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Friday, 19 April 1985
Page: 1259


Senator HEARN —My question is addressed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. He will be aware of the severe strains placed on the Department's administration and institutional staff by the rigid staff ceilings of the previous Fraser Government. What steps has he taken, and does he propose to take, to improve services for veterans who are dealing with the Department?


Senator GIETZELT —Senator Hearn's question causes me to reflect upon the policies that were applied across the board during the Fraser years in respect of all of the services provided by all Commonwealth departments for the Australian people. The across the board application of staff ceilings had the effect of restricting the Department of Veterans' Affairs in carrying out its proper functions in the various services that it provides for the 600,000 veterans. The pension process slowed down. That has been acknowledged in the debates that we have had on legislation dealing with veterans' affairs. The treatment services bogged down. I am still battling with that problem. I have even had letters from the former Treasurer asking why it takes so long for doctors' accounts to be paid. It is not because of a shortage of funds, but because of the staff ceilings that were applied when he was a member of the Fraser Government. Applications for loans for defence service homes were also bogged down, as indeed was the resolution of problems associated with various repatriation hospitals.

This Government has followed a policy to overcome the overall policies that were being pursued. We have a resource planning process which has brought about more flexible staff arrangements, including such matters as employing part time staff. I increased staff ceilings by 2.5 per cent in the first few months that we were in office and by 10.3 per cent in the following year. In the last Budget they were increased by 9.8 per cent. We have decentralised a number of services in regional areas. It is contemplated that even in the next Budget there will be staff increases which will enable us to carry out our proper responsibilities and obligations to veterans. That very starkly shows the difference between our Government's approach and that of the previous Government.