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Tuesday, 17 September 1985
Page: 623

Senator SIBRAA —The Minister for Veterans' Affairs will no doubt be aware of a statement by the shadow Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Mr Fischer, reported in the Melbourne Sun-News Pictorial of 16 September condemning the Government for cutting out the pensions of 13,272 veterans as a result of the assets test. Does this statement contradict public announcements by Mr Howard who was in favour of the assets test as a way of rationalising welfare benefits to the community?

Senator GIETZELT —A question was asked on Senate Estimates Committee F last Thursday and the Secretary of my Department, Mr Volker, informed the Committee that just over 7,000 veterans had in fact lost their service pension as a result of the assets test. Several days later Mr Fischer, my shadow in the other House, seized upon that statement to attack the Government's decision to establish the assets test and suggested that we were heartless and ungenerous in our approach to veterans. However, he never sought to establish how many veterans were in receipt of the service pension. That number is close to 400,000; so, in a sense, the highlighting of 7,000 withdrawals would not escape the notice of those who would expect to find that, out of that large number of recipients, at least 7,000 veterans and good Australian citizens would have accumulated considerable assets in the post-war years. Of course, that figure represents only about 2 per cent of those who are in receipt of a pension.

Senator Sibraa asked me about the attitude of the Opposition parties on this matter. It is pretty clear that they have not got their act together because Mr Howard is on the record as supporting an assets test concept, as indeed was Senator Messner when he was the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and as were many other Opposition spokesmen when they were in government. It is pretty clear that they are not too sure exactly where they are going now that the dries have had some sort of a coup and taken over the Liberal Party. We are not sure exactly where they are heading in this area when they talk about economic rationality.

We have seen a spate of right wing think- tanks emerging in recent times, although I suppose that is a contradiction in terms. One such publication was put out by a Mr Brian Buckley, whose claim to fame is that he was once on the staff of Sir Phillip Lynch, a former Treasurer in a Liberal government. He has suggested that another $120m should come off my Budget and has suggested in fact imposing taxes and assets tests on disability pensions, war widows' pensions and such like to reach that objective. That sort of think-tank these days includes people such as Mr Stone, Katherine West and many others who are all giving the Government advice, and it seems that Mr Fischer is trying to climb on the band-wagon. We hope that in the future he will look at the figures more carefully before he goes off and makes the sorts of public statements that he has in recent times.