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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3505

Senator GILES —My question is to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and it relates to this Government's commitment to improve benefits to those people in the veteran community who have been clearly disadvantaged by their wartime experiences. Will the Minister respond to those snake oil merchants such as the Opposition spokesman, Mr Fischer, who roam around the countryside promising to slash taxes and public spending on the one hand--

Senator Chaney —I take a point of order, Mr President. It is quite unparliamentary to refer to a member of the House of Representatives in those terms. I ask that the reference be withdrawn.

The PRESIDENT —I am sorry, I did not hear it. If the honourable senator used offensive terms against another member of the Parliament, I suggest that the honourable senator withdraw the term.

Senator GILES —I withdraw, Mr President, but it certainly was not intended to be specific. Will the Minister respond to those people such as the Opposition spokesman, Mr Fischer, who roam irresponsibly around the countryside promising to slash taxes and public spending on the one hand and on the other hand criticise the Government's budgetary measures as they relate to veterans?

Senator GIETZELT —`Snake oil' is a very descriptive term, but it happens to fit the meanderings of the shadow Minister as he goes throughout Australia and the way in which he has--

Senator Chaney —I take a point of order, Mr President. Last night, the same little duo behaved in a thoroughly improper fashion. Now we are getting a repetition from the Minister of words that you asked to be withdrawn. I suggest that he is behaving in a way that is clearly in contempt of your ruling and that he should be called to order and made to withdraw.

The PRESIDENT —When the honourable senator asked her question, she used terminology, now used by the Minister, but she was requested by the Chair to withdraw it and she did withdraw. I ask the Minister, in responding to Senator Giles, to remember that the terminology used by her is out of order.

Senator GIETZELT —In the interests of Christmas spirit, I am quite happy to withdraw. When this Government came to office it inherited a $9 billion deficit. Every Minister was required to make some contribution towards reducing that abnormally large deficit, which the previous Government under Messrs Fraser and Howard had left to this Government to handle when it came into office. All Ministers were confronted with the very painful experience of contributing towards reductions in their portfolios. However, whilst there have been changes affecting my portfolio, which are being exploited by Mr Fischer behind my back, on talkback radio and in newspaper releases while the Parliament is sitting, he has ignored the obvious fact that the savings that have been made within my Department have been spent in other sections of my portfolio responsibility. In fact, there has been more than a 40 per cent increase in my portfolio expenditure in the four Budgets since I have become the Minister. Therefore, one is entitled to be critical of people attempting to exploit situations that were largely caused by over-expenditure attitudes taken particularly by the previous Prime Minister and previous Treasurer who, of course, is now the Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia. To the extent that the Opposition talks about abolishing a whole range of taxes that this Government has been forced to invoke in order to meet its commitments-in my case to veterans-the Opposition's simplistic approach to these problems is not appreciated.

Senator Giles raised a number of relevant questions about my area of responsibility. For example, under the last Howard Budget, $383m was spent on disability pensions. We are now spending $568m which is an increase of 50 per cent. The figure for war widows' pensions was $262m. That amount has increased by $201m, which is an increase of 75 per cent. The figure for service pensions was $1.058 billion. This has risen to $1.75 billion. I remember answering a previous question about hospitals. In the four Budgets since I have been Minister, expenditure on repatriation hospitals has increased by more than $100m. So it is totally unfair for Opposition spokesmen to go around veteran groups suggesting that this Government is not interested in the veteran community and is not carrying out its obligations to that community. The expression to which Senator Chaney objected is clearly a very apt description of what the Opposition spokesman has been doing because he has taken a very negative attitude-an attitude which is causing unnecessary distress to people who ought to be left in peace.