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Thursday, 3 February 1994
Page: 293


Mr CADMAN (11.30 a.m.) —I have listened on two occasions now to the previous speaker, the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Gibson), and have been interested to hear of his support and compassion for, and dedication to, the role and significance of the family in Australian society. Today, however, we have heard a speech which seems to run completely counter to the speech that he made yesterday: instead of looking at the family situation, today he has chosen to support what he calls a government line—a party line.

  The honourable member for Moreton opened his remarks by saying that the government `cannot accept'. How about him looking at it from the point of view of the people and the families that he represents, and having the rest of the government do the same thing? It is only fairly recently in New South Wales that we saw, at the whim of bureaucrats, busloads of people carted off to detention centres, with parents separated from their children, only to have the court case collapse weeks later. What about that? Is that not an abuse of bureaucratic power? Is that not what this motion today is about—the role of government in relation to the family?

  I hope that the parliamentary committee to which the honourable member refers will invite to appear before it Mrs Gallaway of Coping, an organisation formed in New South Wales by parents who have had bureaucratic abuse in their families. Coping had 90 members as at March 1993; they are parents who have been beset by people who claim, using your words, to have `professional judgment', but who are nothing more than claim setters or decision makers on whether a person is eligible for a Commonwealth entitlement. Untrained in the areas that they should be trained in, they are making a judgment about whether or not a family is coping, and what the relationships are between husband and wife or partners and children. That is not their role at all.

  The honourable member talked about professional advice. Let us have proper professional advice and assessment, not the whim of a clerk or somebody in a Social Security office. He also said that the department contacts the parents. Let me just deal with one recent instance from my electorate office. A 14-year-old girl got sick of the discipline of home—it was not onerous discipline—and she decided to move in with some friends a few blocks away. The couple that she moved in with were a girl aged 16 and a bloke aged 19 or 20 who were drug users. Yet the department did not phone the parents once, and did not notify the mother or father of the whereabouts of the child.

  Instead, the department conducted separate interviews keeping these parties apart. There was complete confidentiality for everything disclosed by the 14-year-old girl—the department kept that to itself—but everything the mother thought she was saying in confidence to the departmental officer was disclosed to the 14-year-old. What does that do? It creates insurmountable barriers and gaps. The child was being told of the mother's concern and of the difficulty the mother had had, as an adult, in coping with a rebellious teenager under peer pressure. That was all being disclosed to the child, but the child's problems with the mother were not disclosed to the mother.

  Does the honourable member call that professional behaviour? Goodness me! Get real; get with it. Get with what is happening out there in the relationship between bureaucrats and families. The bureaucrats are making decisions which they have got no right to make. I am not saying that this is general, but it must be stopped. If honourable members really probe their communities, they will find, amongst those people who have a real dedication to families, a resentment that there exists an enticement for young people to move out of home immediately they strike some resistance or discipline of which they personally do not approve, and about which they have neither the maturity nor the wisdom and judgment to make a decision.

   I wonder if honourable members opposite have spoken to people who are really caring for their families far better than are most Australians: the Italian and Greek communities, who understand the nurturing of small children and teenagers, and even of people approaching marriage and the elderly. Honourable members can use any measure they like to establish whether that is factual or not. Concern is expressed in those families about the subtle intervention of a government saying, `If you leave home, there is a payment for you'.

  The Sun-Herald of 3 March 1993 refers in depth to case after case where there has been an encouragement through this process of enticement to have young people take a decision for freedom—what they thought to be freedom—only to finish in disaster. If decisions of this sort are going to be made, let us instigate a proper process of assessment and not have somebody who is a pension decider saying, `Yes, here is the money. Why do you not leave home?'. They have no right to make those sort of judgments; they have no right not to consult parents.

  Instead of handing out funds which, by the method of delivery, encourage people to leave home, the government needs to be concentrating on saying that parenting is not easy and to be offering some support to those organisations that assist people to understand the role of parents and the difficulty that they are going to strike in applying discipline and the role that they will have to play where young people come up against pressures that are antagonistic to the values of that family or the codes of behaviour of that family so that it becomes unbearable for their offspring to sit in the middle.  Sometimes teenagers have to make a difficult decision in an instant, so many decide that they are going to opt for the peer pressure group and no longer face the pressure of being left out or being considered different for sticking with mum and dad.

  The government's role in this area is to support those organisations that are helping educate parents, and helping them understand some of the processes, techniques, services and advice that are available to them. So often with this government there are superficial, social engineering answers instead of looking at the root of the problem and seeing whether something can be done. It sounds so good to have a bee in the bonnet and placate a social worker by saying, `Look, at these poor kids on the streets. It is deplorable'. Doing something in the interim under proper assessment may be warranted. But why not go to the root of the problem?

  We are still involved in a debate with regard to social security and the family in this International Year of the Family. If families are going to be assisted, one does not haphazardly throw a few dollars here or there; one analyses what the situation is and acknowledges that parenting is difficult and that some parents are going to have more problems than others. The parents need to be helped to resolve the problems, because all the research that can be mustered ultimately demonstrates that it is ideal for children and teenagers to grow up in a complete family where there is a husband and wife who nurture and care for them.

  Everything that takes away from that ideal is going to make things more difficult for those teenagers and everything that adds to it is going to make it easier for them and better for them. That is not said in any judgmental way with regard to different family styles where people have problems. I think everybody understands that. But everything that assists those families to restore an ideal situation is good and everything that detracts from it is bad. I do not know how a single mum, for instance, copes with a rebellious 14-year-old teenage daughter who wants to move in with the boyfriend. How does she cope with it? It is extremely difficult. If there is the carrot of $100 a week offered which will snatch the kids from home, many kids will take that option—and have taken that option. From the comments of the previous speaker, the government seems to be endorsing that process instead of saving, `Yes, maybe there is a problem here and we should investigate it'.

  Whilst I may disagree with some of the expressions in the motion of the honourable member for Dawson (Mr Braithwaite) I endorse the thrust of the motion and the sincerity of the man that has come here, identified a problem and is prepared to have the courage to exhort the parliament's elected representatives to take a lead in dealing with this instead of accepting the flim-flam that we are hearing in the House today.