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Thursday, 28 November 1985
Page: 2480

Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(3.49) —I want to respond to some of the exaggerated statements made by Senator Lewis. He talked about different classes of people. We have different classes of veterans in Australia-those who qualify for the service pension and those who do not. We have different classes of serving personnel. Those who served in the armed forces before 1972 do not generally have access to the repatriation system. As a result of the Whitlam Government decision, those who served from 1972 onwards do have access to the repatriation system. There are many cases and examples of different classes of people in the veteran community. Of course, we have different classes of beneficiaries in the social security system.

Those honourable senators who have expressed support for the amendment moved by the Democrats are forgetting that as a result of the changes made to section 47 of the Repatriation Act and the measure proposed in clause 119 of this Bill, there is no onus of proof whatsoever on the claimant. The obligation rests in the first place with the single determining officer to determine the claim of an applicant for a service pension. If that claim is refused by the single determining officer, it can be taken to the Veterans' Review Board on appeal. Similarly, the Board has to determine the claim of the applicant. Should the applicant still fail to be satisfied, he has the capacity to take his claim to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

I refute any suggestion whatsoever that in the Government's approach to this question there is anything other than a financial consideration. There is absolutely no racism involved and there is no chauvinism whatsoever. I was indicating to the Committee that I believe that this amendment would exacerbate reactions and the demands that are made on government by the various veterans' organisations, some 35 of them. Those organisations, particularly the Returned Service League, which is the premier organisation, have stated from time to time that they wish the Government to extend the range of benefits to those Australians who served in World War II who do not currently qualify because of the operational criteria which are germane to the whole service pension area. There are 90,000 who do not qualify for the service pension. Quite naturally, they believe that the Government is not being responsive to that demand. The reason that we are not responding to that demand is in large part financial.

It may be conventional to attack departments and Ministers' advisers, but I can assure honourable senators that there is no such thing operating in the Department of Veterans' Affairs as a Yes Minister syndrome. I want to lay that sort of theory to rest. What the Department is required to do is to implement government policy, and the Government's policy in the existing economic climate, in this political period, is to have a priority approach to the areas in which government funds should be expended. Opposition spokespersons constantly-day in and day out-suggest that there should be cutbacks in public sector spending. This Government has substantially reduced the deficit and it has applied itself to maintaining a responsible position in respect of the repatriation requirements. It has taken some very unpopular decisions, such as the assets test and reductions in travelling allowances for veterans attending treatment services. The Government has reduced the amount of funds available for dental treatment and it has cut back in a whole range of areas. Nevertheless, this Bill has been extended to cover some 20 new areas. I suppose it could be argued that some of those areas are not particularly expensive in terms of funding, but we have taken out some of the anomalies that have existed in the repatriation system over many years.

There are some areas in which savings have to be achieved. In our view, this is one of the areas. It is a view which I believe has the backing of the Advisory Committee on Repatriation Legislation Review that was set up by the previous Government to examine this question. This definition of `allied veteran' has not been decided on the basis that we are anti-Vietnam. I say to Senator Lewis that Vietnam has been excluded because it is the one place where records can- not be verified. With respect to South Korea and the Americans, the handful of people who are affected can justify, with authentic records from the respective governments, their claims to have served with an allied force against Australia's enemies.

Senator Missen —So we will chop these people off.

Senator GIETZELT —That justification cannot be provided with respect to Vietnam. That is why I was emphasising the point. That is the dilemma I have in respect of those other categories about which I spoke. It is not because I have any ill-feeling. Senator Missen must acknowledge, because of my activities in Amnesty International, that there is no racism or chauvinism involved in my approach to these matters. I do not want to see, as a result of some decisions made by this Parliament, some reaction which will be counter-productive to the harmony that is essential in this multiracial society in which we live.