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Friday, 4 May 1984
Page: 1604

Senator HAINES —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. Is it correct that key computer staff and consultants engaged by the Government for a 12-month period to prepare the assets test computer programs have been given notice? If it is correct, does that mean that the Government has decided to abandon the assets and income test legislation, despite the fact that the panel chaired by Professor Fred Gruen has not yet reported its findings? If the Government has decided not to proceed with the assets test in any form, will the Minister confirm this to remove the uncertainty and worry now experienced by pensioners? If it is not correct that the staff concerned have been given notice or been warned to look for other jobs because the assets and income test legislation is likely to be abandoned, is it true that they have been given these instructions because the computer system purchased by the Government is unable to cope with the complexity of the proposed assets testing requirements?

Senator RYAN —I have no information at present on whether the Department has any non-departmental people working on the assets test. I shall seek to provide information for Senator Haines before the end of Question Time. As to the statement on whether or not the assets test will be forthcoming, she will be aware that the proposed assets test is being reviewed by a panel of community representatives. The Government will be awaiting the panel's report before it makes any decisions in this area. There has been no change from that position.

From my experience of representing Senator Grimes before the Estimates Committee on social security matters, where the matter of the employment or the deployment of staff originally engaged to work on the test was raised and pursued at great length by members of that Committee, it would appear to me-I will confirm this later-that any staff that had been engaged for that purpose either have been continued to be employed on the review or are being redeployed in other areas of the Department or, in some cases, in other Commonwealth departments. I hope to have more precise information about the employees to whom Senator Haines's question referred by the end of Question Time.