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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2393


Senator LEWIS —I refer the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to the approximately 1,000 surviving ex-servicewomen from World War II who have been denied eligibility for hospital and medical treatment by the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I also refer to the approximately 2,940 returned ex-servicewomen from World War II who have been denied eligibility for nursing home care by the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Is it not a fact that these women had to be at least 25 years of age before they could enlist for overseas service, so even the youngest of them are now well into their sixties? Are these women not disadvantaged in comparison with ex-servicemen? When will the Government find some way of providing them with these services? How can this Government claim to have a policy in favour of equal opportunity for women when it continues to deny them these entitlements?


Senator GIETZELT —I am pleased to have the support of the shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs on the question of removing discrimination against ex-servicewomen. Of course, that discrimination did not start in May 1983; it began in 1939 when the conservative government of the United Australia Party-now the Liberal Party-took us to war. That discrimination has remained for all these years. If my arithmetic is correct, the conservative forces have occupied the government benches of this country for 30 of the 38 years since the defeat of the Chifley Government in 1949. It is true that there was, and is, discrimination against ex-service women, who were required to be 25 years of age before they could serve overseas whereas my generation of males could serve overseas at the age of 18 years. So there was a difference of seven years. The average age of veterans is now 67 years, so the average age of ex-servicewomen who served overseas would be somewhere in the mid-70s.

I have endeavoured to identify this problem and therefore I have caused my Department to conduct an inquiry into the problems facing ex-servicewomen who are not part of the ex-service community or are not able in their own right to obtain entitlements through the determining system. To the extent that Senator Lewis referred to numbers, I think they are substantially correct. The current position is that there are just less than 1,000 women still alive and who are not, by virtue of their service overseas, entitled to benefits from my Department. In other words, they are not able to show that their illness, alienation or the difficulties that they face directly relate to their war service. Of course, that applies to more than half the male ex-service personnel.

There is a problem in these periods of economic difficulties-economic difficulties not caused by this Government, not generated by this Government and not created by this Government. In each Budget there have been difficulties in implementing Government policy and implementing what Ministers put forward. I think the Senate would be aware of the tremendous pressure in regard to reducing government expenditure about which the New Right and the existing Right in the conservative forces have been most vocal. In those circumstances, therefore, it is difficult to get new policy proposals agreed to by the Government. I assure Senator Lewis that, in respect of ex-servicewomen, they occupy the No. 1 position in my new policy proposal for the forthcoming Budget. I have the support of my colleague Senator Ryan in that respect and I will be seeking her active support for the recognition of that particular issue. In fact, this week I wrote to the Prime Minister indicating that it is my No. 1 priority for the 1987-88 Budget. Because of the amount of money that is required to remove the discrimination that has existed for over 45 years I am hopeful that I will be successful. To a large degree that will depend on how much the Government has been able to reduce the deficit and on how much the Government is able to provide to Ministers for new policy proposals.