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Wednesday, 12 February 1986
Page: 220

Senator PETER BAUME(6.51) —I thank Senator Grimes for his courtesy. In so far as the statement deals with the proposed amnesty it raises as many questions as it answers. It seems to introduce new inequities in an attempt to improve the system and to do equity to those who may have made mistakes. For a start, the Opposition shares the concern expressed in the statement for the clients of the Department of Social Security and for the proportion of clients who have made genuine errors or who have incurred overpayments inadvertently. We do not differ from the Government in that respect.

But it is clear that equity questions arise in the context of what has happened over the last three years. I will briefly go through some of the elements. Attacks have been made upon the retirement income of many pensioners since 1983. I will go through those attacks. First was the promise that was broken not to introduce a pensions assets test. One was introduced. It affected retirement income. A promise was made not to expand the income test on pensions. It was expanded. A promise was made to raise pensions to 25 per cent of average weekly earnings. That promise has not been kept. In all these ways, retirement income has been reduced for many people. We have had foreshadowed a proposal to abandon the capacity which has been enjoyed by some people who earn a little extra income to average that earning over an income year and thus lessen the amount by which their pension is reduced. If the loss of averaging proposal is carried through the retirement income of many people will be reduced.

To bring that matter home, I remind honourable senators that two of the people who serve us in the tea room are invalid pensioners. They serve breakfast to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, and me. They work in the Parliament to earn some extra income. While the averaging provisions exist they can spread that income over a year and reduce the amount by which their pension is affected. Those two women, Janet and Rosa, will be adversely affected by the loss of averaging capacity. Those people who help us in the Parliament will be losers as a result of that measure. A number of things have happened-that is one with which we will deal when it comes before us-which reduce the retirement income capacity of many Australians. In this case they were invalid pensioners but the same principle applies. Having shoved pensioners around for three years the Government is now proposing not to shove around some people who have misused the system. I will quote from page 5 of the statement. It says:

Even where people having intentionally failed to notify of a change in circumstances-

The Government will extend the amnesty even to those for whom it was not inadvertent and who may have intentionally abused the system, at the same time as many other people who have observed all the rules have taken all the blows. The Government and Senator Grimes dare to call us the friends of tax cheats. We are not the friends of anyone who defrauds any system, tax or social security. It concerns me that the proposals will also create inequities between classes of pensioners and beneficiaries. Let us consider this for a moment.

Senator Michael Baume —It will disadvantage them more.

Senator PETER BAUME —Those who have revealed all and have followed all the procedures, as have Janet and Rosa in our own dining room, and who have kept nothing back from the Department of Social Security will be disadvantaged.

Senator Michael Baume —It will disadvantage the honest.

Senator PETER BAUME —Yes, it will disadvantage those in honest need. They will be disadvantaged and will attract all the imposts and so on. Those who are already repaying overpayments will continue so to do. Those who come forward and confess under the amnesty will not repay. Those under investigation will repay. We will have different classes of pensioners who should be on the same pension, whose circumstances may be equal. Some, because they have been honest, will be disadvantaged. Some, because they have been rogues, will be advantaged.

Senator Puplick —Crime does pay after all.

Senator PETER BAUME —Senator Puplick says that crime does pay after all. The inequities between groups of pensioners concern me.

Senator Grimes —If what you say is true.

Senator PETER BAUME —It looks from a reading of the statement, Minister, that that is entirely likely. It seems that some pensioners who have claimed nothing extra will find that they have neighbours who have fiddled the system. I refer back to page 5 of the statement which says that, even where people have intentionally failed to notify the change in circumstances, if they take advantage of the amnesty they will be advantaged. I finish by reminding the Senate that Lady Caroline Lamb said of Lord Byron that he was mad, bad and dangerous to know.

Senator Haines —Among other things she said of Lord Byron.

Senator PETER BAUME —Well, among other things. Many pensioners may wish to apply that description to the Department of Social Security.