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Wednesday, 29 June 1994
Page: 2316

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction) —I seek leave to make some remarks on the case of Peita Dalley, which was raised previously.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McKiernan)—Is leave granted?

Senator O'Chee —Mr Acting Deputy President, if I could get some indication of the time and the exact matter it relates to it might be easier to help us decide whether leave will be granted.

Senator SCHACHT —We want to raise the matter of Ms Peita Dalley and the youth homeless allowance because Senator Troeth made some remarks about this case in the previous debate and the government believes it is appropriate that we put on the record information about the case. It will take, I would think, not more than four or five minutes.

  Leave granted.

Senator SCHACHT —I am aware, as is the government, of the tragic case involving Peita Dalley. The government's policy in regard to the youth homeless allowance and the verification procedures used to determine eligibility have been explained to the parliament on a number of occasions. The government has explained that the payment guidelines are being reviewed to make sure that it is clear that parents are contacted in all appropriate cases. The government has detailed the work being done with the states to ensure that homeless young people obtain the services they need.

  The House of Representatives is also conducting an inquiry into these issues. The government is seriously concerned that the public debate on this issue remains ill-informed. Public confidence in the government's policies and programs is being undermined by people who have a responsibility to foster informed debate. We have sought to keep the debate on this matter at the policy level, and to avoid discussing the particulars of the case. Unfortunately, individual cases are now being dragged through the print media and discussed on radio.

  The government has taken legal advice. We understand that it would not infringe the information privacy principles in the Privacy Act if, on behalf of the government, I put certain personal information on the record to ensure that the public has accurate information about the matters of public interest. The current case concerns Peita Dalley who applied for, and was granted, the youth homeless allowance. As an example of the sort of irresponsible press coverage that this matter received, I will quote Rod Henshaw on Radio 4BC, who said this morning:

Well the way things stand right now, youngsters can front up to social security, bad mouth their home and their parents and presto, they qualify for a homeless allowance. Well, with money in their pockets, and their heads full of financial and fanciful ideas, why should they return home?

While I do so reluctantly, I will respond on behalf of the government to the question by quoting from the department's report to the coroner, a copy of which has been provided to me. It states that the circumstances of the recommendations for grant were recorded as follows:

Peita presented to the interview with her sister and detailed a history of conflict in the family home. This included many instances of both verbal and physical abuse. She was clearly distressed and reported that she had been evicted from the family home.

Peita advised the social worker, that the Department of Family Services and the Police Child Protection Unit could verify her circumstances and authorise the Department to contact them on her behalf. The police and DFS reportedly first became involved with the family following a suicide attempt several months previously in which Peita took an overdose of medication in response to unbearable stress and conflict.

Peita specifically requested in writing, that her step-father not be contacted as she feared retaliation if he was aware that she had reported her home circumstances to the Department.

The social worker subsequently phoned the Child Protection Unit (Detective Warren Riley) and the Department of Family Services (Megan Crawford) to verify Peita's home circumstances. Both officers reported concerns about the use of physical tactics to resolve family issues and commented on the assessed level of family dysfunction. The child care officer from DFS concluded that it was not reasonable for Peita to continue to live at home given the long history of unresolved domestic disharmony and the impact of this on her well-being.

On the basis of collaborating information provided by reliable third parties, supporting statements from the client herself, and the professional social work assessment of the effect of the family environment on the physical and emotional well-being of the youth the social worker recommended payment of the Youth Homeless Allowance. (Section 18.21330 Exceptional circumstances—history of domestic disharmony making it impossible for the client to live at home).

The government trusts that this information now being put on the record clarifies the policy and the background of this case, which has been raised publicly.