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Wednesday, 5 September 1928

Mr SCULLIN (Yarra) .- The proposed improvements of the law, so far as they go, will meet with no opposition. The liberalization of the act in regard to returned soldiers will affect very few in the immediate future, because a soldier to be 65 to-day would have had to enlist at 51, and as the maximum age for enlistment was 45 years, such a man could have gained acceptance for active service only by taking six years off his age. Although the Treasurer said that the Commonwealth cannot pay two pensions for the same incapacity, the reasons advanced by him for excluding a soldier's war pension from calculation as income could be applied to an invalid pension equally as well as to an old-age pension. However, the extension of the principle would cost the Commonwealth a lot of money and probably that influenced the Treasurer against it. I have heard of strange anomalies in regard to soldiers suffering permanent disability. Such men have been refused a war pension on the ground that their disability was not due to military service, and when they have applied for an invalid pension they have been told that they were not eligible because their disability had been contracted outside Australia. Thus one department tells the soldier that his disability was not caused by the war, and another department tells him that it was. In some cases, but not all, these anomalies have been adjusted. Again, a permanently incapacitated soldier may be receiving a small war pension in respect of only part of his incapacitation, the other part being due to other than war causes. The determination of whether his permanent incapacity occurred in Australia or out of it, raises a very fine point. This bill does not propose any amendments to meet defects of this character in the act. The rectification of the anomaly in regard to inmates of institutions is long overdue. The Treasurer was not right in suggesting that this anomaly merely grew out of the gradual increase of the .pension; it was always recognized by honorable members on this side of the House, and repeated attempts were made by us to have it rectified. Yet time after time Ministers have denied the existence of an anomaly and said that the non-payment of a full pension in respect of inmates in institutions was justified. It is a remarkable fact that time and again, after the Labour party has advocated a reform for years, it is belatedly introduced by our opponents, who take to themselves all the kudos. I propose briefly to draw the Treasurer's attention to several other anomalies that should have received attention in this bill. Probably the greatest injustice in connexion with the administration of the Old-age and Invalid Pensions Act is the deduction made from the pension in respect of property other than the house in which the pensioner lives. According to an interpretation of the law given by the Attorney-General's Department some years ago, the Commissioner of Pensions has to take into account not only the rental received from such property but also its capital value. A pensioner who is obliged to reside with a son or daughter vacates his little cottage and lets it for a small rental. Not only is the amount of the rental deducted from the pension, but for every £10 of capital value over £50 a further £1 is taken off the pension. The result often is that the whole amount of the pension is wiped out. I am convinced that the officials who administer the act are not in sympathy with this double deduction. Probably an even greater hardship is imposed on a person who is totally, but not permanently, incapacitated. Admittedly it is not easy to draw the line determining where the granting of pensions shall stop; there is a danger that a person suffering a temporary illness may claim a pension on the ground of total incapacity. But if the incapacitation is prolonged, the sufferer should be entitled to a pension even though there is a prospect of ultimate recovery. I am pleased to know that often this provision is not too rigorously administered. A doctor may say that the patient will not recover for three or four years.

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