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Thursday, 22 August 1985
Page: 173


Senator CHILDS —I refer the Minister for Veterans' Affairs to his calls earlier this year to veterans and veterans' organisations publicly to oppose demands by powerful vested interests for savage cuts in public spending in order to accommodate an unrealistic reduction in the Budget deficit. In particular, did he refer to the Business Council of Australia and its call for cuts in veterans administration? Is the Business Council of Australia correct in its denial of ever having made such a demand?


Senator GIETZELT —Since the Hawke Labor Government came to office a consistent demand has been made of it by Liberal Party spokesmen, particularly Mr Peacock and Mr Howard, for cuts in government spending and expenditure restraint. That has been echoed to a great extent by the Confederation of Australian Industry and the Business Council of Australia. Of course, as Ministers, we have to take those matters into account when demands are made for cuts in the deficit and in government spending. Therefore, when I addressed the national conference of the Federation of Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Ex-servicemen and Women in Canberra earlier this year I drew attention to the persistent claims made on the Government to reduce expenditure. That organisation then wrote to the Business Council of Australia repeating my remarks that that organisation had insisted that there were considerable savings to be made in Defence and Veterans' Affairs administration.

Mr White of the Business Council of Australia subsequently denied that the Council had made demands for cuts in Veterans' Affairs spending. At the ex-service summit which I attended in Canberra a month ago and at which all the veterans organisations were represented I was challenged to produce proof. I then referred to a document put out by the Business Council of Australia which stated:

With political will considerable savings could be found in defence and veterans administration.

In reply to the veterans' organisations Mr White denied that the Council had made such claims. Of course, now he has been placed on the defensive he claims that he was speaking about the administration costs in respect of the Department of Veterans' Affairs.

I inform Senator Childs that the administration costs of my Department are something like 3 per cent of its total expenditure. When one looks at the organisation within the Department of Veterans' Affairs and sees that there are 12,000 personnel operating in six States, including those conducting the Defence Service Homes Corporation and the repatriation hospitals, it can be seen that any suggestion that the Business Council of Australia was referring only to administrative costs is begging the question. Some people might put it more strongly than that. However, it is pretty clear that the Business Council of Australia was in fact calling for further cuts in the pension and entitlement areas in my Department. The Council ought to have the honesty to stand up and say so.