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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1909

Mr HAWKER(10.56) —I rise tonight to join my colleague the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) in raising yet again the question of the pensions assets test. I am rather pleased to see that the Minister for Social Security (Mr Howe) is here so I can remind him of the question I asked him at Question Time yesterday which he failed to answer. I asked the Minister whether it was true that a pensioner couple living on a farm who had lost their pension under the assets test could sell their farm, buy an expensive house in the city and qualify for the pension again. The Minister refused to answer the question, although the answer was obvious-yes, they could do that and yes, they would get the pension again. In his answer he said:

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.

I do not think I have ever heard such a load of rubbish in all my life. Either it is fair and equitable or it is not. If the situation is that the country pensioners are being disadvantaged because they happen to live on small farms as compared with their city counterparts who happen to live in an exclusive area of the city, I really wonder how the Minister can, in all seriousness, say that the pensions assets test is fair. No matter how many times we try to get this message through to him he seems to have a bit of a blind spot so we have to remind him again and again that his assets test is neither fair nor equitable.

Mr Hodgman —Why doesn't he pick on someone his own age?

Mr HAWKER —That is a good question. One thing I am rather curious about is how the Minister could stand in here, I think on 19 April, and talk about the assets test having unearthed 12 millionaires on the pension. How did he find this out? Honourable members will recall that when the forms were sent out for the assets test if a pensioner decided that he did not qualify for a pension under the test all he had to do was to tick the appropriate square and that was the end of it. If people did that, how did the Minister or his Department find out that some pensioners had assets obviously well in excess of the limits that had been imposed by this Government but were still getting the pension?

Mr Gear —Because they asked the pensioners.

Mr HAWKER —I thank the honourable member; that is exactly what I was getting at. We were told that there would be no intrusion and that any information given would be kept private. My curiosity has been aroused for some time and it was not until last weekend when I happened to be talking to a pensioner in my electorate that I found out what was really going on.

Mr Cunningham —You actually talked to one, did you?

Mr HAWKER —I have had more pensioners in my office than probably any other honourable member. I hear the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Hand) trying to interject; it is interesting to note that I have had letters from pensioners in some of his colleague's electorates in Victoria. I wonder why they are writing to me. As I say, my curiosity was aroused until I met a pensioner who said she had told the Department, the Minister's officers, that she did not qualify for a pension. That should have been it but it seems that for some of the over-eager beavers that was not enough. They rang her back and said 'Can you give us some details of your assets?' That example begins to answer a few questions. We have had so much talk from the Minister and his predecessor that there would not be any intrusion into privacy, that pensioners who did not qualify for the pension would be left alone; yet here we find a pensioner--

Madam ACTING SPEAKER —Order! It being 11 p.m., the debate is interrupted.

Mr Beazley —Madam Acting Speaker, I require that the debate be extended.

Madam ACTING SPEAKER —The debate may continue until 11.10 p.m.