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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1319

Mr NEHL(7.29) —The Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) last night spoke in the adjournment debate and suggested that I was being far too emotional about the assets test. If I was emotional, it was with very good reason. That very good reason is that I care about the vast procession of people coming before me and most other members of this House. We on this side of the House care about those people. That is why I make no apology for becoming emotional about something that I believe is absolutely vital. As far as I can see the assets test is being choked up with a vast number of pensioners who are losing their pensions or having their pension reduced by the valuations of the Australian Taxation Office. Many of the valuations are just totally unrealistic. In many cases, if not most cases, the house and curtilage valuations are reduced by at least 50 per cent and the value of the remaining land is inflated. It appears this is done so that the pensioners will be persecuted and lose part or all of their pension.

I give one example at Boambee near Coffs Harbour, where a house and curtilage was given a taxation value of $55,000, whereas the real value was $138,000. On the three-acre orchard attached to that, with a shed and tools, the tax value was inflated to $107,000 whereas the real value was only $24,000. That is absolutely typical of so many cases that I am finding every day of every week since this has come about. What is worse, we have the situation of rubber stamp valuations. There are files which bear the stamp 'assessment made from local knowledge-no inspection made'. We have a situation where valuers are sitting at a desk and thinking of a number.

The Minister for Social Security continually speaks of the hardship provisions, and so he should because there is a great deal of hardship. He has already told us that the Government has no provisions for emergency funding for destitute pensioners. He refuses to tell us how long the hardship hearings will take and how long the taxation valuation appeals will take. This may be unimportant to him, but to pensioners who are anxiously waiting to see whether their pension will be restored, it is all important. We need to know how long the hearings will take and how long pensioners will have to survive without income. Will the pension payment be backdated if it is reinstated under the hardship provisions; how many cases have been heard so far; why is it all being kept secret; and how many dejected and destitute Australians are waiting despondently in the queue of despair? Why will the Minister not tell us.

What is the assets test really about? As far as I can see, there are four significant factors. First, it penalises people for wanting to live on land which they have worked all their lives and on which they have raised their children. Secondly, it is a policy of forced relocation, faintly-I agree only faintly-reminiscent of South Africa and Russia, whereby pensioners are being forced to sell up and buy a house in town, or to live off the proceeds. The third point is that it imposes a gift tax on pensioners. Why are they being discriminated against? The rest of us in this society do not pay gift taxes or gift duties, but if a pensioner couple give away more than $4,000 a year to their children or to charity, they are being taxed on it. The fourth point, which I believe is the most important, is that it provides the framework and the basic data for the reintroduction of death duties. Is this the real reason for the assets test-the easy introduction of death duties?

The Government has established the Doomsday Book of Australian pensioners. Like a flock of circling vultures, it is sizing up all of our parents and grandparents, recording their assets, so that when the time comes the Government can rush in and get its greedy claws on the fruits of a lifetime of work by so many decent Australians. The assets test must go.