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Tuesday, 20 October 1970

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am counting the property component of one-tenth as part of the means, yes. 1 understand the point the honourable member makes. This provision is very good as far as it goes, but when a person who has now taken the opportunity to earn a few extra dollars, knowing that he can keep half of it, suddenly finds his pension suspended and does not understand the reason and is given no figures at all, he is left in a complete quandary. Most of these people are meekly and humbly returning their cards as directed, even though in some cases it is recognised by the Department that there may be a doubt and that the Department and not the pensioner may be in error. Secondly, even where the Department is strictly applying the law - that is its obligation - there are cases which I have established where it would be only a matter of reduction of 40c in weekly means and the pensioner would be entitled to some pension without the tapered means test and, therefore, would be entitled to all of these concessions. I think it is a wicked and unnecessary thing - at least a very unnecessary thing - to shut a pensioner off from concessions which are very precious to him without pointing out to him how much he has gone over the limit.If he were told, it would be well within his power as a citizen to adjust his meansto bring himself back into the pension field.

Mr Cope - It is worth more than 40c a week in the fields of pharmaceutical and medical benefits alone.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is worth very much more to very many people, not only in terms of money but in terms of the security and assurance that these concessions give to the pensioner. I ask the Minister to direct an investigation into this matter - I know the Department has to administer the law - so that each case could be examined individually. There could not be very many thousands of them, so I suggest that the Department write to each pensioner, tell him that the information in the possession of the Department indicates that his means as assessed are so much in excess of the amount on which he is eligible to obtain a pensioner medical card, and then give him time in which either to adjust the situation or to contest the accuracy of the Department's statement. Secondly, I particularly ask the Minister why the pension is being suspended. 'Suspended' surely does not mean cancelled. 'Suspended' means stopped for further examination. Then, why is the pension suspended without a pensioner being given any opportunity to justify his cause? Why is it suspended indefinitely and why is the pensioner not given the facts on which it is suspended?

Why should not the pension and the entitlements remain while an inquiry from the pensioner's side as well as from the Department's side is pursued? I would add hopefully one other sentence, with the sentiments of which I believe the Minister may be in sympathy. As is the practice in the Taxation Branch, the Repatriation Department and many other departments, pensioners, who are citizens equal with every other citizen, should be given an appeal tribunal to which they can turn to appeal against departmental decisions which they may believe to be wrong.

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