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Wednesday, 24 May 1972
Page: 3057

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - I asked the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) to come into the chamber tonight because I want to raise 2 matters with him. The first matter concerns Mrs Marion Bowden of 63 Pacific Highway, Ourimbah. I have received her permission to raise this matter in the House. In a letter to the Minister I wrote:

Mrs Bowdenis a British migrant who came to Australia 6 years ago with her 2 sons and is in receipt of a British widow's pension of $34.29 per month. She also receives $8.60 per fortnight which is an indefinite sickness benefit payable in the United Kingdom. This latter pension is paid to Mrs Bowden owing to her incapacity due to 2 plastic valves in her heart. Once having left Great Britain, further increases in pension are not payable to recipients.

In recent years Mrs Bowden has been living at Ourimbah with her 2 sons and has been able to exist through some assistance from their salaries. However, one son has now married and the other one plans marriage in the next few months. This will leave Mrs Bowden with approximately $51 per month income of which she pays $40 per month in rent for her house at Ourimbah.

I recognise that under the Act Mrs Bowden is receiving her just entitlement. However, I think it is a weakness in the Act and in the arrangement between Australia and Great Britain that once a person in her situation leaves Great Britain there is no increase above the level of social service payments received from Great Britain and she is not entitled to an Australian pension until she has been here for 10 years. Mrs Bowden arrived in Australia on 18th February 1966. At that stage she had had one heart operation and she has had a second heart operation in Australia. Her cider son works for the New South Wales Department of Main Roads. He is aged 25 years and is to marry in September. Her younger son, aged 24 years, is married and works at the Gosford abattoir. I am sure that honourable members will be aware that young men working in those sorts of jobs would be on the minimum salary. The maximum they would be receiving would be between $50 and$55.

Mr Pettitt - At the abattoir he would get a lot more with overtime.

Mr COHEN - You arc quite wrong. Most of the abattoir workers are on bare minimum wages. Because there is a shortage of work the abattoir can get workers on the basic salary. I do not know whether he is a slaughterman, but I understand that he is on that sort of salary. Mrs Bowden was widowed at the age of 21 years. Her husband died when he was 21 years old. She has had a very hard life. Her 2 sons have been supporting her but can no longer do so. I do not know what can be done in this instance, but I have known of specific cases in which it has been possible to arrange for a woman to receive an extra payment. I have raised previously with the Minister the case of the grandmother of a German migrant who, strictly speaking, was not entitled to a pension. However, through the generosity of the Minister she received a pension of, I think, $10 a week. If anything can be done to help Mrs Bowden, I ask that it be done. It is inconceivable to me that in this country a woman can pay in rent $40 out of her monthly income of $51, leaving her with$11 a month to survive.

The other case I wish to raise is rather long and detailed and I hope that I can get through it in the 5 minutes remaining to me. I have not previously mentioned it to the Minister and I will forgive him if he does not have all the details with him. The woman concerned is Mrs Dorothea Kathleen Wright of 186 Scenic Road, Budgewoi. I wrote to the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten):

Mrs Wright,who is a ward of Legacy, is in receipt of a full war widow's pension from your

Department. Mrs Wright's 2 youngest children, Suzanne Mary (born IS.12.S7) and Paul Joseph (born 21.6.62) are also repatriation beneficiaries.

Some years ago it was discovered that Mrs Wright had been receiving both a war widow's pension and a social services pension to which she was not apparently entitled, after the granting of the war widow's pension.

On 2nd March 1966 Mrs Wright received a notice from the War Pensions Entitlement Appeal Tribunal informing her that the appeal relating to the death of her late husband had been allowed and that payment would be back dated to 15th February 1965 from when her appeal had been made. Apparently what happened was that due to a computer error by the Department an amount of $1,900 was paid to Mrs Wright without deducting $1,659.85 that had been paid to her as a civilian widow. Mrs Wright had contacted the Department and suggested that she had been overpaid but was informed that the amount she had received was correct. Some time later when the error was discovered and Mrs Wright's story verified, it was decided by the Department to deduct moneys from her pension until the full amount had been recovered.

Initially Mrs Wright was employed and until 4th October 1967 an amount of $600 had been recovered leaving a balance of $1,059.85 whilst $12 of an education allowance she had also been overpaid was recovered, leaving a balance of $44.58. Since that date fortnightly deductions of $4 have been made due to the fact that Mrs Wright had stopped working. It would appear that Mrs Wright still owes the Department approximately $700.

I would appreciate it if you would give details of the exact amount owing by Mrs Wright . . .

I mentioned that Mrs Wright suffered 2 heart attacks and was in Concord Hospital for 3 weeks. I went on:

Herlife has not been an easy one having brought up 3 children, 2 of whom are still of school age and also she has suffered the loss of her husband at the age of 38. Her husband had tor some 2 years prior to his death been an invalid pensioner . . ,

I believe there has been a serious mistake. I received a letter in reply from the Minister for Repatriation. He is net under fire now: the fact is that initially the matter went to the Repatriation Department and the Minister in his letter basically agreed with what I have said. He wrote:

Although the money was not deducted from her arrears by the Repatriation Department, the actual overpayment is a social services responsibility and any recommendation that the balance of the overpayment be written off would bc a matter for decision by the Department of Social Services.

I think it has been accepted that the overpayment was an error by the Department. Certainly there is no suggestion that Mrs

Wright was in any way deceitful. Mrs Wright claims that she contacted the Department but that does not appear in these letters. Neither the Minister for Repatriation nor the Minister for Social Services has disagreed with this proposition. I think there is a case for the outstanding amount of $647.85 to be waived. The final letter dated 30th November 1971 from the Minister for Social Services did in fact reject the request that the debt be waived. I believe that this matter should be further investigated because this woman has a tremendous task in front of her. She has had 2 heart attacks, she is a widow with 3 children and she is trying to survive on a very poor living wage.

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