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Thursday, 21 March 1985
Page: 735

Mr HAWKER(10.24) —As my colleague the honourable member for Fisher (Mr Slipper) has just pointed out, today is a day of shame for this Government. We are, of course, referring to the iniquitous pensions assets test. I was going to give a bit of a rundown on some of the effects but I thought rather than do that I might cite the cases of two people who have been affected by this to show honourable members how it has been biting. The first example is the case of an 86-year-old pensioner with weak eyesight. This pensioner had a small investment portfolio with a current market value of $11,800. Unfortunately, because of her weak eyesight she misread the figures and entered $118,000 on the assets test form nearly four months ago. On becoming aware of that error three and a half months ago she wrote to the Department of Social Security asking for a new form. To this date that letter has not been answered. A letter from the Department of Social Security arrived requesting that the pensioner return her ID card. On receiving this letter the pensioner rang an officer of the Department of Social Security, who admitted that her earlier letters had been received but were unanswered. The forms have now been sent back for reprocessing. This last letter asking for the return of the pensioner ID card was posted on 12 March but did not arrive until 19 March. I do not know who will be blamed for that. The point is that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) should explain why his Department delayed replying to a letter that was written three and a half months ago pointing out that this pensioner's assets in fact totalled only $11,800.

The second example, which I think points out what I have been saying even more, is the case of a pensioner couple who filled in a form and owned a small farm to the value of $173,000. The pensioner wife wrote to the Department of Veterans' Affairs to see why their assets had been increased from $173,000 to $190,000. Her letter reads:

Today we received a photo-stat copy of our Asset test papers as requested, but they have kindly blanked out all their figures so we still don't know what figures they have accepted or what they have valued higher, haven't we a right to see the final figures?

The pensioner went on to say:

When I see in last week's Sun 20,000 naturalised Australians living abroad cost $74.8 million, all that money paid to pensioners who have gone home that were assisted here in the first place-

She went on to talk about the insults to ex-servicemen. It is no wonder she feels rather upset. I will continue with this letter to show honourable members the sort of effect that this iniquitous assets test is having. She went on:

I have never seen my husband so depressed, sick and bewildered since this wretched assets test began. Maybe there are some that don't need it, but there are a lot collecting unemployment benefits that shouldn't either.

Surely the income test was fairer, when I see what is paid out overseas its about time charity began at home. We paid tax for many years too.

If ever there was a callous, iniquitous piece of legislation it is the one introducing the pensions assets test. It shows a total lack of compassion by this Government. We have warned the Minister time and again of what is going to happen. We have pointed out to him time and again that under the assets test people with a house overlooking, say, Sydney Harbour that could be worth $200,000, $300,000, $400,000, $500,000 can still get a pension but someone with a small farm with a house a long way from a town, which is worth very little, can find himself being chopped out when his assets are worth a little over $200,000. People whose incomes are generally below $5,000 and who are trying to set up a farm for their sons are now finding they can no longer do so. They will probably be forced to sell their farms, go to the city and collect a pension, because that way they will be able to put all their money into a decent house. Furthermore, their sons will probably be on the dole. I point out to the Minister that his so-called savings might prove to be illusory in many cases and the hardship he is going to cause these individuals who have worked all their lives to try to help their families is beyond belief. I call upon the Minister to reconsider this right now.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.