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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 666

Mr REITH —I direct my question to the Minister for Social Security and refer him to the Prime Minister's promise to review anomalies and inconsistencies resulting from the assets test-a promise made on Tuesday following yet another Caucus uprising. I ask the Minister: Will the Government now act immediately to remove the anomalies and to make the test more equitable?

Mr HOWE —The assets test was introduced after very extensive discussion in the Parliament and very extensive consultation with representatives of pensioner groups and other interests representing the pensioner community in this country. It was also subject to a review, chaired by Professor Gruen. I believe the test, as it has been introduced, is a very fair test. We have introduced it in a way which provides for treatment of people in special hardship circumstances. It is subject to quite exhaustive appeals provisions. There is provision for appeal to the Social Security appeals tribunals and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. I believe there is ample opportunity for people who believe they have been unjustifiably affected by the test to use those appeal processes. I encourage people to do that.

It is true that the Prime Minister has given a commitment that we will monitor the introduction of the assets test. I remind the House that the test was introduced only over the last several weeks, so at this stage we are not in a position to have monitored the test and to be looking at possible modifications of it. Nevertheless, I am taking a personal interest in cases that are drawn to my attention. I am ensuring in the Department of Social Security that we do meet that commitment in relation to monitoring the test in these early phases. There may well be situations in which we will need to make some change, but we will do that only after we have had a very good opportunity to look at the particular cases concerned and to make a rational judgment.

I think that the Government's approach contrasts with that of the Opposition, which consistently over the last few months sought every opportunity to scaremonger in relation to the assets test. Responsibility for this certainly has to be shared by the media. The stories that have been floated at times, reflecting no doubt the kind of scaremongering that has occurred in this House, undoubtedly have caused thousands of pensioners in this country needless hardship. I regret that. I believe that that hardship is not the result of the administration of the test by the Department, which on the whole has been carried out very sensitively. It is a reflection on people who are prepared to shed any sense of political principle whatever for short term political advantage, no matter who are hurt and how much they are hurt.