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Thursday, 5 August 1926

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) .- The Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce), has not given an effective reply to the case that has been made out by Senator Barnes in support of Mrs. Patterson's claim for an old-age pension. I have had considerable experience with the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Department, and have always received sympathetic treatment from it. Senator Barnes himself has admitted that the administration is sympathetic. I do not think that it is his intention - it certainly is not mine - to attack the officers who are so ably administering the act. Senator Pearce and his advisers have not been seized of the true import of the case that has been made out by Senator Barnes. The right honorable gentleman quoted sub-section 3 of section 33 of the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act, which reads -

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

The point that Senator Barnes endeavoured to emphasize, and that I again emphasize, is that allowance should be made for the ignorance of a claimant regarding age at the time of making a claim. Senator Pearce said that if such a practice were followed a claim might be made four years after a person became entitled to receive a pension,' and the claimant might ask to be given the arrears of pension. Such a case has no analogy to this. At the time that she made the claim, Mrs. Patterson thought that she was over the age which entitled her to receive a pension. . She subsequently discovered that she had understated her age by two years. There was no intention on her part to impose upon the department. Her actions prove Tier honesty. When, by reason of her own efforts, and with the assistance of the department, proof was furnished that she was entitled to a pension, it would not have been out of place for the department to have granted her the arrears to the date when she first made her claim. That would not be a straining of the law j on the contrary it would be a correct interpretation of the spirit of the act. I admit that the officers who administer the act must exercise care to prevent imposition. But if we are to be tied down to the interpretation given by the Treasury in this case the act must be amended with a view to prevent a repetition of these occurrences. The system of registration of births, which was in force at the time when present day claimants were born, was not comparable with that which exists to-day. Many claimants are put to a considerable amount of trouble to ascertain their age, and the department frequently gives assistance in that direction. The case that has been made out by Senator Barnes deserves further consideration by the department. This is a genuine and honest claim. Had the claimant been aware of her age she would have been entitled to receive a pension for the two years that preceded the date on. which she made her claim. I cannot conceive why the department should look upon the claim on which the pension was granted as a second claim, especially in view of the fact that the claimant was not endeavouring to impose upon it. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that in addition to having this matter further considered there ought to be an investigation to ascertain whether the act should be amended to prevent a repetition of injustices of this nature. Probably there are similar cases that have not been brought to the notice of the Senate. Parliament is the highest court of appeal. I join with Senator Barnes in asking the Government to review the matter. Although the amount involved is small, an important principle is at stake. If the act were properly interpreted, the applicant would receive the pension from the date of her original application. I hope that the Minister will impress upon the Cabinet and the Department the importance of acceding to this request, and taking action to prevent a similar decision being given in future.

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