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Wednesday, 1 October 1958

Mr ROBERTON (Riverina) (Minister for Social Services) . - by leave - The act providing for supplementary assistance to pensioners will be proclaimed to commence on Wednesday, 15th October, and supplementary assistance will be paid on the first pension pay days following this proclamation.

This means that qualifying age and invalid pensioners will be able to receive their first payment of supplementary assistance on Thursday, 23rd October, and qualifying widow pensioners on Tuesday, 28th October.

Service pensioners qualifying for supplementary assistance under the Repatriation Act will be able to receive their first payment of supplementary assistance on Thursday, 16th October.

The Government, in fixing the date of proclamation, necessarily took into account the administrative task involved in making payments, and I am pleased to say, Mr. Speaker, has been able to bring that date forward to 15th October, which is earlier than that originally expected.

Last week and to-day, a number of questions were put to me regarding the qualifications for supplementary assistance. These questions showed that considerable confusion exists in the minds of honorable members regarding the qualifications for, and the disqualifications from, the receipt of supplementary assistance, which, of course, is an entirely new form of social service benefit.

In order to make the position quite clear I would like to refer to the provisions of the act, and to the principles under which the Director-General will exercise the discretionary powers vested in him by this Parliament under the act.

In the first place an age, invalid or widow pensioner may qualify for supplementary assistance only if the Director-General " is satisfied that he requires supplementary assistance by reason of the fact that he pays rent and is entirely dependent on his pension ".

Before the question of eligibility can arise, there must be two elements present - First, the pensioner must pay rent; secondly, he must be entirely dependent on his pension.

When these two elements are present it is for the Director-General to satisfy himself that the pensioner requires supplementary assistance because of them.

Quite clearly, there will be cases of pensioners paying nominal rents. In such cases, though the two elements were present, it would be open to the Director-General to decide that the pensioner did not require supplementary assistance.

Some discussion has occurred on the meaning of the element " entirely dependent on his pension ". This is exclusively covered in the act - and I quote from the act - ". . . . the Director-General may treat a pensioner as being entirely dependent on his pension if that pensioner is dependent on his pension to such an extent that the Director-General considers it just to do so "

Mr Ward - What does that mean?

Mr ROBERTON - I shall tell the honorable member if he does not understand.

Where the pensioner has little means other than his pension, it would obviously be just to treat that pensioner as being entirely dependent upon his pension, and the Director-General will do so. The working rule he will apply is that a single pensioner with up to 10s. a week will be considered entirely dependent on his pension. In the case of a married couple, one a pensioner, they may have up to £1 a week between them, and the pensioner will still be regarded as entirely dependent upon his pension.

To clarify the position further, I might add that where a pensioner has sufficient property to cause, on the application of the means test, a reduction in the maximum rate of pension, he will not then be regarded as entirely dependent upon his pension.

There may be other circumstances. It is not possible to foresee and decide, as hypothetical cases, all the combinations of a pensioner's financial and domestic arrangements.

As already pointed out to the House by the Treasurer (Sir Arthur Fadden) in the Budget speech and by me in my secondreading speech, supplementary assistance will be payable to qualified single pensioners and to qualified married persons where only one of the couple is in receipt of a pension and the other is not in receipt of an allowance.

The purpose of supplementary assistance is to relieve hardship and improve the circumstances of those who qualify. This, I am sure - and the Parliament has agreed - it will do.

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