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Friday, 12 July 1946

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne PortsMinister for Labour and National Service) . - by leave - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The chief features of the bill are similar to those contained in the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill, namely, an increase from 12s. 6d. to £1 in the weekly amount of income which a widow pensioner may have without her pension being affected, the raising of the property bar in the case of a widow over 50 years of age, without dependent children, from £400 to £650, and the elimination of certain items of property from consideration in the assessment of a pension.

The Widows' Pensions Act provides for the payment of a maximum pension of £1 17s. 6d. a week to a widow of any age who is maintaining one or more children under the age of sixteen years, known as a class " A " widow, and for the payment of a' maximum pension of £1 7s. a week to a widow, over 50 years of age, without dependent children, known as a class "B" widow. It also provides for the payment of an allowance of £1 12s. 6d. a week, for a period not exceeding six months after the husband's death, in the case of a widow under 50 years of age who has no dependent child. Thelast-mentioned class of widow, known as class "C ", if in necessitous circumstances, is not subject to any specificincome and property limitations.

The present permissible income for both class " A " and class " B " widows is 12s. 6d. a week. The effect of the increase provided for in" the bill. will be that, in future, any income received by a class " A " or class " B " widow in excess of £1 a week, instead of 12s. 6d., will be deducted from the pension. The amount of income which will preclude payment of any pension will become £2 17s. 6d. a week in the case of a class " A " widow, instead of the present amount of £2 10s., and £2 7s. a week in the case of a class " B " widow, instead of the present amount of £1 19s. 6d.

The bill removes an anomaly in the case of a class " A " widow. At present there is included- as income in the assessment of her pension 5 per cent, of the net value of her assets, apart from a home, or the actual income, whichever isthe greater. Thus, even in respect of money in the bank on which only 2 per cent, interest is received, 5 per cent, is included in the computation of income.

In future, only the actual net income received by the widow from her money or property will be taken into account.

Under the present law ihe limit of property for a class " A " widow is £1,000, apart from her home, and there is no scale of progressive deductions from pension, on account of property.' The present limit of property for class "B" widows is the same as for invalid and oldage pensioners, £400 apart from a home, and the scale of progressive deductions from pension is also the same, £1 per annum for every complete £10 of property above £50. The bill provides for the present limit of £400 to be raised to £650, as proposed for invalid and old-age pensioners. The present scale of deductions will remain the same for property up to £400, but the deductions for property between £401 and £650 will be £l for every complete £7, thus eliminating the pension of £70 4s. per annum, £1 7s. a week, at £650.

As honorable members are aware, under the present law the value of the widow's home, furniture and personal effects is disregarded in the assessment of pension. The bill provides for additional classes of property to be disregarded. These are the same as provided for in the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Bill, namely,. the surrender value of life assurance policies, up to a limit of £200, the capital value of any life interest or annuity, the value of any' contingent interest and the present value, up .to £500, of any reversionary interest. Legacies or shares in the estates of deceased persons will also be disregarded until they are actually received by the widow.

It is estimated that the concessions provided for in the bill will enable increased pensions to be paid to some 8,000 widow pensioners who are now receiving reduced pensions. The Department of Social Services will make the necessary re-assessments promptly without application by the pensioners concerned, and the increased rates will operate from the first pension pay-day after the date on which the bill becomes law." The concessions will also bring approximately 7,000 additional widows into the pension field. The total additional cost is estimated at £250,000 per annum, raising the annual cost from £3,500,000 to £3,750,000.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Menzies) adjourned.

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