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Thursday, 16 May 1985
Page: 2116

Senator WALSH (Minister for Finance)(6.44) —I will look at the things that Senator Vanstone and Senator Tate have said. I do not think that Senator Cooney's comments relate to any ministerial responsibility. I have some information which I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard regarding a question that was put to the Minister for Education, Senator Ryan, by Senator Macklin yesterday regarding veterans' affairs entitlements.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows:-

The Acting Minister for Veterans' Affairs has made the point that the changes in Repatriation legislation foreshadowed in the Treasurer's statement will be made independently of the earlier Government proposal to consolidate and simplify the Repatriation legislation through the Veterans' Entitlements Bill.

The Veterans' Entitlements Bill will be introduced into the Parliament, as a separate measure, before the end of the current sittings. The Bill will not be debated until the Budget sittings, which will give ex-service organisations and other interested bodies a period of several months to study the Bill and make recommendations to the Government.

As regards the amendments to section 47 of the Repatriation Act, the Government has taken the view that they are necessary because of court decisions. The O'Brien decision, by a 3-2 majority of the High Court, effectively meant that a disability pension claim could succeed even where there was no evidence or any other material to point to a connection between the disability or death of a veterans and his or her service. That interpretation was never intended when the legislation was introduced. Any earlier statements about retaining section 47 were made before the High Court's decision in the O'Brien case.

The Acting Minister has also made the point that to refer to cuts of $123.6m in the Veterans' Affairs portfolio is misleading since it combines the Government's initiatives under the Repatriation legislation, Defence Force Re-establishment Loans legislation and the Defence Service Homes legislation.

It is widely accepted that the changes to the arrangements for Defence Service Home loans will benefit eligible participants by providing greater access to home loan finances, by removing the $25,000 ceiling on the loan amount and the 10-month waiting period, and through efficiency gains in more appropriate management of home loan funds.

I would draw the attention of honourable senators to a very sensible and well balanced article on this issue at page 49 of today's Australian Financial Review.

Moreover, the latter two initiatives relating to re-establishment loans and DSH loans are more properly regarded as falling wholly or largely within the ambit of serving personnel rather than of veterans. Therefore, Senator Macklin's figure of cuts of $123.6m in veterans' programs is, to say the least, grossly misleading. These two programs comprise the lion's share of the figure he cites.

It is also important to note that leaving aside the DSH savings, savings on veterans' programs represent 5.1 per cent of the total savings announced on 14 May, while in fact the Veterans' Affairs portfolio comprises 5.1 per cent of the 1985-86 Forward Estimates. By no means, therefore can veterans programs be said to be bearing a disproportionate share of the savings burden.

Senator Macklin has referred to the onus of proof being reversed. Section 25 of the Repatriation Act provides that no onus of proof shall be imposed on a claimant. That section will remain unchanged, as will section 47 (1) of the present Act. I remind Senator Macklin that the majority of World War II veterans will continue to have their disability pension claims determined on the basis of the criminal standard of proof.

Finally, I call on honourable senators to adopt a sensible attitude to proposed changes to repatriation provisions by not exaggerating their impact and by refraining from causing unnecessary alarm to most veterans and war widows who, as current beneficiaries, will be completely unaffected by these changes.

Senator WALSH —The information sets the record straight on a number of things, but in particular it gives the lie to the assertion that the Veterans' Affairs portfolio has been hit disproportionately hard in the expenditure savings statement made last Tuesday. I expect the Press will be interested in the statement. Copies of the statement which I have incorporated may be obtained from my office.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Senate adjourned at 6.46 p.m.