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Thursday, 9 December 1965

I have read that you favour the abolition of tha means test for pensioners, an unjust law with its humiliating conditions and demoralising effect on those who have to police it. As the pension is so small and inadequate for rent, food and clothing, pensioners become potential lawbreakers to officers of the Department of Social Services and objects of suspicion. I enclose a questionnaire I have just received from the Social Services Department.

I am 86 with a bad heart. The Department must have a record of my age and must know 1 did not apply for a pension until 1 was 81, when 1 was forced to do so after 11 weeks in hospital, which used up all my capital. (The £750 invested in Custom Credit was given to me by a nephew.)

The Department must also have a record of the average age at which men and women cease to be able to earn and should cease to harass people in their 80's. I think as I saved the Government £4,000 by being honest and independent I should receive some consideration. 1 am sending this questionnaire to you as 1 think members of Parliament should know how old people are harassed by the Pensions Department. I should not like my name to be made public.

The Minister knows this lady's name. It is a name which would not be unknown to most Australians. This lady has had a life which has done honour to the whole of Australia. The questionnaire reads something like this -

Do you still have £750 in Custom Credit Corporation? No. If not, what has been done with the money? Spent on necessities I do not know how.

How much did you earn in the last 12 months from the sale of pictures? £20 from the sale of old drawings; 50 gns. from the sale of old work; £20 in radio broadcasting fees. Do you anticipate earnings to be approximately the same in the coming 12 months? If not, give particulars of anticipated earnings. I anticipate nothing, being 86 years of age and with bad heart. Extremely silly question.

As I have said, this is a lady who is not as badly off as are many pensioners, but she supported herself by her own work until the age of 81 years. I think the Government might consider some alleviation of the means test, at least for people in the upper age bracket.

I hope that during the recess the Minister, who is, I know, sympathetic to this kind of case, might turn his mind to this matter. I know that the Department of Social Services sends these questionnaires out from time to time with the idea of ascertaining whether a pensioner is still alive and ensuring that a pension is not being drawn fraudulently after a pensioner's death. This sometimes happens, and this is why the Department sends out this questionnaire. But I suggest that this kind of questionnaire might be modified. I also make the more far-reaching suggestion that the means test might be relaxed for those people who are over 80 years of age, even if not for those who are over 75 years of age. There are not many of them. Most of them are already drawing the pension. The relaxation of the means test in their case will simply ensure that these very old people who in many cases are in need of medical care do not have their privacy invaded by the Department and are not harassed by the Department prying into their affairs. I do not blame the Department in this case. I am sure that it has only carried out its duty under the regulations. I have no blame at all for the Department. I have no blame for the Minister. I know that he is sympathetic to this kind of case. But I think the Government might reconsider its attitude towards the means test, particularly as it is applied to those people in the upper age group. I am sorry that the Minister is not in the House at the moment. Perhaps before the end of the session he may be able to say something on this matter. If that is not possible I ask him during the recess once more to turn his mind to the means test, which in a case such as the one I have cited does not do credit to our Australian system of social services. I repeat that the Minister is not unsympathetic to this matter. I have a great deal of esteem for the Minister in the administration of his portfolio.

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