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Wednesday, 17 April 1985
Page: 1320

Mr CUNNINGHAM(7.33) —I want to say a few words in relation to the assets test and to take up the honourable member for Cowper (Mr Nehl) on some of the points he raised. We are consistently hearing the rhetoric of members on the other side in relation to the assets test, yet we do not seem to have anything constructive coming from them. Let me put before the Parliament a few facts and figures which should be made clear.

The number of pensioners affected by the assets test is 2.6 per cent of all pensioners in Australia. That is only slightly above the original estimate of 2 per cent. Some 97.4 per cent, or more than two million, of the pensioners have not had their pensions reduced by even one cent. We are talking about 2.6 per cent of the pensioners in Australia. We have in that 2.6 per cent a minute group who are having some difficulties which need to be ironed out, because of valuations and other small adjustments, and we are prepared to admit that. But there were many pensioners and many people in the community who were avoiding the income test. Those people actually forced the position whereby the assets test had to be brought into operation in order to ensure that those people who avoided the income test did not receive a pension if they are not entitled to it. They are the great majority of the 2.6 per cent. Some 30,291 pensions out of more than two million have been cancelled-a very small number indeed. Another 23,000 to 24,000 people have had their pensions reduced. For those 23,000 or 24,000 people there are some problems in relation to valuations, but we must always remember--

Mr Cadman —What do they live on in the meantime?

Mr CUNNINGHAM —In the meantime provisions have been made and fine tuning of the administration is taking place. Regional directors around Australia--

Mr Cadman —Big deal!

Mr SPEAKER —Order! An amount of interjection is expected in an adjournment debate, but excessive interjection affects my visual acuity.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —The regional directors around Australia are now in a position to access many of the cases, the details of which are sitting on their desks and which they know from local knowledge there are problems with. I recommend to members of the Opposition that they do the same things as members of the Government do on behalf of their constituents. When they have problems with pensioners, the first priority should be the care and concern of the pensioners who have been mistreated or whom the wrong decision has been made. It appears to me that a great deal of attention is being paid to playing politics rather than to doing the correct thing by the pensioners. Members opposite should take cases to the regional offices of the Department of Social Security so that where there are anomalies-we admit that there are clear anomalies in some areas-they can be fixed with local knowledge. We expect that that will be done quickly. It is of no help to the pensioners of Australia to have a constant barrage of politicians using them for vote winning purposes at their expense. The pensioners should not be used in that manner.

Over two million pensioners, or 97.4 per cent, have not been affected by one cent. Another group should never have been getting pensions in the first place. Surely those opposite do not support the dishonest pensioners who were avoiding the income test. Surely none of them supports the person who had assets totalling $909,000 in addition to another property valued at $905,000 declaring no income and thus being entitled to a pension. I cite another case of a person who had assets worth $560,000, including a property worth $267,000, with cash in various bank accounts of $279,000. He was getting a full pension because he declared no income. Those opposite cannot defend people who were cheating the system. Let us be honest about the people we are concerned about. We on this side of the House are just as concerned, in fact more concerned, because we are taking the problems we receive directly to the Department where something can be done about them. I suggest to members of the Opposition that, if they want to support the pensioners in their areas, they should take the problems to their regional directors. They have the opportunity to do something about those problems, but they cannot do anything about them unless they are told.