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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1629

Ms FATIN(10.50) —We get very accustomed in this House to hearing members of the Opposition give voice to their prejudices and preconceptions. I admit that most of the time their comments are too inconsequential to warrant attention. I would like to say that I have tried to contract the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) to tell him that I would be making this speech. However he was not available. Last Friday, during his speech on the Supported Accommodation Assistance Bill 1985, the honourable member made some remarks about the supported accommodation assistance program which were so insulting to various people in the welfare field that I really feel obliged to bring his comments to the attention of honourable members.

The honourable member started off by congratulating various non-government welfare bodies on the level of expertise they bring to the provision of services to the homeless. I could have supported his sentiments wholeheartedly, had he not gone on to make the absolutely astonishing claim that government departments and bureaucrats were incapable of demonstrating the same degree of care and comparison-an extraordinary remark and, I suggest, a comment which insults not only the many dedicated and skilful people who serve as administration but also the hundreds of public servants in the welfare area who laboured under the previous coalition governments.

The honourable member went on to suggest that the legislation contained some kind of inbuilt bias against the religious organisations who are currently providing services to the homeless. I do not know whether he was just playing at political point scoring or whether he really does not understand the new arrangements. In either case, he is wrong about the effect of the new program because, even though the States have excluded certain specific projects from the SAAP, the Commonwealth will continue to provide these same projects with funds up to the equivalent SAAP level.

As I said before, evidence of a certain level of unfamiliarity with the details of new legislation is not uncommon amongst some honourable members opposite. However, what the honourable member for Petrie went on to inform the House betrayed a far more shallow comprehension of the real world than we would expect to find in a man of his stature. The honourable member, it seems, has taken exception to what he calls the 'radical groups' that are currently running women's refuges in parts of Australia. He has visited one, he told us, and wanted to warn us about some of the 'disgraceful goings-on'-his words, Mr Speaker-that he saw.

I have seen some sights in refuges that anyone of any political persuasion would call disgraceful. But was the honourable member referring to the signs of physical and mental batterings sustained by many of the women and children found in refuges? Was he talking about the cramped conditions of these families, the lack of furniture, the shortage of helpers or the appalling low pay of the refuge workers? No, he was not. What had moved the honourable member so much that he felt obliged to bring the matter to the attention of the Parliament of Australia was that the workers at the refuge were wearing overalls and thongs. 'The overalls brigade', he calls them. He is also worried about some of the pamphlets he saw which he thought might be having a bit of a go at the political philosophy he represents. Remarks of this kind are grossly offensive to refuge workers all over this country. To impugn people's integrity on the grounds that they are dressed in a certain way is not just narrow minded; it also completely ignores the extraordinary level of commitment that has been shown by those women for more than 10 years. They have battled on against every conceivable kind of difficulty. They have had no money, no proper facilities, often no support from their communities or their politicians. Yet they have continued caring for the women and children who so desperately need their help. They have gradually raised the consciousness of our society about a whole gamut of problems that had previously been ignored or denied. It is largely thanks to the women who have kept the refuges functioning during the last 10 years that we are at last beginning to confront some of the questions about child abuse and domestic violence. It is certainly due to these people and their colleagues in other fields that service providers are now being acknowledged in so much of our social welfare legislation.

The honourable member also addressed himself to the causes of some of the social problems confronting people in Australia today. His conclusion is really quite extraordinary. I have been through Hansard very carefully on this point and find that I actually did hear him correctly on Friday when he suggested that we could break the link between women's refuges and unmarried parents by cutting back the supporting parent's benefit. I find this notion utterly nonsensical, if not downright cruel. Women do not get pregnant so that they can get rich on government benefits. The supporting parent's benefit does not relieve a man of his legal obligation to support his dependent wife and children.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.