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Wednesday, 4 March 1970

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) (Minister for Social Services) - by leave - It has recently been drawn to my attention that a number of private organisations have been advertising themselves as consultants on pension eligibility and the operation of the means test. I am concerned with the style of advertising some of these companies have adopted. I have received complaints, and from inquiries I have made it seems that at least some of these organisations are primarily concerned with encouraging people to invest funds in their various business enterprises rather than with the welfare of the individuals involved.

While this practice may not be contrary to any specific law or necessarily against the best interests of the people responding to the advertisements, 1 do want to draw attention to the dangers of acting on advice received from persons who are not expert in the field of social services. Unfortunately it comes to my notice from time to time that wrong advice is given by self-styled experts on social services. By the time the person comes to the Department he has committed himself to a course of action which may have an effect on his pension eligibility contrary to what he was led to believe. Of course, by this time it is usually too late to retrieve the position and the person suffers as a result.

I wish to emphasise that there is no need for the public to seek information about pensions or pensioner entitlement from these organisations. With over 50 offices throughout Australia and a staff of about 4,000, my Department is geared to give prompt, courteous service and expert advice to all persons seeking information about social services. Recent widespread departmental advertising and publicity have encouraged increasing numbers of persons to avail themselves of these services and it is to be hoped that this trend will continue.

In addition, departmental leaflets about the various social services are available upon request at any Post Office or office of the Department, and a ready reckoner is available for those who wish to calculate for themselves the approximate rate of pension they may be eligible to receive. Honourable members on both sides of the House make their services available to constituents, and where there is any doubt in their minds as to the eligibility for a pension they may properly avail themselves of their contacts with my Department. The House may recall that last year I made available folders with information on social services to all honourable members, so that they would be in a better position to answer queries from their constituents.

If any honourable member is convinced that full justice is not being done in any particular case, then I am only too happy for the matter to be brought to me personally. It is my policy and the policy of my Department that anyone who has a pension entitlement under the law should receive it to the full and with the least possible delay.

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