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Thursday, 13 October 1988
Page: 1665

Mr TIM FISCHER(10.35) —I rise tonight to reject the comments made by the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Johns). It is interesting that he finds the need to get up and dissect the coalition's veterans' affairs policy. The reason is that that policy is being well accepted in the veterans constituency and the war widows constituency right around Australia, because it is all about a fair go for veterans after three years of cutbacks and complex changes imposed by this Federal Labor Government.

Let me spell out some of those cutbacks and complex changes. How can we justify, for example, the decision in the May 1985 mini-Budget which imposed a $300 limit on several categories of dental treatment, with no consumer price index adjustment, with the result that a number of veterans have suffered directly in terms of their dental health care and have been denied that dental care to which they are truly entitled? That is just one cutback. What about the halving of the country travel allowance by the stroke of a pen, from some 27c a kilometre to 11c a kilometre with just a slight upward adjustment since 1985? Again that is a real cutback on veterans. As my colleague the honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGauran) has pointed out, they are just two of the many cutbacks imposed since May 1985 which have hit hard at the veterans, the war widows, the ex-Service personnel and indeed the serving personnel ahead of their retirement.

I will track back through some of the other cutbacks to refresh the memory of the honourable member. Look at the 2 per cent cutback on Defence Force retirement benefits pensions, the one the Government said it would fix up. It still has not fixed it up, not even in the most recent Budget. What we have had over the last three years and five months is a range of cutbacks and a range of complex changes which are bitterly resented by the veterans. One has only to meet with the Returned Services League, with war widows organisations, with the Australian Veterans and Defence Service Council and other organisations to get the real thinking of these people. That is why the Liberal and National parties came out with a policy entitled `A fair go for veterans', one which provided a series of initiatives which it ill becomes the honourable member to rubbish, because those initiatives are in accord with and arise from discussions with veterans' organisations, and are in accord with and arise from in part, in fact in anticipation of, the report of the Veterans' Entitlements Act Monitoring Committee.

During the winter recess I finalised, and shadow Cabinet and a joint party meeting approved, the veterans' affairs policy. I launched that during the winter recess, to very strong acclaim I might add from a wide cross-section of veteran office bearers. A month later came the independent Monitoring Committee report which was in accord with, and picked up, our policy centrepiece of the extreme disablement adjustment, which has subsequently been picked up in the Budget. So our policy was the catalyst for the introduction of the extreme disablement adjustment, and it is merely a step along the path to rectifying that totally and permanently incapacitated pension anomaly which this same Labor Government created in the May 1985 mini-Budget.

I totally reject what the honourable member for Petrie has told the House tonight. I believe our policy represents a very careful, constructive and responsible alternative to the approach of the Federal Labor Party over the last three years in particular, and one which is welcomed by veterans at large right across Australia.

The Government made the announcement this week about `Westpacing' the defence service home loans scheme. It said, `Wait until we spell out the details and ramifications associated with that announcement next week'. In making that announcement the Government failed to provide portability to all existing loan holders-another centrepiece of the alternative coalition policy on veterans' affairs. Clearly, the honourable member for Petrie has failed in making out his case here tonight. We are all about a fair go for those who have served their country in time of war. I take this opportunity to salute and to wish well all those veterans who are gathering in Melbourne for the Vietnam veterans international reunion which is being held this weekend.