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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1855

Senator ZAKHAROV —Has the attention of the Minister for Veterans' Affairs been drawn to an article in the Sunday Telegraph of 14 October headed 'Lost: A Chance at Life'? Is the article correct in claiming that the right to practice of private limb makers is threatened by Government policies and that this will mean the loss of independence and of a normal lifestyle for many amputees?

Senator GIETZELT —I have anticipated for the last couple of days a question in respect of the free limb scheme, having regard to a number of representations and letters from members of parliament, including members of the Opposition, and also Press and radio statements seeking some clarification of the Government's position in respect of the free limb scheme which is operated by the Department of Veterans' Affairs and provides free limbs not only to veterans but also to civilians throughout Australia. I cannot understand the campaign that is being waged. For example, one of my departmental officers was able to record a statement made on a radio program at 4.30 a.m. today which claimed that I was nationalising the industry. That, of course, is quite absurd. What happened was that some 18 months ago I reversed a decision made by the razor gang of the previous Government and put a freeze on the participation of any further private manufacturers in the free limb scheme. That meant that there would be competition between the public sector, known as the Government Repatriation Artificial Limbs and Appliance Centre, or RALAC, and the private manufacturers. The ratio between the two sectors has been maintained pretty well during most of the last financial year. Currently something like 57 per cent of limbs are being provided by the private sector as against 43 per cent by the public sector.

I want to refute the absurd allegations that somehow or other private manufacturers are being disadvantaged by the decision I made 18 months ago. Really, they are griping about a situation which resulted from action taken by the previous Government. The Fraser Government, having made a decision with respect to the free limb scheme, then realised that the cost factor was increasing and engaged a firm of consultants, Deloitte, Haskins and Sells, to set a pricing formula. The consultants reported to me because the government had changed and I had become the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I accepted the pricing structure recommendations of the consultants appointed by the previous Government. It is only now that the pricing structure is being applied that this unscrupulous campaign is being waged against the Government in which it is being suggested that somehow or other we are affecting the capacity of companies to operate in this area.

As a result of the decision made by the previous Government the cost to my Department rose by some 24 per cent. Therefore, there was a need to establish a proper pricing formula so that the cost structure in place before the razor gang decision could be maintained. Just to put the record straight, I table the document my Department has provided to me which indicates that the private sector manufacturers are doing very well out of the free limb scheme. I just wonder how the private sector can use amputees as part of a propaganda campaign to undermine the Government's effective control of the cost structures of the free limb scheme.