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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1463

Mr CADMAN(10.54) —I am absolutely sick and tired of the attitude of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) to the assets test. Three weeks ago I raised with him the problems of home owners and non-home owners in retirement villages. I refer the Minister to the Act, which does not define home, home owner or non-home owner. They are not mentioned anywhere in the Act. The language of the Department of Social Security guidelines used by departmental officers indicates that the Minister or Director equate home occupancy with home ownership and relies on section 6AA (1) of the Act where the words 'any right or interest of a person in relation to the principal home of the person' are being used as a dragnet clause to equate home owner with tenant, occupier, or licensee without distinction. These, of course, are very real and distinct entities. They are quite distinct in legal application. Many residents of retirement villages are occupants. They cannot lease, they cannot rent, they cannot change, they cannot paint and they cannot make improvements to the place in which they reside. I quote from a letter from the Department of Social Security to a constituent living in a retirement village. It says:

I am writing to you regarding your recent query relating to your home owner status under the pensions assets test. Although you have no equity in your unit and though you pay a rent or maintenance under the provisions of the assets test, by making your donation to the Anglican Retirement Villages, you have purchased a life tenancy which is assessed as the same as home ownership.

I reject that concept as shameful treatment of the elderly. I refer the House to the Anglican Retirement Villages pamphlet which is circulated to those seeking entry to the Villages. I quote:

Registrations are recorded in chronological order, except where a special need may be established. Applicants may, if they wish, make a Benefactor Donation; this will assist in the development of our work by providing further accommodation for those without means . . .

Another section in the same pamphlet reads:

Do I have any equity in the accommodation if I make a donation?

In clear print it says: 'no'. The Minister has interpreted this process to mean home ownership. The conditions which are signed by the applicant before entering the village and which appear at the top of the form read:

In submitting this application to become a resident I acknowledge that it is subject to the conditions stated below.

The 'conditions stated below', summarised, indicate that the resident is a tenant and has the status of a licensee, not of a home owner. I illustrate for the House what the assets test does to individual pensioners by comparing the pensions allowed by the Department of Social Security before and after the application of the assets test. Pensioner X, who was a non-home owner, received the amount of $51.45 a week before the assets test. After the assets test that amount was $53.95. Non-home owner Y, in the same retirement village, received $51.45 a week before the assets test and now, after the assets test, receives $14.40 a week. These people have no equity, no ownership, yet they are being classified as home owners. I raised this matter three weeks ago. The Minister was here. He dismissed the whole thing as being irrelevant and insignificant.

Mr Chynoweth —What happens when they sell?

Mr CADMAN —They cannot sell; they do not own. I quote from the Minister's letter to the director of the retirement village in regard to this matter and the assets test. The Minister said:

It has therefore not been possible to make fine distinctions between various arrangements in a way which could be consistent, equitable and easily understood.

They are the Minister's own words, admitting his failure. I believe that this confession of failure is a despicable confession and one that indicts the whole Government for its operation of the assets test. It is a terrible thing and I believe that the Minister ought to take immediate action to amend the legislation.