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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1748

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) - The Opposition supports this Bill, although I understand that the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten) will move an amendment, which we will not push to a division. The thrust of his proposed amendments is that the Opposition wishes to sound some warning signals to the Government in this undertaking and the Opposition wants them recorded. I think the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) would be the first to agree that in asking the Parliament to pass this Bill he is asking it to take him and his Commission on trust. He made what I called an excellent statement to this House on 30 August when he tabled the report of the Interim Commission on Social Welfare together with the Australian Assistance Plan. The report was full of philosophy; the assistance plan was full of ideas, many of which were untested. At the time I commended the Minister and the Commission for both the philosophy and the suggested ideas in the plan.

This Bill is to establish a social welfare commission. In other words it is to make legal, the body that is now functioning. I want to raise a point here without being too critical, although my friend the honourable member for Indi will pursue this point. The Commission has been functioning for some months now, virtually without the authority of Parliament, as has that other child of the Minister, the Health Commission. This has been done simply by creating an Interim Committee and by hypothecating the sum of money out of the Treasury to pay the wages, stationery and telephone bills in the meantime. I think it would be irresponsible of me as the Opposition's spokesman if I did not point out to the Minister and to the Government the dangers in this procedure.

In this particular matter I can fully understand that to get the scheme rolling the Interim Committee had to be formed and money had to be hypothecated to it, but it is a dangerous procedure when this sort of thing is done. The Social Welfare Commission is working, people are being paid salaries, letterheads are printed and letters are being written for an institution which purports to be a statutory corporation when the Parliament has not yet authorised its establishment. For all the Minister knows, such a concept might well be refused in the Senate where the Government does not have the numbers. I do not want to labour the point; I just raise it at this stage.

This Bill to establish the Commission is one of a number of Bills before the Parliament seeking to establish commissions in such areas as education, tariff making and aspects of trade practices. The Interim Committee of the National Social Welfare Commission was appointed on 3 April 1973. Since that time a specific number of matters has been referred to it by the Minister, including the Australian Assistance Plan, the Aged Persons Homes Act, the home care program, the Senate Standing Committee's report on mentally and physically handicapped persons in Australia, emergency relief and multi-purpose welfare centres. The general functions of the Commission, as set out in clause 14 of the Bill, are substantially the same as the Interim Committee's reference. Therefore my remarks today will be relatively brief because I made a fairly long speech on 30 August in reply to the Minister's statement when he tabled the report. There seems to be little point in repeating that today.

I would like to make a few remarks, though, on the Australian Assistance Plan. One of the first tasks of the Commission is to be midwife - to use the Minister's expression - to the Australian Assistance Plan. The plan has as its stated aim 'to assist in the development, at a regional level within a nationally co-ordinated framework, of integrated patterns of welfare services, complementary to income support programs and welfare - related aspects of health, education, housing, employment, migration and other social policies.' In doing this, account should be taken amongst other things of the existing responsibilities of State and local governments and voluntary agencies, as well as the Australian Government. The Opposition supports this Bill and the philosophy behind it but it is taking the Government on trust and taking the Minister at his word - the words he used in the statement he made to the House on 30 August and in his second reading speech. There is an inbuilt guarantee by the Minister that State governments will not be bypassed, that some autonomy will be vested in the regional councils. The last thing the Minister or the Government would want would be for these detailed decisions in this matter to be made in Canberra or to be centralised in any way!

Regional councils for social development are regarded as an integral part of regional planning. It is recognised that these councils will vary from State to State according to any differences which may exist. That is quite proper. Of course, social conditions and prob- lems applicable to Redfern would be quite different from the social problems applicable to Gosford. To take a Victorian example, the problems of Collingwood or Carlton would be quite different from the social problems of Wangaratta. As I mentioned in my speech on 30 August, if one wants to assist in the social development of youth and young people, say, in Gosford or Wangaratta one would tend to build football arenas and other sporting facilities. To cope with different kinds of social problems in places such as Carlton and Redfern one might not be persuaded to build such things as football grounds and gymnasiums. There is a different solution to different sets of problems. Therefore the Opposition agrees that the responsibilities of different regional councils would vary.

