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Tuesday, 15 April 1980
Page: 1439

Senator GRIMES (NEW SOUTH WALES) - My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, follows the question asked by Senator Townley. Is it not a fact that in the case of social security recipients, where overpayments are made by government mistake, recovery of those payments is also made, if necessary taking people to the courts to obtain those recoveries? Can the Minister explain to us what the difference is between the case of the chemists who were overpaid some $253m by government mistake and the case of age and invalid pensioners and unemployment beneficiaries who also sometimes receive overpayments through government mistake and yet are pursued to the courts?

Senator Dame MARGARET GUILFOYLE -I do not want to go into detail on a matter that is the province of my colleague the Minister for Health, as I referred to his earlier statement on this matter. However, I did say on his behalf that the amounts which can be termed overpayments by some with regard to pharmacists are not amounts that are legally recoverable. It is not a matter that is able to be pursued because it was the subject of an agreement or an arrangement between the Government and chemists. We could pursue the matter that the agreement was inaccurately based because of the error that occurred in 1974 in the compilation of the base on which those payments were made.

The overpayments which are made in the course of social security payments under the Act and for which legal entitlement can be determined are a different matter. As Senator Grimes would be aware, in some cases where overpayments have occurred as a result of departmental error, recovery is not pursued. I think that Senator Grimes has been successful in pursuing some of those matters on behalf of constituents. I think I should refer the Senate again to the statement of the Minister for Health, which sets out in sequence the events which led to the discussion on the payments made to pharmacies. I restate that anything that could be regarded by some as an overpayment during the years since 1974 is not legally recoverable.

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