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Tuesday, 7 December 1976
Page: 3427

Mr INNES (Melbourne) -I rise in this adjournment debate to draw to the attention of the House the proposed demise of the Migrant Community Services Branch of the Department of Social Security. The Department of Social Security has recently conducted a staff utilisation review of its social welfare division. That division has been decimated by the Government's abandonment of the Australian assistance plan and the remnants of the Social Welfare Commission, and further changes are mooted. By far the largest element of the division is the Migrant Community Services Branch, which contains over 40 officers working in the specialised area of post-arrival services for migrants.

Mr Deputy Speaker,it is not possible to overrate the importance which the Migrant Community Services Branch has in fact, and in the eyes of migrant people. The Migrant Community Services Branch is the real' ethnic affairs' branch of the Public Service. By contrast with this 40- strong branch in the Department of Social Security, the 'ethnic affairs' unit of the so-called Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs consists of a letterhead and about three or four officers rushing around getting in each other's way. This is a farce. All the rubbish that was contained in the Liberal and National Country Parties' propaganda leading up to the election of 1 975 led people up the garden path. I repeat that what we got was a letterhead and three or four officers.

The future of the Migrant Community Services Branch is a matter of some importance. Yet, incredibly, the staff utilisation review of the Social Welfare Division of the Department of Social Security is in the process of recommending that the branch be disbanded and absorbed into a new structure not recognising a specifically migrant oriented branch. It is my opinion that this would be a most retrograde step, and I am very pleased to see that at least one Minister agrees with me, although there seems to be some difference of opinion. As tomorrow's Hansard will show, Senator Guilfoyle, in answer to a question from Senator Mulvihill in another place, today expressed her unqualified opinion that an identifiable migrant-oriented welfare service needs to be maintained. Let us now hope that she acts on that belief, and that the Migrant Community Services Branch will be allowed to remain, and to remain at its current strength. This is, after all, the only identifiable branch of the Commonwealth Public Service which is currently able to develop specific programs for the migrant community.

I would like to know why this change has been proposed in the first place. I can think of no reason for it, unless migrant welfare is deemed a less important consideration than minor administrative convenience. If this is the reason, we are faced with a classic instance of self-justifying bureaucracy- bureaucracy moving under its own impetus and acting in accordance with its own internalised priorities. We well know the zeal with which this Government is wont to do battle with what it deems to be rampant bureaucracy. One hopes it will tackle this instance with the same enthusiasm. Or perhaps the matter is more subtle. Senator Guilfoyle disclaimed any knowledge in the Senate today of the review into the Migrant Community Services Branch. Is this really a ploy to take migrant welfare out of that Department without the Minister's knowledge, so that the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, with its four or five relevant officers, can establish a monopoly over ethnic affairs? If so, who is behind this little exercise in empirebuilding the Minister, or over-zealous officers in his Department?

If the recommendations of the staff utilisation review are followed, migrants will lose their most valuable channel to the Public Service. Such a course of action would serve further to confuse migrants and the Public Service as to just who is responsible for ethnic affairs in this countrySocial Security or Immigration and Ethnic Affairs. Perhaps the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Mackellar), who represents the Minister for Social Security in this place, could enlighten us one of these days instead of leading migrants up the garden path and placing them in a situation where they have to rely on a letterhead and four or five officers to look after their needs in this country.

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