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Thursday, 5 August 1926

With reference to your personal representations, I have to say that the Deputy Commissioner of Pensions, Melbourne, has submitted to me the whole of the papers relating to the case of Mrs. Catherine Patterson, Ch'esswasstreet, Penshurst.

Mrs. Pattersonapplied for a .pension in July last, and stated in her claim that she was born in August, 1865. She produced a marriage certificate allowing that she was 25 years of age at the date of her marriage in 1890, but search in the records of the Government Statist's office, Melbourne, showed that, according to her age, as given at the births of two of her children, she was 'born in 1867, and was, therefore, only 58 years of age at the date of her claim. The Government Statist's records were searched over the period 1864 to 1867 inclusive, with a view to obtaining a record of claimant's birth, but without success.

The law provides that, in order to qualify for an old-age pension, a woman must have attained the age of 60 years. As the weight of evidence indicated that Mrs. Patterson had not reached the statutory age, the Deputy Commissioner had no option but to disallow her claim.

On 20th December last, Mrs. Patterson wrote to the Deputy Commissioner, Melbourne, applying for further consideration of her case, and submitting satisfactory evidence that she was born on the 6th June, 1863. The claim was immediately re-opened by the Deputy Commissioner, and a pension at the maximum rate of £52 per annum - £2 per fortnight - was granted as from the following pension payday, namely, the 31st December, 1925.

The law provides that the date of commencement of a pension shall not be earlier than the date of the claim. For the reason shown above, it was necessary to disallow the original claim for .pension, and any subsequent grant of pension could be made only in respect of a further claim. Mrs. Patterson's letter of 20th December was treated as a new claim -

Why should it have been treated as a new claim ? Why should not the pension have been paid as from the date of the original application ? - and pension was granted as from the succeeding pension pay-day. In view of the law, I regret to say that I am unable to approve of payment being made as from any earlier date.

Section 33, sub-section 3, of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, by which the commissioner is governed, reads -

The determination of the commissioner or the deputy-commissioner shall, if in favour of the claim, set out the rate of the pension and the date of its commencement (which must not be prior to the date nf the claim), and a pension certificate in the prescribed form shall -thereupon be issued to the claimant.

The decision of the department is, in my opinion, most unjust, and since it may be operating in thousands of other cases, I have every justification for bringing it before the Senate. It has always been the desire of Parliament, that the act should be sympathetically administered in the interests of the aged and infirm of this country, but it would appear that in cases of this character there are some who are not administering it in the manner intended. We know that some persons advanced in years cannot conveniently produce the necessary documentary evidence to establish their correct age to the satisfaction of the officers of the department, but although this applicant eventually did so, she is being deprived of money to which she is justly entitled. I admit, of course, that it is the duty of the authorities to guard against imposition, but in this instance nothing of the kind is suggested. When this old lady failed in her original application to establish her age to the satisfaction of the department, the deputycommissioner was justified in refusing the claim for a pension; but when, later, she was able to obtain from the official records the information which the commissioner and his staff could not, she should have been granted at once a pension as from the date of her first application. According to the departmental letter which 1 have read, she is not only 60, at which age she was entitled to draw the pension, but is actually 62 years of age, and, therefore, could have been drawing it for two years had she been " able to establish her claim at the outset. This poor woman, after fighting her battle for six months, eventually convinced the deputycommissioner that she was entitled to a pension, but he, in a cold-blooded manner, disregarded her original application, and treated her subsequent application as a new claim. I hold unhesitatingly that the pension should have been paid as from the date on which the first claim was made. I have interviewed the deputy-commissioner, the commissioner, and the Treasurer, but without success. It is amazing to find the authorities, in the fact of a plain statement of facts, repudiating this just claim. To some people the sum of ?22, of which this woman has been deprived, would be of little consequence, but to a poor person it means a great deal. I cannot imagine why the department should adopt this attitude. As the action taken in this case may have been taken in thousands of others, it is evident that some alteration will have to be made in the administration of the act. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister ' will give an assurance that justice will be done. I have given a plain statement of a plain case. It cannot be denied that a great injustice has been done, and even at this late hour it should be remedied.

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