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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2101

(Question No. 803)


Senator Reynolds asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice, on 4 April 1984:

(1) Is there concern among non-governmental organisations about the consultative process on the proposed crisis accommodation assistance; particularly, as there appears to be no mechanism for directly consulting organisations outside capital cities nor for consulting Aborigines.

(2) Will the Minister for Social Security investigate the need to expand the consultative process, particularly in Queensland which has such a range of provincial cities where crisis accommodation assistance is very much in demand.


Senator Grimes —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) and (2) The review of crisis and youth accommodation recommended that crisis and supported accommodation programs should be brought together under a crisis accommodation assistance Act, cost-shared with the States and embodying a five-year Commonwealth/State agreement. It also recommended that if agreement could be reached, the new program should commence on 1 July 1984.

The Commonwealth is anxious to hear the views of all organisations involved in the provision of crisis and youth accommodation, and specifically undertook not to finalise policies in the area until the review's recommendations had been further discussed with States and the non-government sector.

There have been complaints from non-government organisations about the haste with which consultations to date have been arranged.

The consultations were planned to involve at least three stages:

STAGE 1

In November 1983 I sent a copy of a joint Ministerial statement on the review to all non-government organisations currently funded under existing Commonwealth programs, to all women's refuges funded by State and Territory Governments and to other co-ordinating or 'umbrella' organisations involved in the area of crisis and youth accommodation. In a covering letter I asked interested organisations for their response to the recommendations.

Between November 1983 and January 1984 women's refuges were consulted regarding WESP 1983-84. These consultations were held in the capital cities of each State and Territory and also in Townsville and Alice Springs.

During these consultations on WESP 1983-84, DSS officers took the opportunity to clarify any matters in relation to the review recommendations for 1984-85, particularly the proposals for WESP.

STAGE 2

Although further consultations with NGOs were planned, it was not possible to commence arrangements until the Commonwealth knew whether the States were interested in going ahead with talks about the review proposals.

Immediately following the nomination of all State and Territory Ministers responsible for negotiations on the review recommendations, a national officers' meeting was held in Canberra on 8-9 February 1984. At this meeting State government officers responded with initial positions on the proposals, and asked that further discussions take place only after the meeting of housing Ministers on 23 February 1984.

Following this, consultations were arranged in all States, and Commonwealth officers spent three days in each State capital (two in Hobart and Darwin) talking with State government officers and non-government organisations. Approximately 600 people attended these consultations.

In addition, consultations with appropriate national non-government organisations were arranged during March. These organisations include the Australian Council of Social Service, the National Youth Coalition for Housing, the Youth Affairs Council of Australia, the National Conference on Women's Services, the Australian Community Youth Support Scheme Program Association, and the National Advisory Council on Social Welfare.

Discussions had to be completed by 9 March 1984 in order to provide input for the meeting of the Council of Social Welfare Ministers on 6 April 1984. This input was required by 16 March.

I appreciate that organisations in many regional centres wanted Commonwealth officers to visit their centre, but in the recommended time-frame this proved to be logistically impossible.

Organisations unable to attend these consultations were offered the opportunity to talk by telephone, with officers involved in the development of proposals, and the opportunity to comment in writing on the proposals was and still is open to those who have an interest in the recommendations.

I would be very concerned if the needs of north Queensland had been disregarded when it comes to having the opportunity to contribute to important social policies. The objective of Stage 2 of the consultations was always to obtain a general idea of the non-government sector's response to the broad proposals. The consultations were not, by any means, considered to be final and plans for Stage 3 discussions on more detailed matters relating to the proposals were in train prior to the Council of Social Welfare Ministers' meeting in Perth on 6 April 1984. North Queensland was included in the itinerary.

In the interim an officer of my Department attended meetings arranged in Townsville by organisations in north and north-west Queensland.

STAGE 3

The intention, if the Council of Social Welfare Ministers had endorsed further development of the review proposals, was to organise, in May, further discussions with the States and NGO representatives about details of the proposed program.

In the event, the Council asked that the Commonwealth should prepare a somewhat different proposal to put to State governments and that the Council should consider that proposal at a further meeting of Social Welfare Ministers by 30 June 1984.

Obviously plans for consultation have had to be modified in the light of this development and it is probable that the Commonwealth and States will not be in a position to hold further discussions on any proposals until July or August. It is our definite intention to continue the consultative process.

With regard to attendance by Aboriginal organisations at the consultations, an examination of records of the March consultations revealed that attendance by Aboriginal organisations was low. (Although a separate meeting with Aboriginals was held in Perth).

The reasons for low attendance are not known.

My Department has taken the following action:

At its request the National Aboriginal Conference has circulated the joint ministerial statement to its State branches. The proposals are being discussed and a response is expected.

National organisations have been asked to include in their submissions consideration of particular problems of Aboriginals.

Efforts are currently being made to contact Aboriginal organisations with a view to arranging additional meetings with them, Commonwealth and State officers . In addition, plans are underway for approximately 40 Aboriginal women workers with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to inform Aboriginal communities throughout Australia of the proposed program, and to seek responses from those communities.