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Tuesday, 9 October 1984
Page: 1444

Senator COLEMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I am aware that the Collie Mail may not be high on the list of reading priorities for the Minister, so I draw his attention to allegations made last week by the honourable member for Forrest, Mr Peter Drummond. As part of the general fear campaign of the Opposition, Mr Drummond alleges that the Government intends to abolish the dependants' pensions. Further, he says that delays in the introduction of the Veterans Entitlements Bill are leading people to think that the Government wants to wait until after the election before making unpopular changes to the principal Act. Will the Minister now set the record straight on both of those matters?

Senator GIETZELT —The statement made by Mr Drummond and published in the Collie Mail in Western Australia is very misleading and can be described only as an act of desperation by a candidate contesting the forthcoming election. There is absolutely no truth at all in the assertion that the Government intends to abolish dependants' pensions for the wives of totally and permanently incapacitated pensioners. There has never been any suggestion that the abolition of the $8.10 per fortnight paid to wives of TPI pensioners is being considered in respect of the Veterans Entitlements Bill. There has never been any suggestion that the wives of disability pensioners would lose any part of their dependants' pensions. But I must say that, after the advice was handed to me by the advisory committee that reviewed veterans' legislation dating from 1920 onwards, some consideration was given to providing an option for dependants' pensions to be commuted to a lump sum equal to three years of fortnightly pension. That proposal was canvassed because some dependants' pensions amounted to as little as 30c a week and, therefore, it was costing more than it was worth to post such an amount to a dependant.

However, if the honourable member for Forrest or, for that matter, any other member of the Opposition is concerned that dependants' pensions may be threatened, it might be appropriate for me to remind the Senate and the honourable member for Forrest that the dependants' allowance for children has not been increased for 32 years and that in respect of wives has not been increased for 20 years. So if the Opposition is concerned about the low amount, it had plenty of opportunities, in all the years since the dependants' allowance was last increased, to take legislative action while it was in government. The previous Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Senator Messner, made the point on many occasions-and correctly so in my view-that successive governments were giving priority to increasing the main pensions for ex-service men and women so that the whole family could benefit. I stress that there is no truth whatever in the assertion that the Veterans' Entitlement Bill has not been introduced in this session of the Parliament because unpopular decisions are being proposed in the legislation. That is not the reason why the Parliament has not been able to deal with the legislation this session.