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Monday, 4 June 1984
Page: 2400

Senator JONES —Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Health been drawn to Press reports that claim that the Federal Government has reduced funding to the national trachoma and eye health program? Can the Minister comment on the claims made in the reports that general funding for this program is to be reduced? Is there any truth in the claim that there will be a reduction in the $700,000 needed for the program?

Senator GRIMES —Yes, my attention has been drawn to the claim that the Government has reduced funding on the national trachoma and eye health program. In fact a statement was put out by Mr J. Porter, who, as many honourable senators would be interested to know, is Opposition shadow Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. His claims were quite misleading, despite the fact that on 30 April 1984 he was advised that the revised estimate for 1983-84 was $700,000. The appropriation for the national trachoma and eye health program in 1982-83 was $1.08m, not $1. 8m, as was claimed by Mr Porter. Against this, there was an expenditure, largely during the term of the previous Government, which amounted to $530,000. As at 30 April expenditure against the current appropriation for 1983-84 exceeded $539, 000.

The reasons why the original appropriation will not be fully expended in 1983- 84 can be attributed to delays in developing alternative management arrangements for the NTEHP, consequent upon the withdrawal of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists from this function, with effect from 31 December 1983, and varying Aboriginal approaches to this matter about which Senator Jones and other honourable senators from the north of Australia would know. Mr Porter's statement was incorrect, deliberately misleading and, I believe, demonstrably so to any fair-minded person who reads the estimates.

Senator Chaney —I take a point of order. It is quite out of order for the Minister to say that Mr Porter was deliberately misleading. The Minister may wish to say that the statement was incorrect or inaccurate, but he is casting a reflection on a man who, I am sure, would not deliberately mislead anyone.

The PRESIDENT —Under standing order 418, I ask the Minister to withdraw that statement.

Senator GRIMES —Mr President, I will certainly withdraw, for peace. But if we are going to go on like this we will not be able to say anything.

The PRESIDENT —Order! It has been constantly determined under standing order 418 that such terminology is a reflection on a member.

Senator GRIMES —I withdraw.