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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2898

Senator McINTOSH (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) -Can the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation confirm that pensioners who lose their pensioner medical service card cease to be entitled to fringe benefits? What is the reason for this, and what action can be taken to avoid such situations in the future?

Senator WHEELDON (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Repatriation and Compensation) -This is a matter of some complexity which has caused some concern, and in view of the interest in the question I should like to give an answer with some precision. The loss of a pensioner medical service card means that the previous holder of the card loses his eligibility for some of the so-called fringe benefits. This is quite true. Although some concessions or fringe benefits are available to the more seriously incapacitated veterans who receive a disability pension at the special rate or the total and permanent incapacitate rate, and to war widows, fringe benefits are usually available only to those who have pensioner medical service cards issued to them by the Department of Social Security. This applies to Service pensioners as well as to age and invalid pensioners. Pensioners are eligible for pensioner medical service benefits if their means are within certain limits. There is a definition of the means, which I will not weary the Senate with, as I think that most honourable senators who are interested in the matter are aware of those levels. When the means exceed those levels pensioners cease to be eligible for the fringe benefits.

As the Senate knows, my colleague the Treasurer said in his recent Budget speech that television and radio licence fees would be abolished immediately. That, for example, was one of the fringe benefits which had been lost by those people who held pensioner medical cards. Of course, as there are now no charges for radio and television licences, the loss of that so-called fringe benefit is of no disadvantage to anybody. The Government's current policy on telephone rental concessions- another of the fringe benefits- is that the concession is given to age pensioners only if they hold a pensioner medical service card. The possibility of extending this benefit to all pensioners comes up for review when surveys of all pensioner benefits are made and the Government's priorities in the field of social security and other pensioner benefits are established.

The other fringe benefits, such as the transport concessions and the reductions in municipal and other charges which apply in some States, are given on the basis of the holding of a pensioner medical service card but they are given by the relevant State or municipal authorities. The Federal Government has no control over what the State or municipal authorities may do on this matter. In the past they have determined that the people who hold these cards are entitled to certain benefits. It is entirely up to the States and the local government authorities to make a determination as to whether they wish to continue to provide those benefits. I am afraid that that is not in the hands of the Federal Government.

That, in short, is the position. I think that on balance most pensioners are better off, although 1 believe that it has to be conceded that owing to the changes in the whole structure of the pension system there are some people who should receive the so-called fringe benefits who do not receive them. But, in general, 1 think that it would be conceded that their position overall is better than it was previously.

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