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Thursday, 28 September 1972
Page: 2124

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) (Minister for Social Services) - by leave - I apologise for having spoken at some length at question time today, but this is a matter of some interest not only to members of the House but also I think to a wide section of the community outside the House. It is a matter of interest and importance, and I seek to put the record as straight as possible. I have mentioned to the House that the Social Services Bill (No. 4) has now received the royal assent and is in operation. Existing pensioners - age, invalid and widows - will receive their increases automatically. The age and invalid pensioners will receive their increases next pay day, on Thursday next; the widows will receive their increase on 10th October. I mentioned to the House that superannuation adjustments which will date from the royal assent will not be paid for some time because of the clerical work involved, but when they are paid they will be paid retrospectively.

The important point I want to make relates to new pensioners - that is, the people who were not entitled to a pension before the new Bill became law but who are entitled to a pension under this new Act. Their entitlement will date as from the first pay period after their date of application. It may not always be possible to pay them immediately because honourable members will realise that my officers, who I would say are doing a magnificent job of work in this matter, are still very much overwhelmed by the changes which have taken place as a result of this Budget and the necessary clerical adjustments which have to be made. The payments in cash for new applicants will be made as soon as possible and will be restrospective to the first pay period after their date of application. But, as I have said, it will not be possible to pay them all in cash immediately. It is important, therefore, that people who become newly entitled should make their application as soon as possible. Their eligibility depends on their means as assessed which, as honourable members know, takes account of both their property and their income.

I turn now to the single people - that is, men aged 65 and over, women aged 60 and over, and single people medically qualified for an invalid pension. All single people should apply if they feel that their means as assessed are less than $60 a week. 1 now speak of married couples. Where the husband is over 65 or is medically qualified for an invalid pension, they both should apply if their combined means as assessed are less than $103.50 a week. In the case of wives who are not married to men who come into this category, that is, husbands not over the age of 65 and who are not medically qualified, those wives who are themselves over 60 or who would be medically qualified for an invalid pension, should apply for their own pension if their combined means as assessed are less than $103.50 a week. Let me reiterate that in the case of married couples where the husband is over 65 or is medically qualified for the invalid pension the wife, irrespective of her age, will now become pensionable. lt may not be realised yet by the House or by people outside the House how far the Government has moved in the liberalisation of the means test. In fact although it may take up to 3 years - I think it will take very much less for abolition of the means test at the age of 65. We have already moved to the point where abolition at the age of 65 will be of much less financial consequence than is generally realised because we have already taken an immense step towards it. I remind the House that many people who fall into the age or invalidity categories I have mentioned, that is, where the man is over 65 or the woman is over 60, will immediately become entitled to a pension even though the husband may still be employed in his normal job. This is something which is not generally realised. I repeat, that where a married couple's means as assessed are less than $103.50 a week they will be eligible for some, not full, supplementary pension.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - A supplementary pension?

Mr WENTWORTH - I do not mean a supplementary allowance. I mean a pension in supplement to their normal income. This is a major change which 1 draw to the attention of the House and of the people outside it because we want all those people who are eligible to make their applications as soon as possible because their entitlement to a pension will depend upon the date of their application. By publicity of various kinds we hope to get this knowledge out into the community. I ask honourable members on both sides of the House to assist in getting this knowledge out so that all those people who are eligible may apply as soon as possible. Forms are available at post offices. If there is any doubt, people can get in touch with any of our Social Service Department officers from whom they can get further explanation. But I think the general rule is to apply when in doubt. No harm will be done if a person truthfully states his position on the application form. If the application is rejected, well at least no harm will be done. But it may be that people who have an entitlement do not yet realise it and we want to cure this as soon as possible. So I give the slogan: 'When in doubt, apply for the pension and answer the questions truthfully'.

There is only one other matter to which I want to draw the attention of the House, namely, that Service pensions as distinct from social service pensions are paid by my colleague, the Minister for Repatriation (Mr Holten). I understand that the first pay day at the increased rate under the liberalised conditions will be today, and that on existing pensions the increases will be given automatically on the payment which will be going out as o ftoday for Service pensioners. The eligibility for Service pensions as regards means as assessed is virtually the same as for social service pensions but the age limits are in general 5 years less.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Does this mean that a young wife of a Service pensioner who goes onto the pension at 60 will also get the pension?

Mr WENTWORTH - I understand that is so. This is a matter within the administration of my colleague, the Minister for Repatriation, and I think you should ask him for advice on this. I thank the House for allowing me to make this statement which I think will be of vast interest not only to members of this House but also the people outside it.

Mr Cope - Mr Deputy Speaker-

Mr Foster - Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to make a statement.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!Does the honourable member for Sturt seek leave to make a statement?

Mr Foster - Yes.

Mr Chipp - What on? Arrangements have been made for the honourable member for Sydney to speak.

Mr Foster - Wait a minute. Do not jump to conclusions.

Mr Chipp - But, Mr Deputy Speaker-

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