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Tuesday, 15 October 1974
Page: 1696

Senator LAWRIE (QUEENSLAND) - I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security. In the recent increase in pensions, why was the blind pensioner's allowance of $6 a fortnight reduced to $3 a fortnight, which had the effect of giving blind pensioners an increase of only $7 a fortnight when all other pensioners received an increase of $10 a fortnight? In view of the great disabilities suffered by the blind, will the Minister urgently take action to see that this allowance is restored without delay and thus give justice to these pensioners?

Senator WHEELDON (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Repatriation and Compensation) -Senator Lawrie was courteous enough to let me know that he intended to ask a question on this subject. I have obtained some information on the matter from the Minister for Social Security. In fact, the reduction of the allowance to which he refers results from the phasing in of the abolition of the means test by the Labor Government. On 11 September last year the Government announced the first phase of its program to abolish the means test on age pensions. The first phase applied to all residentially qualified people aged 75 or more. In the same year the Income Tax Assessment Act was amended to make pensions and similar benefits payable to people of pensionable age, that is, 65 years for men and 60 for women, taxable, as from 1 July 1973. Pensions for the blind have been wholly free of a means test since 1954. The abolition of the means test therefore conferred no benefit on blind people. But the decision to tax those pensions received by persons of pensionable age would have been to the detriment of blind age pensioners. They were not receiving any additional pension but they were to be taxed due to the imposition of tax on pensions. This applied particularly in those cases where they had significant amounts of taxable income other than the pension.

To look after the interests of blind people who were in these circumstances a transitional benefit for the aged blind was introduced by this Government. On 1 1 September last we announced that the benefit would be payable at the rate of $3 a week. I should stress that when Senator Lawrie talks about our taking away a benefit, it is a benefit which we introduced, not one which we inherited from the previous Liberal-Country Party Government. The $3 a week benefit was designed to alleviate any financial disability which blind persons of pensionable age might experience when their pensions became taxable. I think it must be emphasised that when the Minister for Social Security gave his second reading speech on the Social Services Bill (No. 2) 1974 he said:

As its name implies, the transitional benefit was intended to be phased out over subsequent years as increases in pension rates improved the benefit rate to these pensioners.

As there was a substantial increase in the means test pensions in August of this year, the Government decided that the first step should be taken to phase out this transitional benefit. Accordingly, a reduction of $1.50 a week was made in the amount of benefit payable to these people. The single age pensioner who is blind would nevertheless have received a substantial increase of $3.50 a week. So the total of the pension received by the blind person, far from being decreased as Senator Lawrie 's question would suggest, has in fact been increased as a result of the actions of this Government.

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