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Tuesday, 10 September 1985
Page: 323

Senator FOREMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Is it true that Australian veterans currently enjoy the most generous repatriation system in the world? How would its benefits be affected by the implementation of the so-called economic rationalist philosophy of the new Leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, Mr John Howard?

Senator GIETZELT —Senator Foreman asked me about the generosity of the repatriation system which has been in operation, of course, since World War I. It is perfectly true that the repatriation system is the most generous in the world. There should be a bipartisan view on maintaining that degree of generosity. For example, the Government allocates between two and 20 times as much of its Budget to spending on veterans as any other comparable country. The Government spends between three and 20 times as much on each surviving veteran and it pays between one and a half and six times as many compensatory payments, that is, disability and war widows' pensions, per thousand surviving veterans. That, of course, is a commitment which has been continued over the years by respective governments.

However, Senator Foreman asked me a question in respect of the economic rationalists, or the dries as they are now called, who seem to be predominant in the Liberal Party. I suppose the problem of whether policies enunciated by sections of the new element in the Liberal Party will be implemented will need to be examined by the veteran community. For example, it appears that Mr Howard is on record as saying that the Ministry should be reduced from 27 Ministers to 23. Therefore, one is entitled to pose the question whether the Department of Veterans' Affairs might be abolished if such a proposal to reduce the number of ministries eventuated.

We know, of course, that Mr Howard is committed very strongly to reducing the deficit. If he were to reduce the deficit by some $2 billion it would mean, on a pro rata basis, that my Department would be required to make cuts in excess of $100m. As we have heard from Senator Messner and other spokespersons for the Opposition parties, the Opposition intends to abolish the assets test. That would cost my Department another $40m. We are looking down the barrel at likely cuts of $140m should a new dry, Tory-type government come to office, by some mischance, in 1988.

Senator Chaney —Mr President, I raise a point of order. My point of order is that the Minister's answer basically is internally inconsistent. He seems to be mixing up additional benefits and additional expenditure with cuts.

Senator Robert Ray —That is his privilege.

Senator Chaney —I am sorry, Mr President; apparently that is the Minister's privilege. Therefore, I withdraw the point of order.

Senator GIETZELT —Some spokespersons closely associated with the leadership of the Liberal Party have suggested, for example, that there should be means testing or taxing of disability and war widows' pensions, or that the disability pension should be treated as income in determining service pension entitlements, or that there should no longer be dual eligibility for the service pension, the totally and permanently incapacitated pension, and so on. So one is entitled when one is asked such a question in the House-in this case by Senator Foreman-to query whether the generosity that has been a feature of the repatriation system over the years will be maintained should, by some mischance, a Howard government be elected in 1988.