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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 2323

Senator FARRELL (South Australia) (15:28): I rise to take note of answers given by Senator Ronaldson—or, more precisely, non-answers given by Senator Ronaldson. I asked Senator Ronaldson a very simple question that related to his portfolio of Veterans' Affairs. That question was: given that he had set up a consultation period with respect to Veterans' Access Network, which offices is he proposing to close? It was a very simple question. You could not make it much more simple than that.

Senator Abetz: We would expect nothing more from you.

Senator FARRELL: Senator Abetz, I do like to reduce things to simple propositions, and it was a very simple proposition that I put to Senator Ronaldson. I asked him which of the Veterans Access Network offices he was planning to close. He said he had set up a so-called consultation process and had identified a number of places which potentially would be subject to closure: Bairnsdale, Morwell, Ballarat, Franklin, all in Victoria, and Wollongong and Gosford in New South Wales. This was a very simple question and it could easily have been answered. But the person occupying the chair at question time had to twice refer Senator Ronaldson to the question; and, despite that, we did not get an answer. Senator Ronaldson talked about lots of other things but not about the question I asked. The question I asked was a very simple one: what are you intending to do with these offices?

I think we are entitled to draw certain conclusions from Senator Ronaldson's refusal to answer the question, including that he does intend to close one or more of these offices. Why would you do that? These are services that we provide to our veterans. It is often the older veterans and sometimes the war widows who access these services. Senator Ronaldson's idea is that you force these people onto the internet. These people may not want to use the internet to access information. They might like to have a face-to-face conversation with somebody so that they can put their questions to them and get a straight answer. It is a little bit like Senator Ronaldson: he could not give us a straight answer to his question. But there are lots of veterans and war widows out there who would like a straight answer.

I think there is a pattern of behaviour here. The opposition has totally supported the government's move today to introduce fair indexation for particular superannuants. But we have asked the question: how is the government going to pay for it? I think we are starting to see the answer. I can see on my side that Senator McEwen and Senator Brown are nodding. I think we are starting to get the answer as to how this government is going to pay for those benefits. Senator Ronaldson was very critical of the Labor Party for not initially supporting his bill in 2011. But who was the most vocal advocate against it? It was former Senator Minchin, from South Australia. He totally opposed the payment of the money.

Labor has supported this, and the Greens have supported it, but how are the government going to pay for it? I think we are starting to see the answer to that question. They are going to pay for it by closing offices of the Veterans Access Network. They are going to pay for it by taking money out of the pockets of war veterans. And from where else are they going to find the money to pay for it? This will be a $6.2 billion debt going into the future. I think we are starting to find out exactly how the government are going to claw back that money. They are going to claw it back from orphans, they are going to claw it back from— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.