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Wednesday, 21 September 1960

Mr ROBERTON (Riverina) (Minister for Social Services) . - Mr. Temporary Chairman, before they are forgotten, may I answer the two questions asked by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron)? If the honorable member had paid any attention to my secondreading speech, he would have heard me say, amongst other things, that there is to be no alteration in the application of the means test in its present form as far as income is concerned. The permissible limit for income remains at £182 per annum for a single person and at double that, of course, for a married couple if both are in receipt of a pension. Income in excess of either of those two amounts reduces the pension payable by the amount of the excess. That is the present position, and there will be no change. That is the reply to the second question of the honorable member for Hindmarsh.

Hisfirst question dealt with the merged means test, which was explained in the second-reading speech and in the discussions that have taken place since then. To-day, I made a public statement suggesting that people should make application for social service benefits under the merged means test in the new year. No useful purpose would be served by any one making an application now under the merged means test provision, because it would not be competent for the department to assess the entitlement now for a pension which could not be paid until March. The circumstances of people change from time to time, and change very rapidly. As soon as the applications are received by the department they will be processed and the assessments of entitlement will be made. That will be done in March, it is expected. It will be done then if it is physically possible.

I have already replied to the honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) and the honorable member for Scullin (Mr. Peters), who suggested that retrospective payments should be made. I repeat now what was said by the late Joseph Benedict Chifley, when he was Prime Minister, and by the late John Curtin when he was Prime Minister, when the same proposition was put to them. They said that it would not be possible to give favorable consideration to a proposal of that kind.

Mr Ward - Why not?

Mr ROBERTON - All honorable members know that it is the responsibility of the Treasurer of any Government to draw up a budget consistent with the estimates of revenue that have been approved by the Cabinet in the normal process of budgetmaking. It is the height of absurdity to expect any Treasurer to provide in a budget for retrospective payment of sums of the magnitude of those expended by my department. 1 have mentioned the honorable member for Scullin and the honorable member for Batman. I mention the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) with a great deal of disfavour. A great many members have expressed, in a variety of ways, their pleasure and delight at the introduction and prospective passing of this piece of legislation, but no honorable member has expressed greater delight and shown more enthusiasm than the honorable member for Grayndler. He is excited at the prospect of the improvement in the social services scheme of our country which will result from the passing of this legislation. Both he and his staff come to my office every day, pleading for additional copies of the explanatory documents which I provided when the Budget was introduced, pleading for additional copies of my secondreading speech, and on every occasion expressing great personal satisfaction at the prospect of the passing of the legislation.

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