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Wednesday, 30 November 1983
Page: 3070

Ms FATIN(4.13) —I have to admit that I do not think I have ever seen anything quite like this rowdy behaviour in the period I have been a member here . Over the years I have heard people criticise members of parliament for the way they behave in parliament. After today, I can understand why that criticism has been made. I begin today by addressing myself briefly to the pure hypocrisy of the terms in which this matter of public importance is framed. Members of the Opposition know very well why an assets test is necessary, but they have deliberately chosen to misrepresent the situation in a desperate attempt--

Mr Wilson —Why? Because you want to penalise--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Sturt. I shall not do so again. (Quorum formed)

Ms FATIN —The pure hypocrisy of the terms in which this matter of public importance is framed reflects the interests being preserved by the people on the other side of the House. Members of the Opposition know very well why an assets test is necessary, but they have deliberately chosen to misrepresent the situation in a desperate attempt to gain political advantage for themselves. As usual, their cries of outrage have a hollow ring, for once again they are seen to be trying to protect the vested interests of the affluent and to perpetuate a system by which a relatively few well off people benefit at the expense of those who could not manage without financial assistance from the Government.

The terms of this matter of public importance provide a graphic illustration of the illogical and poorly thought-out stance taken by the Opposition on this issue. 'Thrift' means economical management or frugality. It is nonsense to suggest that the introduction of an assets test discourages people from being thrifty. Of course, the Opposition is still trundling around the pathetic picture of human nature which suggests that, if people are given half a chance, they will spend their whole lives in idle contentment letting the welfare state pick up the bill for all their requirements. If this was the case, then surely the best way to encourage people to exploit the system is to do precisely what the Opposition did when in government-remove the assets test and turn a blind eye to the schemes that are dreamed up to allow people to exploit and cheat the pension system. What the Opposition consistently fails to point out is that the pension is not a right-it is not a carrot to be dangled as a reward for people to claim at the end of their working lives. The pension is a welfare payment which has to be directed towards those in need, not those who are going to use it as pocket money so that they do not need to dip into their investments.

Four coalition Ministers responsible for social security retained the assets test between 1961 and 1972, presumably because they believed it to be a fair system. Are we really supposed to believe that when the Liberals removed the assets test in 1976 they did it to encourage people to be frugal? Even they must have known that they were opening the door to all kinds of artificially contrived schemes which would allow the rich to double dip with impunity. They took the easy way out, the soft option, which they believed would see them right in the eyes of the electors of Australia. They cited the Henderson Commission of Inquiry into Poverty as their justification for abolishing the assets test but they failed to read on and somehow overlooked the second recommendation of the Henderson Commission-

Mr Donald Cameron —What about Neville Wran?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Moreton will remain silent.

Mr Donald Cameron —What about Neville Wran?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I warn the honourable member for Moreton.

Ms FATIN —They failed to read that report and somehow overlooked the second recommendation of the Henderson Commission which stated quite categorically that if the assets test was abolished a capital gains tax should be introduced to discourage people from holding assets idle and waiting for capital gains to accrue. In bringing forward this matter of public importance the Opposition has once more betrayed the extent of its muddled thinking on the whole question of welfare payments. Australians are waking up now to the hypocrisy of this position which states that it is acceptable--

Mr Goodluck —Who wrote this?

Ms FATIN —I did. That position states that it is acceptable for governments to come to the aid of the disadvantaged but only after the vested interests of the affluent have been protected and secured. May I now quote something which was not written by me. It is in today's Age-30 November. The article states:

Philosophically and rhetorically, the Liberal and national Parties are attracted to the concept of a needs-based welfare system. If benefits can be restricted to the needy, then the tax burden can be reduced.

* * * *

The Deputy Opposition Leader, Mr Howard . . . has reaffirmed his support of needs-based welfare policies but argues that the Government's asset test legislation is not the best way to achieve them.

Well, what is? It is worth recalling the problem which the Government, against stiff resistance from some privileged sections of the community, is trying to eliminate.

Some people have been able to amass a small fortune in superannuation, draw the lot in a virtually tax-free lump sum, either splurge it in a spending spree or invest it in low-income assets, and then go on the pension with or without all the fringe benefits.

The community can no longer afford this 'double dipping' which has been costing taxpayers about 2,000 million in tax concessions for superannuation and goodness knows how much more in pensions for those who should be able to provide for themselves.

So it goes on. As my time has now been cut down by the honourable member for O' Connor (Mr Tuckey), I want to make just one other statement briefly. Twenty years ago there were 11 people working to one receiving a pension. Today four people are working to one receiving a pension. By the year 2000 there will be 2. 5 people working to one receiving a pension. How are we going to pay for people to double-dip and to amass the fortunes that they have been able to amass? I suggest to honourable members opposite that documentation was given to them yesterday by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) which explained the detail and answered many of the questions that they have thrown across the floor of this House today about the farmers, elderly people and others. If the Opposition suggests that we in the Government do not care about the people in Australia who need us to assist them I suggest that, as I said earlier, the hypocrisy of this debate is unbelievable.

Under the means tests applied in former decades double-dipping by well-off beneficiaries also receiving pension payments and fringe benefits was not a major problem. With the abolition of the former means test after many years of relentless pressure from the better-off groups in society there has been a great increase in arrangements by which retired groups effectively can retain their assets while containing their formal income to amounts which enable them to qualify fully for pension payments and benefits. May I suggest that honourable members opposite consider the half a million people in this country who are paying rent and who are being disadvantaged because they are not able to get adequate assistance? Under this program we will assist them and we will assist every needy person in this country.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Mr Goodluck —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Is clapping allowed in the House?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order. The discussion on the matter of public importance has concluded.