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Wednesday, 13 November 1974
Page: 2323

Senator YOUNG (South Australia) - I wish to make my position clear. I do support the concept of the assistance and encouragement of social welfare and community development throughout this country. But there are areas in the Australian Assistance Plan that concern me. I should make only brief reference to some of these because both Senator Baume and Senator Greenwood have dealt with some of them. I refer particularly to the publicity for the establishment of these regional councils and also the complement and structure of the councils. There is another area which causes me very grave concern: We have elected groups already established in this country which are being bypassed. 1 refer to State governments and local government bodies. I question why it is necessary to set up what I believe could eventually develop into a fourth tier of government, because I can see this possibly and probably happening. I would like the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) to assure us that this will not be the case. I question why the State governments and local government authorities are being bypassed. No government authority is closer to the people and the problems of people than local government bodies. They are elected bodies. A broad representation of the local community sits on these bodies. They know the problems and the need for development of certain areas of social development in their own community. Yet in the Estimates this year some $6m is to be appropriated for the interim period of the Australian Assistance Plan and this money is to be allocated on a basis which nobody knows because no guidelines are set down. If there are I have not found them and I would like the Minister to give them to me if he could.

We basically have a single line entry and this Parliament has no opportunity to research in any way or to get any detail as to how that money will be spent. There are broad guidelines, yes, but they are very broad guidelines. Our responsibility as parliamentarians is to look at the Estimates but we cannot in any way assess where responsibility really lies or find out where this money is to be spent or at the end of 12 months know how that money has been spent. This causes me great concern. We have an appropriation of $6m this year. One wonders how much it will be next year and the following year. At the same time we have no opportunity of really determining as we should how that money has been spent throughout the community. I still wonder why this Government has not been prepared, within the concept of the Australian Assistance Plan, to work through local governments. They are responsible bodies comprising people who are responsible to those in their local area and people who could not be accused as a group of taking one side or the other or of using certain funds, as has been suggested today, for the benefit of certain political ideologies.

This brings me to another point. I ask the Minister whether he can give to me or to the Senate an assurance that finance is not given or is not likely to be given to any particular political group. I put it in general terms to be fair. This Plan does leave the way open for this type of thing and this is why I raise these questions today. We have bodies already established in this country and accepted as responsible bodies by the community and elected by the community. Yet we are going to completely by-pass them in a new form of social and community welfare development.

Senator Milliner - Can you not read the documents?

Senator YOUNG -Yes, but I am asking the Minister whether he will give me an assurance on these points. I recall that Senator Devitt mentioned that these bodies will have a great deal of autonomy unto themselves. Questions have already been raised and fair answers have been given by the Minister regarding the publicity given to the establishment of some of these councils and I have gone on to raise further questions. I hope we as a Senate can get clarification of these points.

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