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Wednesday, 16 February 1977

Mr ANTONY WHITLAM (GRAYNDLER, NEW SOUTH WALES) -Tonight I do not wish to speak about parsimonious bank managers. However, I do wish to speak about the management of money and particularly of welfare funds by the Federal Government. It is my unfortunate duty to draw to the attention of the House this evening the very critical position in which an innovative welfare project in my electorate has been placed as a result of a Government decision communicated to that group today. In the electorate of Grayndler and in some of the adjoining electorates, including some parts of the electorate of St George, a project is conducted by a group called Kids Activities Newtown.

Mr Bradfield -The yellow bus?

Mr ANTONY WHITLAM (GRAYNDLER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The magic yellow bus which, as the honourable member for Barton knows, has been positioned in front of Parliament House for the past couple of days. I had the pleasure of launching that bus but a few months ago, and so soon it seems that we will now see the hopes of everybody concerned with the project dashed as a result not simply of a hard-hearted decision of this Government but of a particularly ill-advised one. It is in that kind of spirit that I now want to again go over for the benefit of Government supporters as well as for members of the Opposition the essence of this project. I urge that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) reconsider her decision.

Honourable members should have regard for the physical environment that exists in inner city Sydney. It is an environment particularly lacking in open recreational space and the access to that space is made very difficult by the large number of arterial and sub-arterial roads that run through these districts. This means that in the interest of safety, children often are kept at home or within the close proximity of their home by parents. It is unlikely, as is the case in more fortunately equipped environments, that they can walk to open spaces. At the same time, it is an area, in the main, of fairly low income people and a great many families in which the mother also is a breadwinner. These people are not able to provide in every case the supervised recreation that is available in more affluent families. This is not only because of the lack of proximity to physical recreational facilities but also because of the lack of time available to take children to the limited facilities available.

In this peculiar physical environment there has been developed a project to take children from the narrow physical environment in which they move to the limited open space that is available and, when at this open space, to confront their senses with new opportunities, with innovative toys, with toys of a size and scale which no home, not even the most affluent one, generally has, and with games that excite the imagination. It is a project designed to open up to the children of families which are amongst the most deprived in our community an opportunity for at least some recreation which can develop their intelligence and their senses. This is done through a bus which moves around the district, picks up children and takes them to other areas under supervision. The project also serves as a communication facility for the parents, to put them in contact with each other, to help them plug into the welfare services which are so puzzling. Every member of this House comes into contact day after day with befuddled constituents.

Today the Minister for Social Security, instead of acceding to the request for a grant of $28,000 which previously was paid through the Australian Assistance Plan, has given this project a once only grant of $5,000. That is simply not enough for the maintenance of the vehicle and for the materials used by this project. It will not cover any wage or salary costs of any staff connected with it. The Minister suggests that the Australian Assistance Plan has been taken over by the State governments. In fact, in her notorious statement of 21 April 1976 nothing was suggested other than that the matter should be negotiated with the States. No State will take on a commitment to extra funding when it knows that if it does so the Federal Government will chop its financial assistance by that amount. I urge the Minister in the name of all compassion, to reconsider this very worthwhile project which is the antithesis of waste and extravagance.

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