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Thursday, 1 March 1984
Page: 209

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK(12.05) —Six months ago both in the Budget and by ministerial statement the Hawke Labor Government indicated that it proposed to introduce a property test on aged pensions, the property test having been abolished in 1976. In the subsequent six months enormous confusion and insecurities have been expressed throughout the whole community, particularly amongst those who are aged and who are dependent upon the pension. These people have structured their assets and living standards as they understood the Hawke Government had given a firm promise that nothing would happen. Despite the fact that week by week and month by month the subject was raised in a major way, the Government stuck to its grounds that it would go ahead with the assets test. Despite the fact that week by week the ludicrous circumstances of the assets test were revealed, the Government went on until, a week ago, a surprise statement by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke)-a statement unknown to his Cabinet, unknown to his Ministers-was made at the National Press Club.

Senator Button —Oh, that is not true.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Indeed, I thought I heard Senator Button say yesterday that he had not known--

Senator Button —Yes, you did. That is right.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —Well then let me say again this was unknown to his Cabinet.

Senator Button —Unknown to his Ministers, you said.

Senator Sir JOHN CARRICK —It was unknown to his Cabinet and Senator Button is a senior member of Cabinet; it was unknown to his Ministers because Senator Button is a senior Minister. Unknown to them he went to the Press Club and said that the assets test, as proposed and as developed by his Minister, was a mistake. He did not say the nature of the mistake. He said that it was a mistake. He said this without being able to offer an alternative, without being able to say: ' Look, it is a mistake. What we will do is A, B and C'. He ultimately devised some means to get out of this dilemma by saying: 'We will get another investigation'.

This Government has been in office for a year. Despite its promise that it would not fiddle with the social service age pension and despite the fact that for the last six months the Australian community has been in turmoil on this matter, the Government is at a point now where it has admitted that the assets test was a mistake and yet it has no way of coming forward and saying: 'But the correct policy is A, B and C'. On the contrary, it is now trying to hide behind a panel, to move the decision making to others. This is an utterly ludicrous situation. The Government is saying 'Yes, there will be an assets test', and so again the confusion arises. What will it be? Will we be able to have our caravans and our holiday homes? Will we be able to put the jewellery and art collections under the floor? All this nonsense has gone on week by week and extremely ludicrous paradoxes have emerged in this situation. Despite all these things the only thing the Government can say is: 'It is not we, the Government who are to blame, it is the wicked Opposition and the community outside which are confusing the pensioners. We are not to blame'. The Prime Minister said: 'It is a mistake'. When he was asked whether it was being done because of Senate opposition, he said: 'No, it is because we realise that it is intrinsically, inherently a mistake'. Do not let anyone, including the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) say that what is happening now is because of some alleged distortions by us. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Is leave granted?

Senator Grimes —I seek leave to make a brief statement on the subject.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I will deal with the first point. Is leave granted for Senator Sir John Carrick to continue his remarks?

Leave granted.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Will the honourable senator move the resumption of the debate?

Senator Sir John Carrick —I am not terribly clear on this matter. I would not stand in the way of the Minister making a statement.

Senator Grimes —What you are trying to do is cut the debate off.

Senator Sir John Carrick —Let me make it perfectly clear because the Minister, as usual, is trying to distort this matter. I said I would not stand in the way of the Minister making a statement.

Senator Grimes —Thank you. Why didn't you seek leave?

Senator Sir John Carrick —I was querying with the Deputy President whether he would want me to move the resumption of the debate. Having had that offensive remark, I move:

That the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.

Question resolved in the affirmative.