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Monday, 7 May 1984
Page: 1621

Senator MESSNER —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I draw the Minister's attention to the speech that he made to the Vietnam Veterans Association in Sydney on Saturday and his criticism of suggestions that the Budget deficit should be of the order of $5 billion in 1984-85. Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister, who said in Perth on 19 April: 'We will significantly reduce the deficit in this year's Budget'? If so, what level of deficit would be acceptable to the Minister? Did he urge the Vietnam veterans to campaign for extra spending? If so, does he believe that he can accommodate increased benefits by cutting other areas of this Department's expenditure?

Senator GIETZELT —It is not for me to determine-although I hope I will be part of the process that will determine it-the level of the deficit. Certainly if there is to be a reduction in the deficit, it will not be at the expense of my Department. As I pointed out at the Vietnam Veterans Congress, $3 billion, which is the greatest proportion of my Budget allocation each year, is of a non- discretionary nature-that is to say, if veterans have an entitlement of a claim for disability and it is in accordance with the Repatriation Acts, the Government is obliged to pay such benefits. As there is a growth factor in every sector of my Department, there is no possibility of any savings being effected as far as this or any other Budget is concerned.