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Friday, 19 October 1984
Page: 2072

Senator GILES —Is the Attorney-General aware of insistent criticism by the Director of the Western Australian Marriage Guidance Council of the level of funding given to marriage guidance counselling organisations by the Federal Government? What is the Hawke Government's record in this regard and has assistance to these organisations been increased this year?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am aware of the campaign conducted in the pages of the West Australian newspaper by the Director of the Western Australian Marriage Guidance Council, but the facts of the matter are such as to give no credence to that campaign.

Senator Crichton-Browne —Then why did you not write back? He wrote to you.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have written back to him, and we have contacted him on a number of occasions in a number of different ways. We have demonstrated a lot more sensitivity than normally emerges gurgling from that primaeval quarter of the chamber over there.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Attorney-General to withdraw that remark.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I withdraw.

Senator Grimes —Mr President, I raise a point of order. The Senate has many times had rulings from the Chair that remarks of that type, which are aimed not at individuals but at groups, are within the Standing Orders. If that ruling is to be changed I think it would be a good thing, but I feel that it should be clarified.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I regarded the remark made by the Attorney-General as being out of order, and I ruled accordingly.

Senator GARETH EVANS —On 25 September this year, I approved a grant of $336,000 to the Western Australian Marriage Guidance Council for the 1984-85 fiscal year. Whilst this represents the same amount in dollar terms as for the previous year, it is effectively a 9 per cent increase in recurrent funding to the Council, for last year's grant included a mortgage repayment component of approximately $28, 000 which has now been finalised. Following a request from the Council in September, the level of the grant is under review and the Council has been advised to that effect. I do not believe there is any unfairness about it.

The main point that has been made by the Director of the Council is his objection to the charging of fees for marriage guidance services. The fact is, however, that the financial assistance provided to voluntary organisations approved under the Family Law Act is intended to provide only a proportion of their income. It is not intended to be a total Government funding program and organisations are expected to raise a reasonable proportion of income needed to meet necessary expenditure. A proportion of around 25 per cent is not considered to be unreasonable and many organisations provide a much greater proportion of their income than this. For several years now all eight State and Territory marriage guidance counselling organisations except Western Australia's have charged a fee for service, but no one is denied the service because of inability to pay. The average fee per interview received by councils in 1982-83 was $8. That is hardly a cost recovery basis but a contribution basis. Of the remaining 14 organisations, all except the Catholic agencies charge a fee for service. All agencies contribute substantially to their funding requirements, in the case of the Catholic agencies by contributions of 40 or 50 per cent.

The overall record of the Hawke Government in the marriage guidance area has, I believe, been a proud one. We increased funding to marriage counselling organisations by 9.9 per cent on our first Budget and by over 11 per cent in the 1984-85 Budget. In Western Australia specifically, where this fuss has arisen, I recently approved Anglican Marriage and Family Counselling Services of Perth as an additional organisation for funding under the Family Law Act and have authorised an initial grant of $15,000 for this financial year. This means that in Western Australia there has been an effective increase of more than 13 per cent in recurrent funding to marriage guidance organisations for this year. Finally, I add for the record that in this year's Budget we have also funded the related initiative of family law centres with pilot projects to be established in Dandenong and Wollongong. These services are designed to complement the work of the voluntary agencies and will combine legal and counselling skills under the same roof. The amount of $639,000 is provided in the Budget for this initiative.