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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 165

Senator NEWMAN —Will the Minister for Veterans' Affairs confirm that the repatriation hospital in Hobart is to remain open and under the control of the Commonwealth, or is it correct that it is to be closed down or placed under the control of the State Government?

Senator GIETZELT —I find it incredible that a senator of some repute would ask such a question of a Minister, having regard to the numerous public statements and comments in which I have stressed to the Senate the Government's policy in respect of the future of the repatriation hospital system. There have been extensive negotiations between the Department of Veterans' Affairs, the Repatriation Commission and State governments in respect of the future integration of the repatriation hospital system with the States, not on a short term basis but over time, largely to meet the needs of aging veterans, who in the majority of cases now live many kilometres from the repatriation hospitals, which are largely centred in the capital cities. So the Government, in taking the step of discussing the future of the hospitals, has had in mind providing the veteran with the option of treatment in a State hospital system and, in the process of that option being taken up, the repatriation hospital absorbing additional community patients on a pro rata basis.

It is the view of the Government and the view of the veteran community that we should maintain a separate repatriation hospital system. I am sure that this is also the view of the other major parties in the Parliament. Negotiations have been proceeding very amicably with all of the States, whatever their political complexions-in other words, not only with Labor Ministers for Health but also with Ministers for Health in Queensland and Tasmania. In fact, I attended the last meeting of the Commonwealth-State Health Ministers conference, at which the Queensland Minister moved, a Labor Minister seconded, and the Tasmanian Minister for Health supported a resolution that we should proceed along the lines of Government policy. That policy is not designed to disadvantage, but rather to advantage, the aged veteran whose spouse is also an aged person. So one has to take into consideration that we are dealing with people who are in the 70 to 90 age bracket. Therefore, we need to afford them the opportunity to have treatment provided for under the Veterans Entitlements Act in the most congenial circumstances, having regard to their geographic location.

All I can say is that I am delighted with the response of each of the State Health Ministers, who have promised co-operation. As a matter of fact, as late as yesterday afternoon I was discussing with my officers the current round of negotiations that is proceeding with the States. There was absolutely no intention of closing down any of our repatriation hospitals. In point of fact, we are spending millions more dollars to bring them up to standard in the States, because the previous Government allowed them insufficient resources to maintain the standard that is essential. So I can give Senator Newman and in fact the whole Senate a complete assurance that, rather than closing down the hospitals, the hospitals will continue to be improved. At some time in the future-perhaps by the year 2000-the government of the day will decide the processes by which the Government's current intentions will be realised.