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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4394

Senator REYNOLDS —My question is directed to Senator Newman as Minister for Social Security. Minister, do you recall your office was reported by the Daily Telegraph on 25 September as saying that Senator Vanstone's phantom family, the Wrights, is still receiving massive welfare payments and that there was nothing the department could do to stop the family receiving welfare payments? Were these statements supported by advice from your department? If not, don't they make you complicit in Senator Vanstone's misrepresentation of the facts?

Senator NEWMAN —No, I deny absolutely that I am in any way complicit with anybody on anything, because I am not a crook.

Senator Carr —No, but she is.

Senator NEWMAN —No, she is not. She is not a crook.

Opposition senators —Oh!

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Newman, resume your seat. Order!

Senator Faulkner —That is the classic all-time gaffe!

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner! Order!

Senator NEWMAN —Madam President, what I was trying to refer to was the allegation implicit in the question—that somehow the actions of Senator Vanstone were crooked. Senator Vanstone, to my knowledge, has been honourable in this whole issue. Having said that, the means test, which was the basis of the questioning at the estimates committee hearing, was introduced by the previous government, and rightly so.

Nobody can in all conscience endorse rorting of the social security system or the Austudy system at the expense of the battlers so that people who have means are not providing for themselves where they can. That is the basis of this issue. Senator Vanstone has supported the attempts to make sure that those who can afford to provide for their own children's education are doing so.

I and my department also are concerned that there is the potential, which was not addressed by the previous government, for some people to be accessing social security who should not be entitled to it. We believe that we should be supporting the needy, not the greedy. That surely is what we should be concerned about now.

I understood, when I saw an article in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, that there may have been some inaccuracies in the assessment of what entitlements a family known as the Wright family might have been receiving. My office contacted Senator Vanstone's office the day that appeared and advised that we would like to look at the matter further, which we did. At that time, I put out a press release saying what we believed the situation to be.

Senator REYNOLDS —Minister, I certainly was not suggesting that either you or Senator Vanstone was crooked, as you suggested. I was seeking information. I would like to ask: was your `dob in a dole bludger' hotline used in terms of the information about the Wright family? Did you have any reference to that hotline? Did you draw your department's advice to Senator Vanstone's attention—at least by providing her with a copy of your press release—or to the attention of the Prime Minister's office? If not, why not?

Senator NEWMAN —That is a bit of a stupid sort of supplementary, isn't it? Firstly, there is no such thing as a `dob in a bludger' hotline. That is a media headline, but it is nothing I have ever used. It is totally irrelevant to the issue at hand. The employers contact unit is nothing to do with this issue. That is really what it boils down to. Secondly, my office was in contact, as I said, with Senator Vanstone's office over this issue.

Senator Bob Collins —On the 25th.

Senator NEWMAN —Do you want the answer? Later the two departments discussed the matter and sorted out the issues.