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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26328

Senator MARK BISHOP (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Hill, the Minister representing the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Can the minister confirm the details of advice from the Department of Veterans' Affairs that the average hours approved under the Veterans Home Care Program by service type have been reduced, with only one exception—namely, residential respite care? Isn't this official confirmation that average hours of assistance for domestic assistance, personal care, home and garden maintenance and in-home respite have been reduced across the board simply through the failure of the Howard government to properly fund this valuable program of support to ageing veterans at the time of their lives when they need it most?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I would be very surprised if that were the case because this government has got a proud record of support for veterans. The Senate would be well aware of the major increases in funding for Veterans' Affairs in recent years by this government, reflecting our respect for the veterans community and, as they age, a growing responsibility for the rest of us to provide them with the sort of security they deserve. In relation to the details of the respite care program, I will refer that to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I have no doubt I will be able to come back and give detail regarding the error that lies within the question that has been asked.

Senator MARK BISHOP —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware of the findings of the evaluation of the Veterans Home Care Program undertaken by Access Economics in January 2003 which show that this program successfully achieves its goal of reducing the cost of institutional care by keeping ageing veterans in their homes for longer? More importantly, in light of this independent review of this successful program, why did the government cut funding for the home care program by $4 million in the last budget?

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I will give you some evidence that suggests there must be error within the question. The first piece of evidence I will give you is that the last budget included the ninth consecutive increase in expenditure for veterans and war widows—an increase of $4.1 billion since 1996. That is an average annual increase of 6.1 per cent over the past nine years. The 2004-05 budget included $328.9 million over four years for new initiatives in the Veterans' Affairs portfolio.

Senator Mark Bishop —Mr President, on a point of order: the minister does not appear to understand the question. The question was not directed to the totality of the Veterans' Affairs budget; the question was directed to spending in the home care program. I would ask you to direct the minister to answer the question.

The PRESIDENT —I think I explained yesterday that I cannot direct a minister on how to answer a question. I remind the minister that he has 17 seconds left for his answer.

Senator HILL —I am demonstrating why the honourable senator must be wrong. In this last budget over $300 million extra in new initiatives, which was in addition to $289 million over five years, was provided in response to the Clarke report of March this year. So this government is not only committed in principle; it is committed in practice and is putting money behind it. (Time expired)