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Tuesday, 21 December 1993
Page: 5508

Senator MacGIBBON (12.33 p.m.) —The opposition will be voting against this motion. Unlike the minister, I do not intend to take eight minutes rerunning the second reading debate and going through the details of the bill; that is all in Hansard, where I lucidly put the opposition's point of view.

  We are not prepared to support this motion. We have a number of reasons for not doing so and the reasons have not changed since the bill was introduced in the Senate. The parliament has two review bodies set up at present and until those two committees have investigated the matter of retirement incomes, reported to the parliament and the government has thought about those reports and come up with a coherent and complete retirement incomes policy, we are not prepared to tinker with any retirement incomes policy proposals that come before this parliament whether in the portfolio of veterans' affairs or social security.

  The second reason that we are opposing it, apart from the parliamentary committees, is a real concern for the welfare of the veterans' community. This government really is quite out of touch with the people it is governing; it is quite impersonal. The government does not seem to realise—I suppose since it has little personal contact—that change is anathema to the elderly; they just simply cannot cope with change and unpredictability. It worries them enormously.

  I have had a fair bit to do with elderly people in my life before I came in here. I still have contact with people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. The one thing they cannot cope with is unpredictability and change. They get enormously distressed about it. It does not matter what their financial resources are. Even the very wealthy get very insecure.

  What we are talking about is the veteran community. The great majority of the veteran community is made up of veterans of the Second World War. Well over half the veterans dealt with by the Department of Veterans' Affairs come from the Second World War. All those people are now running well into their 70s. They are at a time of life when their health is declining rapidly. They have got all the uncertainties and feelings of insecurity that come with advancing years that I talked about a few minutes ago that are an inseparable part of ageing.

  These natural fears to which that age group is subject to are being exacerbated by the continual change that is imposed upon them by the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I suppose it would not be so bad if the changes were predictable and reasonable, but so much that comes out of this government is ad hoc. That makes the effect of the changes all the greater. The government is going around telling these pensioners to provide for themselves and at the same time it is introducing legislative procedures that hinder the ability of pensioners to provide for themselves.

  I will just give the committee an example of the great inequity, not to say the iniquity, that we have of the notional capital gains tax on investments. The position adopted by the government is that if the value of investments has risen, even though those investments are not sold and the profit realised, there is a reduction made in the pension going to a beneficiary under the pension scheme. What is the justice in that? They are no better off financially. They have not got the money in their hands. Yet they have taken a cut in their income.

  This appreciation is often quite illusory because a lot of these investments made by pensioners were made over 10 years ago at a time when values on the stock market were considerably higher than they have been for the last 12 or 18 months. They have taken a real beating with respect to the face value of their investment. Since the stock market has moved up considerably in the last 12 months, there has been a notional improvement in their position, but in many cases the value of their investment still has not equalled what they paid for it.

  I do not wish to go into the technicalities of the bill. Suffice it to say that we will not be supporting it for those reasons of justice and fairness. There is no secret about our position. We made it clear quite a long while ago. In no sense has the government been ambushed. I must say that for the government to have got itself into the mess that it is in over this legislation is a little surprising. I would have thought that any intelligent government would have appreciated both our position and the position of the Democrats and that it would have planned and accommodated our points of view and not crashed forward into the battlements in the way it has done.

  I would just like to say something about the reply that has come from the House of Representatives. Nothing in the government's reasons for this request would in any way persuade the Senate to change its point of view. I read the Hansard and I saw parts of the broadcast of the debate in between divisions. I would have to say that Dr Theophanous really showed his lack of interest, not to say his contempt, for veterans in the way he handled his part of the conduct of the bill in the House of Representatives.

  The final nonsense was the committee of reasons that was set up. That was just a farce because the House of Representatives got an instant report from the committee. In other words, no consideration of the bill was given when it came down amended from the Senate. The government had made up its mind before the bill had been introduced into the House of Representatives. It had appointed a committee and it had actually written the committee report before the bill was presented in the House of Representatives. That is a contemptible act. If people read the Hansard they will see that what happened was that the bill came in; Dr Theophanous made his fatuous comments about veterans not deserving anything better than pensioners; he immediately set up a committee; and then, within 30 seconds, the committee had reported without having met or even left the chamber. Needless to say, the reasons attributed in the committee's report are as worthless as the process that it followed.

  The final issue that I want to deal with relates to the rather limp excuses from the minister that all sorts of terrible things are going to happen if this bill does not go through. Yes, there is now a difference between the provisions for veterans' affairs and the provisions for social security—but it is well within the government's power to accommodate that. The solution is not to create another wrong by amending the Veterans' Entitlements Act as is proposed. The correct approach for the government—and an intelligent government would not have any difficulty in seeing this at all—is to modify the social security legislation so that it is parallel with the veterans' affairs legislation.

  We will not be blackmailed by the government with all these bleatings about veterans and educational grants and the rest of it. Again, it is quite possible for the government to introduce a bill to correct that or, even simpler still, for the government just to accept the bill, as amended by this place, in the House of Representatives tomorrow morning. If that happens, no-one will suffer at all. That is the commonsense and fair thing for the government to do. On the basis of equity and fairness, we will not support this motion.