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Tuesday, 7 May 1985
Page: 1735

Mr HAWKER —Can the Minister for Social Security confirm that a pensioner couple on a farm who lose their pension due to the assets test can sell their farm, put all their assets into an expensive city home and qualify for a pension? If so, will the Minister alter the pensions assets test to allow these pensioners to stay on their farms?

Mr HOWE —The assets test was designed in such a way as to be equitable and fair. The test must be fundamentally administered in a way that does not make distinctions between people living in rural as opposed to urban situations. Of course there are special characteristics in urban areas, just as there are special characteristics in rural areas. The Government took that into account when it designed the assets test. I believe that if there is one thing that is fundamental to any test or to any measure that the Government introduces that affects people's assets and capital, it is a commitment on the part of every member of the Parliament that the home ought to be excluded. That has been a fundamental principle which has been applied to the assets test. It is one that I believe has worked overall in terms of fairness, wherever people live. While it may be true that some people in urban areas live in very expensive homes, it is also true that some people in the country areas live in expensive homes. The valuations of homes on rural properties took into account not simply the context of their farming neighbourhoods but also the context of the urban values within that region of the country.

It seems to me that underlying the honourable member's question is the suggestion not that people in rural areas ought to be treated equitably and on the same basis as people in the urban areas are treated but that people in rural areas ought to get special treatment. Of course that is fundamental to the ideology of the National Party of Australia because it is a party of special interests and it unashamedly pursues policies which suggest that people in rural areas ought to be treated in some special way. But I would not have thought the same thing would have applied to members of the Liberal Party of Australia. I would have thought that people in the Liberal Party would have sought to achieve a more rational approach than that which is implied in the honourable member's question.