It is also recognised that the suggested composition of these councils - involving representatives of the Australian, State and local governments, trade unions, employer groups, welfare consumer groups and non-government bodies concerned with social welfare - rests on an untried assumption, and more needs to be known about what might be a desirable composition. Evaluation of the appropriate population level for the planning and provision of welfare services will be necessary. This will affect notions of the definition of a region. The Minister was vague - I do not blame him for that - about where the regions will be, who will be on the councils and how they will be formed. I presume he will be waiting for reports and recommendations of the Commission on these matters. The Bill provides that the Commission must make an annual report and that annual report must be tabled in this Parliament by the Minister. I make another plea, that when such a report involving the lives of millions of Australians is put down here, adequate debate will be allowed on such matters rather than wasting hours debating peripheral things. Sometimes one wonders if the cause of the nation is advanced by some of the long, tedious, repetitious debates that occur from time to time.

As yet the Australian Assistance Plan is still at the ideas stage. In addressing a recent welfare conference in Melbourne the Minister made the following observations:

Obviously we need more information. We don't want a situation in which too many of our skilled and committed people are conducting surveys and testing models.

Let me make a mild tilt at the Labor Government. So many commissions, authorities and boards have been created since the Australian Labor Party won government on 2 December last - I think the last count was 63 new boards, departments and commissions - that it must be fresh out of people to form any new ones. The Minister went on to say:

Nor do we want to see a situation in which welfare agencies proliferate and are nationally organised in such a way that there are too many incentives for empire building, demarcation and territorial disputes, and, amongst the personnel, for self-maintenance and career improvement at the possible expense of the rights of the people the system is supposed to be helping.

I thoroughly commend the Minister for saying that and I support him in saying that.

It seems that the Minister is well aware of the definition which has been put forward of the 'typical' poor New York family. It has been defined as a man, a woman purporting to be his wife, 1.27 children, plus 2 social workers. The Minister went on to say that he suspected 'that an over-complex system is worse than an unintegrated system'. Whilst substantive comment on the Australian Assistance Plan must await more concrete proposals it is possible to examine the broad outlines of the workings of a regional council. There is a heavy emphasis on liaison. Theoretically, a council will have to work in liaison with the Australian Department of Social Security or the State offices of it and up to 13 other Australian Government departments, such as Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-Generals', Capital Territory, Education, Environment and Conservation, Health, Housing, Immigration, Labour, Northern Territory, Repatriation, Tourism and Recreation and Urban and Regional Development; the State Government in its various departments concerned with welfare services; local governments - there are 900 of them; the Australian Council of Social Services and the State Council of Social Services; various planning boards in existence and to be set up; and local bodies and charities concerned with welfare services. It is a mindboggling list of the number of bodies with which these regional councils have to work in liaison. Sometimes my sympathies go out to my friend the Minister for the Environment (Dr Cass), who is trying to implement his philosophies on the environment around the nation and is frustrated by having to deal with so many other people and finds himself impotent - in a political sense, I assure him - in being able to carry out these policies.

Any concept based on population distribution as a basis for regionalisation will result in councils which will benefit from this scheme being mainly those in the metropolitan cities. The dominance of the State capitals is shown by the following figures, of which I think very few Australians, particularly parliamentarians, can be proud: In South Australia 68.9 per cent of the people live in Adelaide; in Victoria 68.2 per cent of the population lives in Melbourne; in Western Australia 62.1 per cent of the population lives in Perth; in New South Wales 59 per cent lives in Sydney; in Queensland 44.7 per cent of the people live in Brisbane; and in Tasmania 33.3 per cent lives in Hobart. The distribution of the population outside the metropolitan areas is of crucial importance in the setting up of regional councils. Some indication of this distribution is given in a table which I would like to incorporate in Hansard. I apologise to the Minister for not showing it to him. It is a short one. Its source is "The World's Most Urbanised Country' by K. W. Robinson published by Hemisphere in September 1973. It again highlights this terrifying way in which population in Australia-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!Is the honourable member seeking leave to incorporate it in Hansard?

Mr CHIPP - Yes.

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