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Thursday, 11 November 1976


Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - I want to raise a matter before the House concerning a voluntary group carrying out effective social welfare work in my electorate which has been thwarted in its progress by the inability of 2 government departments to decide on a definition. It has been brought to my attention by Mr Kevin Gould, the Honorary Secretary of the City of Heidelberg Emergency Housing Group that this organisation is experiencing difficulty in ascertaining whether it is eligible to receive any financial support, either now or in the very near future, from the present Government. Very briefly, this group's history is that it commenced in September 1973 and decided to set up a shelter to provide short term accommodation for those in need. The group obtained a house for a rental of $25 a week from November 1973. It furnished the house and put the first couple into it on 2 November 1973. In the 882 days of operation until 3 1 March this year the group received 312 requests for shelter from 991 organisations seeking shelter for 1359 persons, I might add that the majority of the requests came from Commonwealth Government departments. The group was able to provide shelter for only 269 of those people which, as honourable members will realise, is less than 20 per cent of what was needed. The group has provided an average of almost 5 beds a night in the time to which I am referring.

It can accommodate up to 10 persons in the 4- roomed house. The present problem is that sewerage must be connected to the house which the group rented, which is in the electorate of Diamond Valley. The owners, who are believed to be land developers, will demolish the house and develop the site, which is well in excess of 1½ acres. The group has been offered land by the Hospital and Charities Commission for a quite reasonable price but needs some financial assistance in order to continue its charitable work in assisting, in a very positive way, the less fortunate members of our community.

The group has already had one problem with governments in that it sought registration with the Hospital and Charities Commission in March 1975 but, due to the inefficiency of that Commission, it did not obtain registration until July 1976. The group forwarded a submission for a grant or subsidy for rent under the Homeless Persons Assistance Act 1974. This is where the strange situation starts. The group received a letter dated 3 February 1976 from the Department of Social Security which states:

As you are aware, your Group's application for subsidy under the Homeless Persons Program was referred to the Hospitals and Health Services Commission, in order to test eligibility as a Women's Refuge. The Commission has now informed this Department that 'the organisation does not come within the Program's (i.e. the Community Health Program) recognition of a Women's Refuge as it catered for deserted wives and single parents'.

In other words, it catered for parents who were other than women. The letter continues:

Since the receipt of this advice, this Department has reconsidered your group's proposal. However, from the information available, this Department's central office can only regard the centre as a refuge and, therefore, outside the present scope of the Homeless Person's Programme.

So we have a situation in which on the one hand one department denies that the group is in a certain category and, on the other hand, another department asserts that it is. Obviously both departments are incorrect, and the charitable work is unable to be carried out. As this matter is urgent I am raising it tonight in the hope that one of the Ministers interested in this area will have a look at the files and not repeat this sort of brouhaha concerning definitions, which is even repeated in a letter from the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). I hope that some notice will be taken of this problem and assistance given to people who are doing very valuable work for those less fortunate in the community.







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