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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 297

Mr LEE(6.51) —I add my congratulations to those of the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) to the New South Wales State Minister for Planning and Environment in making the right decision in not proceeding with the Bayer company's proposal to build a factory at Kurnell. I am glad to see that the New South Wales Labor Government's fairly earned reputation for protecting the environment has once again been shown to be correct.

Tonight my comments will be directed to the Veterans' Affairs portfolio. I am pleased to see that the very capable shadow Minister, the honourable member for Farrer (Mr Tim Fischer), is in the chamber. I am sure he is well aware that a large number of veterans throughout Australia are concerned at rumours that the Department of Veterans' Affairs is to be abolished and perhaps amalgamated with either the Department of Social Security or the Department of Community Services.

Mr Humphreys —That is a vicious rumour by Mr Ruxton.

Mr LEE —It would be of great interest to Mr Ruxton. I am sure that a large number of honourable members have received letters from veterans from Returned Services League sub-branches seeking assurances that neither the Government nor the Opposition intends to abolish the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I am pleased to say that both the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs (Senator Gietzelt) have given guarantees both to the Labor Caucus, in the Prime Minister's case, and to the Senate, in Senator Gietzelt's case, that the Labor Government has no proposals to abolish the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

I am very keen to know-I know that a large number of veterans are keen to know-what the Opposition's policy is on proposals by the New Right to abolish the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I wish to quote from an interesting article in last week's Bulletin magazine regarding an interview with the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly), who is the Opposition spokesman on Public Service reform. The article states:

Howard is toying with the idea of introducing a ``super-ministry'' structure in which some portfolios would effectively be relegated to junior status and their ministers made accountable to an inner cabinet corps.

It goes on:

Replacement of the existing structure of 27 federal ministers with 25, including 10 cabinet ministers to whom 15 junior ministers would report.

It is quite clear that two departments would disappear. I wish to know which two departments the Opposition intends to abolish. If one looks at the advice coming to it from groups of the New Right, such as the Australian Institute for Public Policy, one sees some interesting departments being nominated for abolition. I quote from a paper produced in 1985 when the Labor Government was looking at expenditure cutbacks. It is well known that that Institute's journal is produced by Brian Buckley, who used to work for the former Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, Sir Phillip Lynch. After going through a series of recommendations for expenditure cuts, Mr Buckley commented:

It is also recommended that some departments be abolished: Arts, Heritage and the Environment and Sport, Recreation and Tourism for example. In a really draconian exercise many other departments and programmes could have been listed: Veterans' Affairs, Special Minister of State, Resources and Energy, to name but three.

So there we have it. The New Right argues that the Department of Veterans' Affairs should be considered as a department to be abolished. I know that all honourable members on this side of the chamber would be totally opposed to the proposals put forward by the New Right and its friends in the Liberal and National parties to abolish the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

I was also interested in an aside-perhaps it was a slip never intended-by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard) in an interview on the Carleton-Walsh Report last night. Mr Max Walsh said:

Well Sir Joh argues, as much as one can gather from what his policy is, that he will cut expenditure.

The Leader of the Opposition replied:

Well, I would like to see where. I mean, I've got more expenditure cutting nerve than anybody in the Parliament and I'll match it against him. I mean, his own record in Queensland doesn't bear great scrutiny-

I agree with that comment-

but the reality is that if you really want to cut personal tax you've got to cut spending in a way it's never been cut before, and if you want to go further, you've got to broaden the indirect tax base.

Mr Walsh went on to ask:

Can you tell me where you'd cut expenditure?

The Leader of the Opposition replied:

Well, I'll tell you where I'd cut. I'd abolish a lot of departments. I would abolish a lot of commissions.

Mr Andrew —Hear, hear!

Mr LEE —The honourable member for Wakefield says: `Hear, hear'. The Opposition would like to abolish a lot of departments. Can it tell us which departments it would abolish? Can it give us a guarantee? Will the Leader of the Opposition come clean and tell us whether he intends to abolish the Department of Veterans' Affairs?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.