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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 689

Ms MAYER(4.17) —I found the analogy of the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew) about Robin Hood and taxation extraordinary to say the least. I cannot imagine he was suggesting that all of us would be happy about the Ned Kelly behaviour of the very high income tax tax avoiders and minimisers whose activities have been at the root of the difficulty we have had in raising pensions for everybody. The Opposition ran one of the most heartless and disgraceful political terror campaigns about the assets test. To talk of the Government's lack of compassion, as the Opposition has in this matter of public importance, is absolutely outrageous hypocrisy. The Opposition set out to create anxiety, to raise fear and ultimately to terrorise all pensioners when it knew that only about 2 per cent of pensioners would be affected. It had a go at 98 per cent of them in order to do something that it felt it should do to protect the 2 per cent it was particularly interested in. In fact it waged the war against the assets test over the bodies of those people in whom it had no interest at all.

The Opposition preyed on the natural anxieties of elderly people for puerile political purposes. It cared not one whit for the good of pensioners; it cared only for vote at any cost to anybody. Compassionate people would have tried to disseminate the facts. Compassionate people would not have tried to make it impossible for pensioners to be accurately informed of the value of some of their assessable assets. What kind of people promulgated misinformation of every kind-compassionate people? No, it was the Opposition. Did the compassionate members of the Opposition care about the great inequity between those pensioners whose savings were returned as income and those people who had access to very substantial capital arranged in non-income earning ways; the same people with the same savings but differently treated? Those differences added up to this situation: Two couples living side by side may have totally different standards of living, totally differing opportunities to make choices about their activities and totally different security from difficulty.

Compassionate people would have admitted that this inequity should not exist. Instead, the disgraceful members opposite, without compassion, without integrity and without truth, not caring about over 90 per cent of pensioners, and trying to terrify 100 per cent of pensioners, tried to cause anxiety and insecurity to every single pensioner in this country. They did not care about the hundreds of thousands of pensioners for whom increases in benefits are a matter of daily bread. They did this for two reasons: First, to protect those people whose assets could provide them with adequate income if properly invested; and, secondly, much more disgracefully, to gain political advantage. All may be fair in war and politics, but to talk about compassion when they have that record leaves them utterly condemned as unprincipled political opportunists.

There are some issues about the assets test which are still to be resolved. Certainly, those farmers-those soldier settlers-whose farms, because of their size, are not providing them with the kind of benefit that they certainly need to be looked at. But if we look at the reasons why that has not already been settled, we return to the disgraceful campaign waged by the members of the Opposition and their media feeding which prevented any proper investigation of that situation before it happened and which was a deliberate prevention because it allowed them to make so many wild and inaccurate statements about those people who would be affected.

One of the nastiest and most despicable aspects of the Opposition's campaign against elderly people has been the abuse heaped on officers of the Department of Social Security. An Opposition which pretends to be an alternative government has now clearly given notice that should it ever return to the treasury bench, the Public Service will carry the blame for its incompetencies. Its campaign led to Social Security officers being denigrated in every way. It gave credence to the lie that DSS officers would behave like gestapo people. Opposition back benchers, led by the angry ant, the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman), ran the campaign implying that pensioners' homes would be searched. They are still talking about the gold in pensioners' teeth as if that were relevant to any situation except the creation of fear and confusion. They acceded to a campaign implying that pensioners' homes would be searched and they are still accusing workers in the Public Service of bureaucratic bungling and incompetence. That claim was made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock). Some compassion!

Elderly Australians have every reason now to hold the Opposition responsible for the confusion which exists. They have every reason to blame those members of the Opposition and those who support the Opposition for the way in which they have been misled and frightened. Certain sections of the media must also ask themselves how responsibly they behaved. I instance the Herald headline which suggested that 672,000 pensioners would be affected by the test, when in fact the number is just over 270,000. That fact could have been ascertained by a simple phone call. Those 270,000 people whose pensions have been affected may include people to whom the hardship provisions may apply, or people who, because of the misleading nonsense promulgated by the Opposition, have not had adequate valuations of their property made. That should be sheeted home to the Opposition because, if it had not provided so much nonsense, so much misleading information and so much confusion, all of those things could have been done quite simply. This situation would not have happened had the Opposition and its lackeys displayed any compassion, any concern and anything but political opportunism.

The Opposition, with absolute hypocrisy and heartlessness, puts up a facade of concern for the family, but shows absolutely no interest in the welfare of single parent families with children, who are very poor because the family is dependent on the pension. Where is its compassion for those children and their parents? If ever the hollow hypocrisy of an Opposition without policies, without principle and without propriety has been exposed, it is evidenced by the proposition that we are discussing. Members of the Opposition, with their bleeding hearts on their sleeves, pretend to be concerned for the well being of Australian pensioners. They could not care less about Australian pensioners. They care only about political profit. If they cannot win votes with their policies and performance, they try to create fear and anxiety and terrify people into voting for them. That is not compassionate; that is contemptible. This proposal is contemptible because it is yet another attempt to mislead people in this country about the nature of the assets test and what it is doing. Mr Deputy Speaker, as you and I know, the assets test was necessary in order to provide some equity in the pension system. It is providing some equity in the pension system. If there is any thread of a fair go for all Australians in the hearts of members of the Opposition, they will have the grace to admit it.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! The discussion is concluded.