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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1364

Senator SIBRAA —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. As I have received many representations from people in isolated regions in New South Wales regarding the difficulties they experience in gaining access to the services of the Department, can the Minister take steps to facilitate access for these people not only in New South Wales but throughout Australia?

Senator GIETZELT —It is true that many hundreds of aged veterans living in remote regions not only in New South Wales but throughout Australia are prevented from being reached by the Department of Veterans' Affairs and therefore are unaware of the range of services that the Department can provide for them. The difficulty, of course, is to find the means by which we can communicate to them the range of services that are provided. In recent times the Department has taken steps to extend the six regional offices that we had previously established in Darwin, Townsville, Wollongong, Newcastle, Ballarat and Canberra, for the purposes of moving them from an inquiry-type office to a more regional office capable, therefore, of reaching a greater number of persons. The Secretary to the Department has had an experience this year which indicates, in co-operation with the veterans' organisations, the value of going into some of the small rural towns with a view to providing at least a communications link with the veterans. That is an experiment which we shall continue. In addition to that, we are having discussions with the Department of Social Security with a view to establishing a pilot scheme so that we may use the extensive network of regional outlets of that Department for the purpose of providing, again, a single officer moving through such a network with a view to reaching the aged veterans.

In addition to that, we have established the 008 telephone service, which provides that at the cost of a local call, and wherever veterans may be throughout Australia, they can ring direct to a State branch office or one of the regional offices regarding their claim or their benefit, or to discuss whatever problem they may be having about, say, a pharmaceutical benefit, or what have you. So, generally speaking, we are taking as many steps as possible, in this period of economic restraint, to reach those people who live in the remote areas. I believe that those steps will prove successful in realising the objective of providing accessible services for all entitled to such benefits.