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Policy for social needs

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Speech. E. G. W hit lam. 3 M ay 1973

J'he following is the text of an address given by the Prime Minister, Mr Gough JVhitlam, to the inaugural meeting of the National Commission on Social Welfare m Canberra:

?Γ· There are limits to what Governments, or oppositions, can propose in the field of £ Social Welfare or any other. The limits are not just a. matter of practicality, or RS: reasonableness, or imagination: They concern political questions of acceptability which p?.- you ladies and gentlemen are no doubt aware of — but do not always have to be gbv concerned with. In setting before you the task specified in the terms of reference of your §Î²·"-. Commission, we.have not suggested that you should ignore practical considerations, like

those of politics. What we do want you to do, however, is to approach your task in a

frame-work which encompasses the general ideological approach of the Government but which does not limit its horizons. Through the establishment of this Commission, the community will know our goals and will participate in determining those goals. No longer will Australians suffer from the demeaning idea that the .Government always knows best. The public reports of this Commission, the independence of which is accepted by all, will serve as a standard by which the community can judge the Government's decisions.

In every area of social policy, there is a risk that the programs developed in one period will be frozen and continue long after the circumstances which led to their adoption have changed. Your Commission has been charged with the duty to constantly : evaluate policies and programs. Through your advice, bureaucratic or political inertia,

which we have experienced in the past, will be overcome. The charter of your Commission is a broad one. You have been asked to make recommendations on community needs in the development of welfare programs: on the determination of priorities; you have been asked to evaluate programs; to estimate costs and to encourage the coordination and integration of all welfare services. No such i objectives have ever been formulated in this "country, for any of its regions, let alone for : the nation as a whole. : This Government does not accept the philosophy that such programs are available . only to a particular section of the community: the poor, or worse still, the “ deserving : poor". These services are available to the Australian community as a right and not by

I way of charity. The need for such services can face any member of the community, whether he or she would presently be numbered amongst the “ poor” or hot. Bereave­ ment, temporary incapacity, loss of a bread-winner, can strike any family at any time. It is the mark of a progressive community that it can meet such needs as and when they emerge, without any infringement of an individual’s right to self-respect and human dignity. '

: My Government does not aim to present to the Australian people an amalgam of the best available policies of all those countries which we have acknowledged as being more advanced in the social welfare field than ours — that task we could assign to a group of researchers to be achieved by mechanical means, perhaps with the aid of a computer or two. That is not what we are about. Our aim is to do much worse. We want : to know what is the best that we can do. This involves knowing a great deal about

Australian society, its needs, its wants, its capacities, its restrictions, its peculiarities. There is no point whatsoever in having the best social welfare system in the world if. because of the social circumstances in Australia, aspects of it could not be implemented in this country. What we are concerned about are the social needs of Australia. These you have to determine.

Then comes the question of means. Your expertise encompasses both these areas. We have not approached you to write a utopian program. We have not sought from you a political program (whether you might be capable of writing a better effort in that regard than we is a different matter — we are not going to argue, or discuss that). We

do want to know what are the needs of what means you recommend to meet them, given the social and political circumstances. This is not an easy program, particularly as we are asking not for your views on what has to be done now but what needs to be done in the near future. While we acknowledge the difficulty of the task we have given you,

we believe nevertheless that you are capable of fulfilling our hopes in this regard. Or we hope so. What you decide of course may not be practicable in terms of what we have I to decide when we consider your report. But that will be a measure both of your report and of our consideration of it. We will not hide your recommendations. But our decisions

must be based on practicalities — as must yours. I am convinced that the work of this Commission will be invaluable in changing attitudes in the Australian Community, in devising new policies and in establishing a more humane social welfare system for all Australians. In the future, we will not have

to look to Britain, West Germany or the Scandinavian countries for inspiration and

guidance in the development of social policies. Rather, as was the case in an earlier period of our history, other nations will look to us.