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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6450

Mr GRIFFIN (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) (4:56 PM) —The shadow minister may need to reiterate aspects of her questions to me if I missed them on the way through, because of some of the specifics that have been raised. I think what we are also hitting on, on occasion, is a little bit of terminology confusion around what we are actually dealing with across both Treasury and DVA. That is not an unusual thing, and I mean nothing by saying that, other than sometimes it is a bit confusing to know exactly what we are talking about in those circumstances.

I make some basic points first which relate to aspects of what the shadow minister has raised. There is no doubt that the department has faced in recent years a challenging budgetary environment from an administrative point of view. That has predominantly been driven by a couple of things. Firstly, we are seeing a drop over time in the number of clients that the department has—that is, the passing on of an increasing number of our World War II generation, who served this country so well in its time of need. That is having impacts around the question of the number of clients that the department has responsibility for and also the nature of what issues those clients face. What that has led to—and this was a process commenced well and truly under the previous government—is a need to look at the nature of the way services are delivered and how we cut our cloth to ensure that what is required from the veteran and ex-service community is provided for from the department’s point of view.

What I can say is the previous government and this government, certainly in this area, share a number of priorities. One is to ensure that the needs of the clients—veterans, war widows and the ex-service community—that we look after are paramount. I can certainly say that the issue of impacts on services has been a priority for us and it has been a priority for the previous government to try and ensure that there is no impact on services. However, that has not meant that there has not been an impact on the nature of the way services are delivered, and this commenced under the previous government. It was a process which was in line through an administrative organisation of the department called oneDVA, which led to, in some instances, consolidation of particular services at locations. Some comments which the previous shadow minister had raised around services in Tasmania and the ACT were actually decisions effectively taken under a process commenced by the previous government and were the logical conclusion of the process put in place by the previous government. What we can say, though, is that there will be no impact on services to veterans but there will be changes in the way services are delivered.

I should also point out the basis of a large component of the financial issues the department finds itself in. Part of this relates to a resourcing agreement negotiated under the previous government between DVA and Finance, a resourcing agreement which effectively—it is quite complex—tied the formula of funding to the number of eligible clients of the department and had a process by which funding was then to be utilised for administration of the department to provide for those clients. The problem with that particular funding agreement is that it was stacked against a proper consideration of issues within the veteran portfolio. It made it harder and harder each year to deal with the needs of the ex-service community within the veteran portfolio. Effectively, with a drop-off of World War II generation veterans, it constrained the amount of money provided by the central agencies to assist DVA to deal with administrative issues.

When I became minister, I inherited a situation where dramatic decisions needed to be made around ensuring that we administered the department. I will be frank: if the department had, in my view, been a private company, what I inherited would have been something where the receivers would have been called in. There were real issues. We have been grappling with those over the past 18 months. I think the department has done a fantastic job in addressing those issues and getting it onto an even keel. There is absolutely no doubt that we have been dealing with something which should have been addressed at an earlier stage than what it was under the previous government. On the issue of special purpose payments and the circumstances around the question of service delivery through states, the basic point various— (Extension of time granted)

With respect to SPPs and service level standards, although the shadow minister mentioned the issue around the agreements between Treasuries, I am advised that the bottom line on service delivery is that there has not been a change. The circumstances are that we negotiate standards and agreements with states around the question of delivery of services. Those agreements will continue to be maintained and monitored from a federal perspective to ensure that the states provide the services required under the agreements. That will, of course, be an issue of ongoing tension between governments. We want to make sure not only that we get value for the dollars we spend on behalf of taxpayers to provide services but also that the people get the services they deserve and are entitled to receive. We will continue to be vigilant and to work with the states to make sure that the communities we serve get a fair deal in future.