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Monday, 20 May 1985
Page: 2128


Senator HEARN —I refer the Minister representing the Acting Minister for Veterans' Affairs to recent public comments by Senator Macklin relating to changes to veterans' entitlements in the Treasurer's May economic statement. Can the Minister say whether Senator Macklin is correct in his claim that repatriation beneficiaries have suffered disproportionately to the rest of the community as a result of the measures announced in that statement and whether in his comments he has accurately described those measures and their effects on veterans' entitlements?


Senator RYAN —I am advised that the comments by Senator Macklin in regard to the veterans' entitlements are in many respects grossly inaccurate and misleading. His first claim, that veterans have borne a disproportionate share of expenditure cuts, is without foundation. I refer honourable senators to the answer to Senator Macklin's question to me last Wednesday which was incorporated in Hansard during the adjournment debate last Thursday. This answer shows that veterans in effect bore 5 per cent of cuts even though the Department of Veterans' Affairs accounts for 5.1 per cent of Budget appropriations.

When Senator Macklin referred to specific measures in the statement he made a number of misrepresentations. Transport entitlements for sick veterans travelling to and from repatriation hospitals are unaffected, contrary to his claim. Pharmaceutical benefits of service pensioners with service related disabilities are also unaffected. Those without such disabilities are covered under the national health scheme on the same basis as other pensioners. There are no cuts in veterans' spectacles entitlements and none are proposed. In fact, veterans will now have direct access to optometrists. Cuts in dental entitlements are anything but drastic and relate only to non-service related dental treatment. This will be limited to $300 per pensioner per year, which is still very generous by community standards. Veterans will now have access to dental prosthetists for the first time. There will be no cutback in the care of veterans in psychiatric institutions, merely a review in the light of falling demands for such services. Further, Senator Macklin belittled the view that the High Court judgment in the O'Brien case has serious implications for pension determination and spending.


Senator Chipp —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I put the question to you, sir: Is this not an abuse of Question Time?


Senator Gareth Evans —Ha, ha!


Senator Chipp —Ministers may laugh contemptuously if they want to, but I remind them that they do not have control of this chamber. The Minister is now on her second page. Would it not be more appropriate for this matter to be handled by way of a ministerial statement so all honourable senators may debate it?


The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister was asked a detailed question about repatriation benefits and statements made by Senator Macklin. I do suggest to the Minister that her answer is getting a bit lengthy and I suggest that she confine it to the immediate details raised in Senator Hearn's question. I also point out that after Question Time Senator Chipp, if he so chooses, may seek leave to move that the Senate take note of the Minister's answer.


Senator RYAN —Mr President, I decided to give a detailed answer to the detailed question because there has been so much concern and anxiety caused amongst veterans because of the misrepresentation of the statement. If non-Government senators run around giving grossly inaccurate accounts of Budget decisions it is the responsibility--


The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister will confine her remarks to the answer to Senator Hearn's question.


Senator RYAN —Yes, Mr President. I have corrected most of the inaccuracies in Senator Macklin's statement. The final one related to the O'Brien case. Legal advice to the Government runs contrary to Senator Macklin's view about pension determination and spending and says, in effect, that if no action is taken to negative the decision the repatriation pension determining process will become a farce. Senator Macklin also suggested that the onus of proof in repatriation legislation will be reversed. I stress to honourable senators that section 25 of the Repatriation Act--


The PRESIDENT —Order! The Minister is going far beyond the question. I ask her to bring her remarks to a conclusion.


Senator RYAN —Yes, I was doing that, Mr President. Section 25 of the Repatriation Act specifies that no onus of proof will fall on the claimant.


Senator Chaney —I ask the Minister to table the paper from which she has quoted.


The PRESIDENT —Will the Minister table the document from which she has quoted?


Senator RYAN —Yes, it will be of great interest to honourable senators and to veterans.


The PRESIDENT —The Minister has tabled the document.