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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1756

Mr COHEN (Robertson) - We have just listened to the typical, whining, whingeing, moaning and bellyaching type of speech we have heard from the Country Party goats since this Government was elected. How different it was from the fine speech made by the Liberal shadow Minister, the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). During his speech on this Bill some weeks ago he had nothing but praise for the establishment of the Commission. In the typical style of the Country Party since 2 December its members have tried to score off every single improvement and every social advancement that this Party has made. They have fallen flat on their faces as usual. Let us have a look at some of the criticisms made by the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten). He said that the Social Welfare Commission was set up without parliamentary approval. I remind him that Sir Robert Menzies set up the Australian Universities Commission as an interim committee on exactly the same basis and he also appointed Sir Hugh Ennor without advertising the position. He acted in exactly the same way as the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden).

Mr Holten - That does not necessarily make it right.

Mr COHEN - The honourable member did not say anything about it at the time; I can assure him of that. I point out that the discussion paper No.1 concerns both this Parliament and the nation. The initial objectives as set out in the discussion paper are:

The aim of the Australian Assistance Plan is 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 the welfare-related aspects of health, education, housing, employment, migration and other social policies, having regard to the following matters:

That the existing responsibilities of State and local governments, voluntary agencies and the Australian Government are recognised.

That assistance should be available for planning and developmental programs.

That the development of regional planning systems is to be encouraged.

That every effort is made to avoid duplication and overlapping of services.

That local residents and welfare consumer groups are encouraged to participate in the planning and provision of welfare services.

That continual elvaluation and monitoring of all programs occur to ensure their flexibility, adaptability and appropriateness in light of changing patterns of social need.

The honourable member for Indi said that the discussion paper is vague. Of course it is vague. We are moving into a totally new field. The previous Government never bothered to do any research into this field. It set up a whole lot of government agencies for each department andlet them run on their own without any co-ordination or integration. When the honourable member for Indi was Minister for Repatriation the Department of Repatriation operated in isolation from other departments, as did the Department of Social Services. If there is anything for which I should criticise the previous Government more than anything else it is for lack of information we received.

The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) is now in the chamber. When he was Minister for Social Services I wrote to him repeatedly and asked for information and statistics about the depth and the amount of poverty that existed, the lack of housing and the lack of welfare services to the community. I never received any information because he always said that this field was the responsibility of the universities and the academics. He said it was not the Government's responsibility to find out where the problems were. It was always someone else's responsibility. In effect the previous Government said: 'You tell us what the problems are and then maybe we will do something about them'.

The previous speaker asked what was to happen with respect to the other government departments. I hope that they will learn to co-operate with one another and to work together. I am reminded of the number of departments both Federal and State that now exist. In most communities today, particularly in country areas, the departments operating in this field include the departments of Social Security, Labour - that is, commonwealth employment - Immigration, Repatriation, Aboriginal Affairs and Tourism and Recreation.

In my State of New South Wales the State departments operating in this field include the Department of Housing, which administers the State Housing Commission, the Department of Youth and Community Services, which was formerly the Department responsible for social welfare, the Police Department and, to name one other State office, chamber magistrates. In addition, through the Department of Health various services are provided.

Other organisations include local hospitals, domiciliary health care clinics, nursing homes, nursing care services, aged persons' homes and the various voluntary agencies such as Legacy, the civilians widows' organisations, the Returned Services League, the war widows' organisations, the handicapped children's organisations, sheltered workshops and various community service clubs such as those catering for age and invalid pensioners and senior citizens together with the parents without partners and birthright organisations. All of these bodies operate without any form of co-ordination. This is what is wrong with the social welfare system. This is the fragmented nature of the system that exists and will continue unless action such as that proposed by this magnificent document entitled the 'Australian Assistance Plan' is agreed to by this House and by the Parliament and is implemented by the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) and his Department.

The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) talked about volunteer help. He said that his Party believed in voluntary involvement in social welfare services. I think this involvement is important. But I differentiate between what I call voluntary help and government involvement. We should make sure that voluntary workers are not filling a void caused by government abdicating its role. The sight of voluntary workers being forced to beg in the streets to provide basic health and social welfare amenities I find intolerable as, I am sure, do most sections of the community. We must strike a happy medium with respect to government involvement and voluntary help in decision making. We should not depend on voluntary helpers to provide all needs including the massive finance that is essential to make our welfare system function.

The Country Party, through the honourable member for Indi, as it has done with respect to almost every Bill which has come before this House, has tried to discover some plot in this legislation which demonstrates that the

Labor Party practises a form of discrimination against country people by giving preference to metropolitan areas and to the cities. I represent a partly rural electorate. Many of my colleagues represent rural electorates. There is an enormous amount of rural poverty. From the discussions that I have had with the Minister and from early reports, I have been informed that rather than rural areas receiving less per capita through the Australian Assistance Plan, any discrimination will probably be in thenfavour.

The great advantage that I see in this program is that at last on a regional basis we will have some sort of direction as to where we are going. I am sure that I speak for every member in this House when I say that a member suffers enormous frustration when he sits in his office and meets his electors and representatives of voluntary agencies who, one after the other, discuss various problems and different programs. One person will say: 'I think we need an aged persons' homes unit. How do we go about doing that?' The member asks: 'Where should we build it?' The reply is: I have not accurate information. I do not know whether we need 10 units, 50 units, 100 units or 500 units'. Someone suggests that a social worker is needed. Someone else might say that 5 or 10 social workers are required. The question is: How many do we need? People suggest that we should set up youth centres or senior citizens clubs. Again the question is: How many do we need?

Does direction or planning exist? There is no co-ordination throughout the whole community to analyse and to dissect the welfare and health problems and what is required in a total community program to bring them to fruition over a period to meet the requirements. All of the organisations that I mentioned earlier and others in our community go off in different directions and do their own things without any form of co-ordination. I see the Australian Assistance Plan as the beginning of a program to create a proper integrated welfare system in Australia. I deplore the attempts made by the previous speaker to try to score political points in this matter. I hope that the people who are listening to this debate or who read about this debate will note the deep divisions which exist between the Opposition parties.

The honourable member for Hotham made one of the most laudatory speeches that I have heard from an Opposition member towards the Government since I have been a member here. On the other hand, the former Country Party Minister attempted to score political points. I find it incredible to believe that in respect of this basic document setting out laudable social objectives the honourable member could find so many points on which to whine and whinge. The document is vague - I agree with him on that point - 'because the area in which we are moving is vague because so little information is available on which to base it. So much of what we are to do will be exploratory. We will be researching and gathering facts and information. I am most disappointed - in fact, I am quite bitter - to think that this action, of all the steps that we have taken, should be knocked in such a performance by the Country Party.

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