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Wednesday, 26 June 1996
Page: 2238

Senator CHRIS EVANS —My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Given that your political masters tasked the Commission of Audit to directly examine pension benchmarks and in the light of your offering up of $6.6 billion in social security cuts, will you now admit that what the coalition is about is in fact making the poor poorer and forcing the needy into abject poverty?

Senator Vanstone —You want to rewrite history, do you?

Senator NEWMAN —They seem to have written these questions to a script. Yesterday, in taking note of an answer, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate tried to tell the Senate something about the work that his government had done in terms of benchmarks. I was very interested to note that he was very selective in what he said. Let me just tell you why. He tried to explain away why the previous government had also been reviewing benchmarks, just like our government asked the Commission of Audit to have a look at benchmarks. Your government was in it boots and all because it was your Minister for Social Security that was trying to get benchmarks started.

Senator Faulkner chose to only tell part of the story. He commissioned a study to look at the level of expenditure required by poor households. The budget standards project, which was contracted to the University of New South Wales, is still in progress and has not yet reported. I mentioned that yesterday. Of significant interest is other work which forms part of that broader review of DSS payment rates, which was commissioned by the previous Labor minister, Mr Baldwin.

Senator Faulkner did not mention those aspects but he would have had access to that information. That includes the policy discussion paper that was released by DSS in May last year. It also includes a deprivation standards project and a low income earners project. I will quote directly from that paper which was published last year. It stated amongst other things:

The use of male total average weekly earnings as an indicator of community earnings is also problematic.

So your government got what it wanted to know. It went on to state:

There is no reason to believe that something lower or higher than 25 per cent of male total average weekly earnings is not a more appropriate benchmark.

That was the advice that was available to your minister at his request. What that demonstrates is that Senator Faulkner misled the Senate yesterday by not putting the full picture to the Senate. It also indicates that the previous government was looking at the very issues that they are condemning this government for looking at. It is apparently okay for a Labor government to look at benchmarks but there is something very sinister when it is a coalition government. Talk about hypocrisy! There is no reason to have double standards. If it is good enough for one government to do social policy research, it is good enough for another.

Senator CHRIS EVANS —Minister, you have completely ducked the question again. Why won't you tell the Senate why the coalition is considering such proposals as: aligning the pension income test with the jobsearch-newstart allowance income test, thereby slashing pensions by $1.3 billion a year; cutting pension indexation from six-monthly to annually; and spending taxpayers' money to work out savings which would mean including superannuation pensions in the assets test for the first time? Why even contemplate slashing assistance for thousands of pensioners in private rental accommodation by introducing a separate income test on rent assistance? Why won't you come clean and tell the Senate why you are considering these proposals?

Senator NEWMAN —Mr President, they are persistent, but they are not going any further than their government went when they had matters in the budget context. Let me quote Mr Beazley, who was then the Minister for Finance, in March 1994. He said:

. . . going through the process of a budget we do not stand up in parliament or anywhere else in public endlessly ruling in and out various propositions.