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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1385

Senator ELSTOB —My question, to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs, relates to assurances given by the Government that after the next election it will continue with separate departments of Veterans' Affairs and Social Security. The Minister will be aware of recent Press speculation about the May mini-Budget, leaked Opposition policy statements and statements from the Returned Services League about the maintenance of a separate Department of Veterans' Affairs being again under threat. Will the Minister confirm yet again that this Government intends to maintain a separate Department of Veterans' Affairs?

Senator GIETZELT —From time to time over the last year or so I have been asked a number of questions in respect of the future viability of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. These questions have arisen mainly because of the changing attitudes that have been expressed from time to time by the conservative parties or the forces of the New Right who, in various ways, have published documents and made statements that there ought to be drastic reductions in the number of departments and in the role of the Public Service-some have gone so far as to suggest the abolition of the Department of Veterans' Affairs. As a consequence, a deputation from the Returned Services League of Australia met with Mr Howard shortly before Christmas. According to the national newsletter of the RSL, Mr Howard refused to give a commitment that the Department of Veterans' Affairs would be retained.

When there is disarray in the ranks of the conservative parties, documents seem to have the capacity to fall off the back of trucks with greater rapidity than in normal times. A document published in the Australian Financial Review suggested that the Department of Veterans' Affairs will be amalgamated with the Department of Social Security and will operate under a senior Minister-the Minister for Community Services-with the other Ministers being junior Ministers. All of that has not been denied by the Opposition parties. For that matter, I am not sure who are the leaders of the Opposition parties, whether it be the Liberal Party of Australia or the National Party of Australia. There are so many different groups and factions that one does not know whom to look to for some response on these matters. All I can say is that the proposals which are coming from the conservative side of politics create a great deal of confusion and concern in the ranks of veterans' organisations.

I am the recipient of hundreds of letters from people who believe that such changes will drastically affect their benefits and rights. I can certainly say to Senator Elstob, in confirming what I have said in response to the many letters that I have received: The Prime Minister has given a firm assurance not only to me personally but also to the Parliamentary Labor Party that the Department of Veterans' Affairs will be retained.