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Tuesday, 28 February 1984
Page: 18

Senator HILL —I refer the Minister for Social Security to the 1,400 staff that have been employed and trained in order that they might administer the proposed assets test on pensioners. Can the Minister inform the Senate of the duties that these officers are currently undertaking now that the intended legislation is being reviewed? What has been the cost to the taxpayer of employing these officers, training them and paying them to fulfil a duty that does not exist? In retrospect, does the Minister still stand by his defence of the employment of these people last year before the assets test legislation had been decided upon by the Parliament?

Senator GRIMES —Yes, it is normal practice in the Public Service in this country- it has been for many years through all sorts of governments-to prepare for the introduction of legislation which it is announced will be introduced in the Budget in this way. The introduction of an assets test has a long lead time. We have always said that. From the sorts of comments which were made by the Opposition last year I think it was reasonably expected that the legislation would pass in February or March this year. The people who have been employed have been largely in training for the implementation of the assets test. They have been employed training themselves or training others on the preparation for the introduction of the test which at the moment is deferred.

I am the first to admit that 1,400 people is a lot of people, but I think Senator Hill should remember that the normal turnover of staff in the Department of Social Security is some 300 a month; so it does not take long, if one stops recruitment, to run down that number of people. Also there are many other activities which can be performed in my Department from now on. In the past few years pension reviews, for instance, have been intermittent in some cases. There is a need for more extensive training. In the last five years training was cut down considerably in the Department and this has affected its efficiency. At the moment officers from my Department, the Public Service Board and the Department of Finance are discussing independently and with each other the reallocation of such staff within the Department and if necessary outside the Department. I will get to Senator Hill as soon as possible the exact figures on what it has cost until now.