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Tuesday, 31 March 1987
Page: 1824

Mr PETER FISHER(10.15) —Mr Deputy Speaker, for the past four years the Sunraysia Voluntary Emergency Relief Group has had responsibility for administering and distributing Federal emergency relief funds in the Mildura community. This group was specifically formed to carry out this task and comprises representatives from local church groups including the Salvation Army, concerned individuals and benevolent societies. As the Federal member, I have been aware of this group's high level of concern and its important counselling role, combined with its integrity and efficiency in the administration of public funds. In May last year I made representations to the then Minister for Community Services on behalf of this relief group, requesting a change to guidelines and seeking the right to endorse food vouchers to ensure that they were used for food and not for alcohol and cigarettes. After repeated representations the Minister, to his credit, finally granted approval.

This approval was sought for two major reasons: Firstly, to ensure that limited funds were able to meet the huge need of the homeless and underprivileged, a need mainly for daily sustenance and housing; and, secondly, because of the moral view that taxpayers' funds should not be expended on alcohol or cigarettes and so contribute to or compound economic and social problems being encountered by the recipients. However, a few weeks later the Sunraysia community was shocked, and in fact was offended, to find that the Department of Community Services, no doubt directed by this Government, had withdrawn all funds from the Sunraysia Emergency Relief Group and had given responsibility instead to the Mildura Trades and Labour Council. As well, it had cut the annual allocation from $32,500 to $18,300. These actions can only be seen as a blatant political exercise against an organisation and a community that have done an excellent job and whose only concern was to help underprivileged and homeless people.

The Trades and Labour Council delegated responsibility for the distribution of this reduced allocation to the Sunraysia Coalition of Low Income Earners. I have now been asked by this group to go to the Minister for Community Services (Mr Hurford) seeking further funds as this group has distributed the year's allocation of $18,300 in under four weeks-in other words, up to $1,000 a day-and now none is left. The Sunraysia community is absolutely outraged over this situation. In an article in the Sunraysia Daily newspaper of last Saturday, the vice-president of the Sunraysia youth accommodation project, Councillor Craig Bildstein, said that it was absolutely outrageous that this money had been distributed in such a short period. He said that he understood that this new group had handed out money to just about everybody who wanted it, for whatever reason. The article states:

He said people working in the field were absolutely livid that the Federal Government had allowed the vouchers to be distributed from the Trades and Labour Council.

The Captain of the local Salvation Army, Captain David Howe, said that the money would have lasted six or seven months had it been handled by responsible people. Captain Howe also said that the idea of management was to make the money last the length of time for which it had been allocated. He went on to say that someone should sit down with alcoholic people and encourage them to seek rehabilitative help instead of giving them money which only furthered their problem. He said that he had come across numerous cases where people had spent up to $300 in two days, and that there were so many people using the system.

Other comments in the same vein were made by Mrs Betty Krake, President of the Sunraysia Emergency Accommodation Centre. She said:

We still feel very strongly that the restrictions are needed on vouchers.

The Director of Mallee Family Care, Mr Vern Knight, said that the distribution of emergency funds was better left to those groups best equipped to run the service, such as benevolent societies and Emmaus House. Now, of course, we find that the Acting Manager of the Department of Social Security in Mildura has said that his Department will now have to refer people to other groups such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, the clerk of courts, the Salvation Army and Emmaus House. The Minister for Community Services advised me at a meeting I had with him last night that there are no more funds to be allocated, so no more funds will be allocated to the Sunraysia community for the next 12 months. This therefore throws all the problems back on to the local charitable relief groups from which this Government removed the original allocation of funds.