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Wednesday, 13 November 1974
Page: 2319

Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation) - I think that the sort of difficulty that Senator Baume refers to is a real difficulty. It is one which it is very difficult to avoid completely in any small regional group where one is dependent very largely upon existing voluntary organisations for its composition. I suppose one would tend to expect that people who have not been affiliated with any sort of organisation in the past are unlikely to emerge suddenly as showing a keen interest in the body exercising regional control. In that case, small pressure groups, as the honourable senator described them, are likely to exercise influence. I do not know whether there is anything wrong with this in itself. In a plural society we are divided into pressure groups of different sizes. I suppose that there would be pressure groups both big and small and some perhaps more admirable than others which would be competing within the local authorities administering the Australian Assistance Plan. But as I understand the substance of Senator Baume 's disquiet, it is that the problem can be that if there is not sufficient advertising and publicity given to the constitution of the regional councils, this will make it much easier for some small pressure group to exercise a quite disproportionate influence.

The Social Welfare Commission has been aware that this sort of problem could exist. In fact, the discussion paper No. 1 which was prepared by the Interim Committee of the Social Welfare Commission and which refers to the Australian Assistance Plan, makes reference to the constitution of regional councils in paragraph 2.3 of chapter 2. It may be of advantage to the Committee of the Whole if I were to read the appropriate paragraph. It states:

Each regional council should involve representatives of the Australian, State and local governments, trade unions and employer groups, welfare consumer groups and nongovernment bodies concerned with social welfare, lt is desirable that the regional council should be answerable to the residents of the region. It is probably desirable that boundaries of the region should relate to local government boundaries, either as at present constituted or in some reformed structure.

Senator Greenwood - What was the Minister reading from?

Senator WHEELDON - I was reading from a discussion paper prepared by the Interim Committee of the Social Welfare Commission which is supposed to perform the function of giving at least some sorts of guidelines to those people who are concerned about the establishment of regional authorities. Although advertising and publicity are not specifically referred to in the paragraph which I have just read, I think it is quite clearly implicit that it is believed to be desirable and that there should be advertising and publicity. Otherwise the sorts of objectives which are enumerated will not be achieved. It is in that paragraph 2:3 that the representation on regional councils was laid down. These guidelines were repeated in the recently issued guidelines which are contained in appendix E, section 5, of the Estimates Committee's report. That specifies the same requirements of representation in the constitution of regional councils. These guidelines will be issued to all the regional councils. I can only say that I suppose any commonsense interpretation of the guidelines is that the public within the regions covered by each of these councils should be made aware of the activities of the council. This is not spelt out in so many words but it seems to me that that clearly follows from what has been said about the type of representation that is being sought because obviously wide representation will not be achieved if it is not sought. The way in which to seek wide representation is to advertise for it.

The initiating grants will be available only to associations which give an undertaking to involve all the interests relevant to the Australian Assistance Plan. This is something which the Commission will be supervising. I think it follows from these guidelines and from the precepts that there should be advertising. All that really can be said is that the arguments which Senator Baume has put forward are quite compelling arguments with which I would agree. Clearly I, in my capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), will do what I can to see that these guidelines are implemented and that none of the regional councils fail through lack of representation or of public knowledge. I certainly would be most obliged if anybody who is aware of a failing of this nature would let me know so that I can convey that information to the Minister for Social Security.

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