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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2494

Senator DEVLIN —My question is to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and it relates to the answer he gave yesterday in the Senate in which he highlighted the simplistic economic solutions put forward by leaders of business, the farming community and the New Right in their strong advocacy of less government spending. The Minister will be aware of a function attended by most of the dry faction opposite yesterday for the launching of a new book called Spending and Taxing-Australian Reform Options, which advocates major spending cuts and the slashing of personal and corporate tax rates. Is it a fact that these proposed cuts in spending would hit hardest those people on fixed incomes, such as veterans and war widows, while the biggest gains would be for those on the highest incomes?

Senator GIETZELT —For the last two or three years I have warned members of the veteran community at the conferences that they hold at about this time each year of the preposterous proposals that come from an amazing and increasing number of non-elected self-appointed experts who tell governments and political parties what should be done about the economy. I was representing the Minister for Local Government and Administrative Services at a function this morning, but I noticed that today's Melbourne Age drew attention to the fact that the Centre of Policy Studies has identified the most disadvantaged group as those with incomes in the $5,000 to $15,000 income bracket who do not qualify for a family income supplement.

The group which has been identified by this new survey and which has received maximum publicity today includes at least half of the persons receiving benefits from my Department, and they would be affected if those proposals were put into effect. That is, war widows, service pensioners and disability pensioners would be affected, and they represent about half of my Budget outlay, which is anticipated in the 1987-88 Budget to be slightly in excess of $4 billion. These proposals that are receiving such maximum publicity will have the effect, unfortunately, of creating a lot of distress amongst the most vulnerable group of Australian citizens, that is, people who come within the portfolio responsibilities of the Minister for Social Security and the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. To that extent I deplore the proposals because, inevitably, I get responses from war widows and others complaining about them and suggesting that the Government should somehow respond to these propaganda blasts which come increasingly from these new centres that are being established. There is no doubt that half of the clients of my Department would be affected if there were any serious attempt to interfere with the current Budget outlays.

I have noted that it has also been suggested that the public hospital system should be privatised. Of course, that would arouse tremendous ire among the veteran community and would flow against what I believe to be the correct policy of this Government-I think it enjoys the support of the Opposition-which is the process of integration of the repatriation hospital system with the States over time. Any suggestion that those repatriation hospitals should be sold off to private interests would certainly create a great deal of distress, having regard particularly to the fact that the Government accepts the legal, moral and cost implications of providing treatment and services in repatriation hospitals. Obviously, if the hospitals were sold off to the private sector, it would cost us a lot more.

A mentality seems to be developing of wanting to sell everything that moves. This would have tremendous cost implications. It seems that the clock is being turned back to the nineteenth century. It worries me that many members of the Opposition parties are not able to perceive what is the strategy of the New Right. In turning the clock back to the nineteenth century, we should perhaps look at the historical differences that existed then in the struggle between the whigs and the tories for the conservative soul. From what is developing, it seems that the tories are going to take over the conservative parties.