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Thursday, 23 August 1984
Page: 289

Senator MACKLIN(5.54) —The evaluation of the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service, part 1 is a very useful document. I will refer to some of the recommendations in the report because I think they are very important, particularly the appointment of the professional head of the service and the permanent tenure of the counselling staff.

Many of the staff have been working in a particularly difficult area. The service is a temporary organisation and it has temporary staff. It is not a 9 to 5 job. The counselling staff who work with the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. More often than not they are called out at night to assist in all sorts of problematic areas. Sometimes counselling staff are called to domestic problems at home, sometimes to watchhouse, sometimes to intervene in a whole range of problems, or sometimes they are called by a distraught wife to talk to her husband who has had a breakdown. I know of no other group of public servants who are under so much intense psychological pressure from the group of people with whom they are dealing and who give so much of themselves. I think anybody who has been connected with or who knows of the counselling service in his own city knows that those people have done much above and beyond any call that their duty has on them.

The idea that the Government has and the acceptance of the recommendation for making permanent the tenure of the counselling staff is an excellent move. I think it shows first of all the appreciation that they ought to be made permanent. The appointment of a professional head undoutedly will assist the counsellors in the service in their communication with one another and in their professional development.

However, I refer to the list that is contained in the report that suggests the criteria that might be used for the selection of counsellors. I hope it is not intended-although no caveat is in the report-that that list will be the one which is used when the current staff are made permanent. I know a number of the counsellors who have worked long and hard in those positions who could not fulfill all of those requirements. I believe there is one other requirement that is not listed and which ought to be listed-it would certainly mean that those people who are currently employed in the Service could be made permanent-and that is some experience in the area of counselling Vietnam veterans. It is odd that it has been omitted because it puts at a disadvantage the people who are currently occupying those positions, particularly if they do not fulfill the academic qualifications which are laid down in part 1 of the report.

The only other comment I make in the limited time that is available to me is a disquiet I have, having read through the whole of the report, that if all of the recommendations in the report are accepted we may have an over-bureaucratisation of that service. There is recommendation upon recommendation on forms, data sheets, logs and so on. That might be appropriate in some other areas but it is not appropriate in this area. Keeping good records is very useful but if the extensive types of records which are suggested in the report are the ones which will be kept, it is not the counsellors who will have to do the work. I am not sure whether they will ever get out of the paper work and on to the work they will be employed to do.

I hope that in accepting these recommendations the Government will be mindful that this counselling service, as it was established by the previous Government and as it has operated under the current Government, is meant specifically to help people, not to generate more paper. Counsellors cannot do the detailed type of work that is contained in so many of these recommendations as well as help people. Other than that, I believe that the recommendations will improve the service only if they are dealt with in a sympathetic way. They will enable it to continue. I hope that over a period-it may not be for a number of years-the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service will slowly change, as indeed the counsellors tell me it is changing, into a veterans counselling service. We still have problems with a number of other engagements.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.