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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 169

Senator WALTERS —I ask the Minister for Veterans' Affairs why his Department failed to notify war widows of the change, after the August Budget, to the regulations governing their entitlements to reimbursement of travel expenses. I refer to the fact that war widows are now required to notify the Department of Veterans' Affairs every quarter regarding reimbursement of travel costs incurred when visiting their doctors. The Minister will recall that the previous requirement was for annual notification. War widows now applying annually are told that they will receive only the last quarter's expenses, thus losing three-quarters of their entitlement. I further ask the Minister: What are the additional costs incurred by his Department as a result of processing these travel entitlements quarterly rather than annually?

Senator GIETZELT —The Senate will be aware that the Government has been constantly reminded of the need to reduce public sector expenditure. Every department has been required to make whatever savings are necessary to meet those objectives, not only because it is a requirement of this Government to save taxpayers' money but also because it is a demand by the community as well as the Opposition. It is true that there have been some changes in this respect, designed only to contain the escalation of costs that relate to the Department of Veterans' Affairs in all of its various functions. I know of no instance where those changes have disadvantaged war widows. I think it is proper that we should have a policy of exercising the proper regulation of costs which were escalating prior to the last Budget. In those circumstances, if Senator Walters believes that there is some particular problem emanating from the changes that have been made, I will be quite happy to examine the complaint.

Senator WALTERS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Minister did not answer my question. I asked him why his Department failed to notify the widows of the change from annual to quarterly reimbursement of travel expenses. The Minister just failed to answer that. Why was it that the Department failed to notify the war widows, so that now when they are applying annually they are permitted reimbursement for only the last quarter?

Senator GIETZELT —The Department is a very large department. It exercises care and caution in its relationship with its clients. I am not personally aware of any failure on the part of the Department to advise any widow of the changes in the arrangements. As I indicated to Senator Walters, the purpose of the changes is to contain costs, and if they have created any legitimate concerns I will be prepared to review them. Certainly, I will check to see what communication has been sent to the war widows. Senator Walters on a previous occasion completely misled a whole group of war widows in Tasmania about the changes in the last Budget. I would want to check out her assertions before I accepted them at face value.