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Tuesday, 20 October 1970

Pensioner medical entitlement card, pension card and transport concession fares certificate are returned herewith as requested by you.

There is a space for the signature. That is the only right the pensioner has - to put his name to it. I think the Department should have added the words: 'Yours obediently' or 'Yours humbly, obediently', because the whole procedure smacks to me of the master State giving instructions to its slaves rather than of the State being the servant and the citizen being the master.

The thing that I want particularly to bring to the Minister's attention is that only the very vaguest reason is given in these form letters for the action taken. One version of the form letter, which I believe has gone out by the thousand, says:

Because of your financial circumstances your pension is now payable solely as a result of the taps red means test, and you can no longer be enrolled in the pensioner medical service.

There is no other information at all. The words 'because of your financial circumstances' convey nothing to anybody. The other version of the letter says:

Because of your financial circumstances your pension has been suspended, and you can no longer be enrolled in the pensioner medical service.

Then follows the requirement for the pensioner to return his entitlement and concession cards and a statement as to how to join a hospital and medical benefit fund.

These impersonal letters, coming as they do without any warning or inquiry, hit the pensioner like a totally unexpected blow in the face. 1 have seen this happen. Not only can he find himself suddenly deprived of his few cents of pension - and these people are in the main receiving only a few cents - with no indication as to whether it will ever be restored, not only is he told it is suspended without being told until when or how, but also he finds himself abruptly deprived of his medical entitlement which, as the House knows, is almost the most precious possession of many an aged man or woman. That medical card is their security; it is their comfort; it is their assurance of the help of a doctor whenever they might need it. Indeed, to some it is much more precious than the pension itself. A few pensioners who have received this letter - not more than half a dozen or so - have called on me in deep distress which has verged on despair. J am sure that some other honourable members have had a similar experience.

I emphasise to the House, and particularly to the Minister for Social Services, thatI am not quarrelling with the law under which this situation arises. I and the Party to whichI belong are committed to the abolition of the means test by successive stages over several years. I have stood for the abolition of the means test ever since I made my maiden speech in this House 27 years ago. But while the means test remains, the tapered means test is a good thing. It was established by the Gorton Government. Personally I was glad to see the Government adopt this proposal, which I had so frequently urged upon it. In my book it is entitled to the credit for it, but this is to be set against the very serious and grievous discredits which it has in the social services field. The tapered means test has made a difference to pen sioners. Single pensioners formerly could not earn more than $25 a week - $15 pension and $10 means - and married couple pensioners could not earn more than $47 a week. These people who were faced with a brick wall of sub-standard living can now have extra means and lose only half of those extra earnings in pension. If they earn an extra $1, their pension is reduced by 50c. A single pensioner can now earn up to $40 a week and a married couple can earn up to $70 a week.

Mr Cope - That is provided a single pensioner has less than $419 and a pensioner couple less than $831.

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