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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 380


Senator ZAKHAROV —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, relates to an interview with Mr Ian Cameron, a National Party member from Queensland, on radio on Wednesday. The essential thrust of Mr Cameron's statement was that, if and when the National Party's flat rate tax plan is implemented, government spending in all areas will need to be reduced to offset the lower tax revenue. I ask the Minister: Does this statement refer to cuts in payments to veterans, including disability, war widow and service pensions?


Senator Chaney —I raise a point of order, Mr President. Clearly it is very similar to a question which you ruled out of order yesterday. It is quite hypothetical. The honourable senator quoted a general statement and then asked the Minister whether that general statement involves cuts to his Department. It is clearly a bit of nonsense, Mr President. If the honourable senator is not clever enough to phrase a question within the Standing Orders she should be denied the opportunity to ask a question. It is clearly in breach; it is hypothetical; and I am sure there are a number of other reasons why one would object to it.


The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order. I will allow the question, but I will ask the Minister to reply only to those areas of his ministerial responsibility.


Senator GIETZELT —Mr Cameron's statement in respect of pensions has a specific application to my Department through which I pay some 406,000 service pensions. Mr Cameron is, I think, either the third or fourth de facto leader of the National Party. As a result of his radio interview, my Department has had some representations made to it, asking whether it is the Government's policy to reduce pensions. Mr Ian Cameron has said:

I guess the pensioners might have to stand still. The reason, if the economy, if we can bring the economy under control, if we can bring inflation under control . . . if we can have less taxes there's no reason why we should be giving pensioners or anybody else in the community any more funds.

As the service pension is directly linked to the age and invalid pension-that is, it is the same pension but it is paid five years earlier because of pensioners meeting the criterion of having served in a war zone in any past war-Mr Cameron's statement that pensioners should stand still naturally creates alarm in the Australian community for those millions of persons who are in receipt of Commonwealth benefits. It certainly has created some concern in that section that comes under my portfolio, and that is the service pension area which includes approximately half of the people who receive benefits.

Of course, one is entitled to draw the conclusion that he relates his statement not only to pensions of a social security or service pension category but also to the disability pensions that my Department also pays to war widows and to those who have an acceptable disability under the determining system. So it is of some concern that persons who claim to speak on behalf of the National Party are making statements in the media that suggest that pensioners should stand still. I recall members of the Opposition criticising the delay that was made in the last Budget in respect of pension payments, suggesting that should not take place. Now people who seem to lay claim to the leadership of the National Party say that not only should there be a delay but also that pensions should stand still in a period in which there are certain increases in the consumer price index.