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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 240


Senator MACKLIN —I address my question to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. During the debate on the Repatriation Legislation Amendment Bill last year the Minister promised dramatic improvements in the waiting time for veterans who apply for pensions. Is it not the case that there has been no improvement and that the Department expects that there will now be no improvement probably until 1986 and that, indeed, in some veteran categories times are likely to be longer rather than shorter before their pensions are processed?


Senator GIETZELT —It is a fact that the Senate passed legislation which was designed to change and rationalise the existing determining system which deals with the repatriation Acts and that as from 1 January that system came into full time operation. Appointments were made in September-October last year. Training courses were engaged in and the new officers are carrying out their responsibilities. It is true that there are some difficulties in getting the system fully operational. However, those difficulties vary from State to State. I was informed yesterday by the Secretary to my Department, that for example, the scheme is working very very well in New South Wales and that we are ahead of our schedule in respect of overcoming a backlog of over 25,000 cases in the existing system.

I think one of the difficulties is that the advocates who present the case on behalf of veterans to the new single determining officer system are often not aware of the fact that the system removes the restraints that hitherto existed and in fact removes many of the obstacles to the pension applications being dealt with in the way in which they should be. It is no longer the case that the system operates in an adversary situation. Some of the delays that have taken place are not the result of the system itself but of the failure of many of the advocates to appreciate the changes that are inherent in the legislation. What I have said is not a criticism of the advocates; it is just that they have not adjusted to the new system quickly enough to appreciate that the Government's objective is to get the system operating so that an application by a veteran who desires a pension or an increase in a pension will not be subject to a year's delay. We believe that the objective of reducing that time to three months will still be met during 1985.