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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1542

Mr GEAR(4.09) —I appreciate this opportunity to speak in the adjournment debate today. I would like to turn to the assets test to look at some of the points raised by members of the Opposition in their speeches on the adjournment during the week. We on the Government side have said time and again that the assets test will bring back to the retirement system in Australia the fairness lacking after it was taken away in 1976 by the former Government. What many people do not realise is that we had an assets test in Australia from 1908 to 1976. It is very difficult to measure need on an income test alone. If we do that we open up a new field of endeavour for accountants to manipulate money in such a way that people can become assets rich and income poor. Those people who care to check the Pensioner's News, in the years around 1980 to 1982 in particular, will find many schemes being marketed. Full page advertisements advised pensioners with considerable assets to go to these accountancy firms so that they could arrange their assets in such a way that they would get the full pension and the benefits. The Government has rightly recognised that pensions are meant only for those people in need. 'Need' is the operative word. By bringing back the assets test we are able to have a look at the retirement income system in a much fairer way than was possible before its abolition.

One thing a lot of people do not realise-it was made obvious in Question Time today-is that it is not compulsory to fill out an assets test form. There is no compulsion whatsoever. The only time that one has to fill out an assets form is when one wants a pension. I have stated before on many occasions, in Western Australia anyway, that I do not believe that Alan Bond or Lang Hancock will ever fill out an assets test form, mainly because they do not need a pension.

Mr Cobb —They don't get the pension.

Mr GEAR —Of course they do not need a pension. Another thing about the pension is that it is meant only for people in need. The policy of a former Menzies Government was that people should provide for their own retirement. To that Government's credit, it allowed a tax deduction to encourage people to look after their retirement income by taking out superannuation policies. In Australia today those superannuation policies can be taken as a lump sum payment, invested in the schemes that I spoke about before that are being advertised in papers such as the Pensioner's News, and then a person can get a pension. What we are getting is double dipping.

The Government moved early in its term of office to close that avenue by bringing in a substantial tax disincentive for people taking lump sums. However, we have allowed people to have a tax-free status if those superannuation payments were taken, as they were meant to be, on a weekly or fortnightly basis. That is what superannuation is all about. It is all about looking after oneself in retirement.

In the short time available to me I would like to bring up the quite emotive cases, which are often brought up in this House, concerning those people who are hard done by as a result of the assets test. We have never said that the assets test would be easy to administer and that it would cover all cases. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) has made a point of ensuring that the assets test investigations are given the highest priority. We are working towards making sure that nobody is greatly disadvantaged by the assets test. It will take time. I imagine that, in a year's time, honourable members opposite will not be able to make the claims that they make today because of that. The Opposition parties' tactics in the last Federal election campaign can only be described as scandalous. The only reason that pensioners were scared was because of the opportunistic scaremongering tactics of the Opposition, and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) in particular. He had nothing else to fly with except the assets test. I suppose that, in electoral terms, he was successful in that he was able to claim a mandate.

I would like to finish on this point: The Liberal Party of Australia has been talking about repealing the assets test if it gets back into government. All it has to do is answer one question: If it repeals the assets test, will it tell the people of Australia that it will raise taxes to give pensions to the wealthiest 2 per cent of the pensioners who do not need them, including the 12 millionaires the Minister talked about today, or will it lower the pension for the other people who really need it? That is the question that must be addressed if the Opposition is going to start talking about repealing the assets test. If members of the Opposition ever talk about it at the next election campaign, we will hammer that point as hard as we can. It is a significant point and they have never answered the question.

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