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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 848

Mr OLDMEADOW (HOLT, VICTORIA) - My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Social workers in my electorate estimate that deserted wives and prisoners' wives wait for an average of 4 weeks for their initial cheques from the government, State or Federal. As money has been made available to destitute and needy university students, has the Minister considered the possibility of making grants or loans available to local councils or to regional social security centres to enable emergency relief to be given to destitute people?

Mr HAYDEN (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Social Security) - It is unfortunate that delays do occur in the issue of cheques. By the nature of the processes, there must be some delay in assessing and approving applications for various forms of social security benefits, as they are known now. I am concerned about this. I cannot speak for the State governments. The area in which they operate is their' responsibility, although I would hope that they would minimise any delays. I have asked my Department to investigate the possibility of using special benefits as a form of discretionary emergency payment for people who have clear forms of immediate need. If this can be done - I think it can - we will reach more of the people about whom the honourable member rightly and commendably is concerned. For instance, we will reach the person who has become unemployed and, as things currently stand, must wait a week before an application for unemployment benefit can be considered, following upon which there is at least a further week's delay before the first cheque arrives. For many people, this delay is critical and can be tragic.

Our general approach to social security payments is to try to clean up the extensive anomalies, inconsistencies and injustices which riddle the system. I think we are progressing fairly well in this area. For instance, in the area about which the honourable member is concerned I am taking steps, having raised the matter already with all States except Western Australia - I will be visiting Western Australia on Monday for this purpose - in regard to the possibility of the Commonwealth accepting full responsibility for the payment of benefits which currently are provided by the States, half the total amount being provided by the Commonwealth through the Commonwealth-States Deserted Wives Act. These are the sorts of far reaching approaches we are developing. Unfortunately, they take a little time to conclude. Finally, it is not enough to provide money for people in need. As the honourable member well knows from his own association with and involvement in community welfare services in his home area over many years, we must also provide services. We are proposing, I hope within a week or a fortnight at the most, to make an announcement of the people who will be manning a national commission on social welfare. Briefly, the purpose of this commission which will be staffed from people of many disciplines, highly qualified in their fields, will be to identify long term objectives and to assist in the development of a rational framework of social welfare programs which will hang together in a balanced, planned sort of way to provide for the evaluation of these programs so that we are continually aware of their relevance or of their need for improvement or redirection in certain areas as community needs and aspirations change from time to time. So we are moving as quickly as possible in this area and in many other associated areas.

Mr Wentworth - Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order and refer to standing order 142 which reads:

Questions may be put to a Minister relating to public affairs with which he is officially connected, to proceedings pending in the House, or any matter of administration for which he is responsible.

The Prime Minister, on his own words and on his own assertions, is officially connected with the organisation of the Labor Party.

Mr Scholes - Mr Speaker-

Mr Wentworth - Mr Speaker-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member has made his point of order according to Standing Orders.

Mr Scholes - I take a point of order on the point of order. A point of order may be taken only at the time of the incident concerned. The honourable member did not take the point of order at that time and, therefore, I submit that he has no point of order.

Mr SPEAKER -The point of order is upheld. It is quite right.

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