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Wednesday, 16 February 1977

Dr JENKINS (Scullin) - In this adjournment debate I draw the attention of the House to a copy of a letter which I received today from the Northern Regional Council for Social Development to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). While I would probably follow up the matter with a letter to the Minister it may raise questions in other members' electorates, and it may lead to a review. Regional councils for social development were stimulated by the Labor Government's desire to have the ordinary people in the community involved in social matters. The Northern Regional Council covers the municipalities of Northcote, Preston and Heidelberg and the shires of Diamond Valley, Eltham and Whittlesea. That region is extremely well served by 2 regional offices of the Department of Social Security- that is, at Preston and Greenborough. The office at Preston is in my electorate. The staff are most helpful. The members of this Regional Council want to draw the attention of the Minister to what they consider to be an unfortunate gap at Preston in what is otherwise an excellent service. The letter states:

Within our community there is a very large and increasing number of unemployed people, more particularly of our concern in the Preston/Reservoir and West Heidelberg areas. As there are also 2 large public hospitals and numerous other health facilities situated in the area, the number of people claiming unemployment and sickness benefits must be very high, and it is our understanding that the current procedure involves processing of these claims at the Melbourne office of your Department.

On behalf of actual beneficiaries, involved individuals, agencies and organisations, such as the Commonwealth Employment Service offices at Preston and Heidelberg, Preston Employment Action Group, Program for Unemployed SelfHelp (West Heidelberg), the 2 community health centres situated in the large Housing Commission estates of Preston/Reservoir and West Heidelberg, Preston and Northcote Community Hospital, Austin Hospital and North Eastern Suburbs Regional Office (Social Welfare Department), we request that you give your most urgent consideration to the relocation of an unemployment and sickness benefit component at the Preston regional office.

In effect, the Council is asking the Minister to see that the unemployment and sickness benefit component is placed in the Preston regional office of the Department of Social Security. I know the Government is very worried about matters involving extra expenditure. I know that this would involve some additional expenditure. The whole point is this: We have this problem in the electorate. There is an excellent regional office. To add this unemployment and sickness benefit component to that office would provide a service for many people who are used to the service given by the regional office. I raise the matter on the adjournment debate, not because it is a parochial issue. Of course I am interested in a parochial issue. I have represented these people for a good many years. I want to see them well looked after. It occurs to me that with the development of regional offices there may be a number of other areas that are suffering from this same problem and that there are large numbers whose claims have to go to the central office for processing when they could be processed just as easily at these regional offices. That is an appeal by the Northern Regional Council for Social Development to the Minister. I suppose it is not a bad general principle at which the Government should be looking- the identification of these areas and the provision of this sort of service to people who appreciate their regional offices and who would benefit by the provision of this service.

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