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Thursday, 5 August 1926

Senator McHUGH (South Australia) .- The Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act should be administered sympathetically, because invariably applicants for the pension are without friends to advise them. I have filled in hundreds of claims, and I have noticed that many applicants have little or no idea of what the questions mean. It is possible that Mrs. Patterson received some- assistance from a friend, who asked her how old she was. Possibly she told him she was born in a certain year. It is conceivable that, acting on- the assumption that she was 60 years of age, he made an error and calculated that she was born in 1867. Quite properly her claim, stated in those terms, was rejected, but I notice that the pensions officials searched from the year 1865 onwards. Had they gone back a few years they would have ascertained that she was born in 1863.

Senator Pearce - They searched as far back as 1864.

Senator McHUGH - It is as well to remember that mistakes are easily made in these matters. I am sure that the department is anxious to assist these old people. I was surprised at the interjection by Senator Givens, whilst Senator Pearce was speaking, to the effect that steps should be taken to prosecute people who give the wrong date in connexion with the registration of the birth of their children. In many cases they forget. The fact that Mrs. Patterson had not made an application' until she was 62 years of age is. I think, conclusive proof of her honesty. In the circumstances, I submit that the claim made by Senator Barnes on her behalf should be accepted, because, had she known, two years earlier, that she was entitled to a pension, and had she applied, there is not the slightest doubt that she would have collected approximately £85 or £90 more. I interpret the law as a layman, and I keep in mind the peculiar difficulties of these old people whose memories may be failing, and who have no one to guide them. If men in business wish to make application for shares in a public company, very often they seek the advice of lawyers or other professional men. But these old people, many of whom are illiterate, have to depend upon friends who also may be without education. Mrs. Patterson should receive the pension as from the date of her first application. I am inclined to think that the view taken by the department could not be sustained at law, but, of course, Mrs. Patterson has no money to test her claim in that way. Parliament is the only tribunal to which people in her circumstances can appeal. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will treat the claim sympathetically. I am sure that the consensus of opinion in the Senate is that she should receive her pension as from the date of her first application, and certainly no moral law would be broken if the Minister instructed the department to do that.

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