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Monday, 4 September 1989
Page: 882


Senator MESSNER(5.21) —Firstly I want to congratulate the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs for the report which, of course, was brought down some months ago, and to note that the Government's response has not been entirely adequate in the points that were made in the course of that report having been tabled. Secondly, though, I must point out that that report came into existence after five years of inquiry by that Senate Committee. I think it behoves this Government to see that its response to that very long and very important report should not appear as one of the papers lodged by the Government in the ordinary list that comes down each day. Rather we should have seen a full inquiry report given to the Senate in the form of a proper response, read out by the Minister in this chamber, so that all could take part in this debate in a proper way. To respond to the points in the report in the space of a mere five minutes does not do justice to the system and does not pay due regard to the proper parliamentary role of senators.

Having said that, the important point is surely this: this response is another part of the long, sorry saga of the dealings of the Hawke-Keating Government with the superannuants and pensioners of this country since it came to power in 1983. As well, we remember the promise given during the period before 1983 when the Government, then the Opposition, said, `Of course we would not introduce any assets test. We would not tax superannuation', but of course as soon as it was elected it then set about doing all those things, plus a lot more. But the thing that stood out in the course of the period when we saw the introduction of the superannuation tax in 1983 and the various changes to pensions, including the assets test in 1983, was simply that the Government had no comprehensive policy whatsoever for dealing with retirement incomes.

It was that which in 1983 caused the Senate, forced by this Opposition, together with the Australian Democrats, to set up this very inquiry which is the subject of this report. It was that Committee which sat down over that long period and has brought down what I believe to be a most comprehensive plan, subject to some problems some Opposition senators would have with some details of it. That report does indeed, I believe, bring down the first most comprehensive report for a policy that this country has ever seen. Of course other things have occurred as well. The Government introduced its infamous changes last year on superannuation taxes which, as my colleague Senator Walters, pointed out very eloquently, in a full year, rips, eventually, $1.5 billion out of the taxpayers' superannuation funds.

That means that eventually superannuants will suffer because those taxes will be paid in advance. The Government said in introducing that legislation that no superannuant would lose one cent of his superannuation as a result of that tax. Of course, that is a nonsense. Everybody knows that superannuants will miss out on superannuation benefits as a result of those taxes being brought forward. What was the point of that exercise? It was merely to make Mr Keating's Budget in 1988-89 look particularly good. Of course, that will continue during the forthcoming years. What this Government stands condemned for by virtue of its response to this report is that it continues to overtax people in this country and, more particularly, to tax the savings of those who are trying their utmost to look after themselves in retirement.