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Thursday, 9 March 1972
Page: 682

Senator BROWN (Victoria) - The matter with which 1 propose to deal concerns the payment, or rather the nonpayment, of unemployment benefits. I am sure that, honourable senators will recall that some weeks ago there was a protracted industrial dispute in my home State of Victoria and, from memory, I think the dispute ended on 15th February, because it was on that day that the Minister for Social Services (Mt Wentworth) issued a Press statement of which I have a copy. I obtained the copy this evening from the Parliamentary Library and I propose to quote only three or four paragraphs of this very extensive statement by the Minister with respect to this subject matter. Among other things, the Minister said:

Payment of unemployment benefit to members of unions participating in the State Electricity Commission strike was refused in accordance with the procedures laid down under the Labor Government on the instructions of Mr Chifley, Dr

Evatt and Senator McKenna. These procedures have not been varied since the time they were first determined.

The Minister went on to say:

Nov.' that the State Electricity Commission strike has ended it will be possible to pay unemployment benefit without this restriction.

He further said:

Those who registered between the 1st and the 8th February will of course be eligible for Unemployment Benefit as from 15th February if they are still unemployed, but whether they are paid benefit for the period between 8th and 15th February

That was approximately the duration of the dispute- will depend upon whether they lost their employment because of the strike and belonged to one of the unions sponsoring it.

He went on to say finally:

It will be appreciated that the heavy unemployment caused to other workers by the State Electricity Commission strike has put an inordinate toad of work on to the Department, but f have given instructions that delays in determining eligibility for unemployment benefit in respect of the period between the 8th and 15th February should be reduced to the absolute minimum.

I think any reasonable person would have, interpreted that statement by the Minister o have been an instruction or, if you like, a ruling directed to officers of the various district branches of the Commonwealth Employment Office to begin to assess the entitlements of those who have lodged claims during that period of the industrial dispute in Victoria for the purpose of processing those claims and making payment accordingly. But I find that in an address in another place last Thursday night, 2nd March 1972 - his remarks are recorded at page 563 of Hansard - a colleague of mine raised this matter again with the Minister. He said:

I intended to raise this matter last Thursday, during the debate on unemployment benefits, but in order to save time I discussed the matter with the Minister and officers of the Department. I was informed that a ruling had been made that day and that it would be in transit to the Melbourne office of the Department of Social Services that afternoon.

I remind the Senate and the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Greenwood), who represents in this chamber the Minister for Social Services, that the statement I first read was issued as a Press statement by the Minister for Social Services on 15th February. The extract I have just quoted from Hansard indicates that the Minister had decided to issue an instruction on 24th February, exactly 9 days later. I thank my colleague, the honourable member for Corio, Mr Scholes, for the information he supplied to me this evening in order to bring to the notice of the Senate the fact that whatever instructions have been issued, if they have been issued, they certainly have not been able to traverse the pipeline between Canberra and the Geelong office of the Commonwealth Employment Office. My colleague informed me this evening that he communicated with an officer at the Geelong office and was informed that approximately 5,000 people had registered for employment with that branch and that of thos? 5,000 between 2,000 and 3,000 had lodged applications for unemployment benefit. But the Geelong office was unable to process those applications because it had no clear instructions as to precisely how they were to be processed.

I do not think I need delay the Senate unduly by canvassing the hardship of the individual who is affected by unemployment. He suffers hardship not only during the course of that unemployment but also post unemployment, because it can take very many months and in fact years before what he has lost during his unemployment is made up. f think the Minister will agree that this undue delay simply aggravates that hardship and the distress these people experience during the course of unemployment. I cannot say precisely what is the position in the metropolitan area but if the state of affairs in the Geelong district is any indication and it has an application to the metropolitan area, then the number of people being deprived of a payment to which they are absolutely entitled at the present moment would be astronomical in the metropolitan area. I. frankly do not believe that this situation can be tolerated. I ask the Minister to inform the Senate whether instructions have been issued, whether those instructions in. fact have been acted upon, and by what means they are being acted upon. I ask the Minister to treat this matter as urgent because 1 am sure he will agree, as will every honourable senator in this place, that it is a matter which requires immediate attention in order to provide entitlements to those people who have lodged claims for unemployment benefit. Although their claims may have been lodged as far back as a month, they still have not received any payment to date.

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