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Thursday, 12 April 1973
Page: 1374

Mr COHEN (ROBERTSON, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask the Minister for Defence representing the Minister for Repatriation and, if necessary, the Minister for Health and the Minister for Social Security: What action has the Government taken to restore the medical benefits of the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners who were so affected by the last Budget? If the Government is contemplating action, will it as an interim measure consider some benefits for those wives who suffer from long term illnesses, some of whom at the moment are financially disadvantaged by heavy expenditure even if they have joined a medical benefits fund?

Mr BARNARD (BASS, TASMANIA) (Minister for Defence) - This matter is a question for the Minister for Repatriation and the Minister for Social Security. The honourable member will be aware that the policy of the Government is to provide repatriation pensions free of means test. It will also of course abolish the means test within the life of this Parliament and will provide a national health scheme. But service pensions and social security pensions are subject to a means test at this stage, and when the means test provisions have been applied the medical entitlement card, of course, has been taken away from the pensioner concerned. It is a question for consideration not only by the Minister for Repatriation but also by the Minister for Social Security. Discussions have been held on this question, and I believe it is still under consideration. I will further consult with the Minister for Repatriation and the Minister for Social Security in respect of this question. I shall draw to the notice of the Minister for Repatriation the latter part of the honourable member's question concerning the provision of short term assistance to those who are in special need and see what can be done.

Mr HAYDEN - With the indulgence of the House, Mr Speaker, might I make one short comment on this matter which I think is very important. If honourable members opposite do not want me to, I will not.

Mr SPEAKER - Is it relevant to the question just asked?

Mr HAYDEN - It is and it is a very important point. The fact is that the means test for these medical services was set in 1968 or 1969. The conditions of the means test needed the agreement of the Australian Medical Association. The AMA at that stage indicated that it was not prepared to allow any easing of the means test and this is why the means test was not eased by the last Government and has not been eased by the present Government. The Government is not in a position to ease it until further discussions take place with the AMA.

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