had that application rejected-apparently on the basis that their main asset, which is the farm from which the son hopes to derive just $6,000 this year, should be sold. If the asset were sold naturally the son would become unemployed and the Commonwealth would have to provide unemployment benefits not just to the son but also to his wife, including support for their child. The Department of Social Security has also argued that that asset could be borrowed against. That is a serious argument that the Department has put forward. Honourable members would be aware that it would be impossible on just $30 a week, to service the sort of loan that that couple would need to survive. It would be completely impossible, particularly at a time when interest rates are as high as they are today. As honourable members are aware, they are continuing to rise as a result of the Government's economic policies. If the first two options are not appropriate the Department of Social Security has also suggested that that asset could produce additional income, that the couple should somehow turn the farm into something completely different. That is a completely unrealistic and totally unsatisfactory solution. Indeed it only draws to the attention of the House the callousness of this assets test and the appalling effect it is having on rural people throughout Australia. This is one example out of many thousands around Australia. This couple has failed to meet the hardship provisions, failed to get relief from the Government and the Department of Social Security. The Government and its policies stand condemned for reducing this couple's income to just $30.30 a week.