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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2144

Senator ELSTOB —My question is directed to the Minister for Social Security. Has the Minister's attention been drawn to the recently publicised case of Mrs Damalas, a severely disadvantaged mother who in five years of dealing with doctors and social workers was not informed of her eligibility for social security benefits. Can the Minister say whether the Department of Social Security has a system whereby its current information services are monitored and evaluated for effectiveness in reaching potential clients? If so, what is the present method being used?

Senator GRIMES —My attention has been drawn to the case in which the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, on 13 April this year, awarded Mrs Damalas arrears of the handicapped child's allowance. I understand that the handicapped child's allowance was granted to Mrs Damalas for her son George from 15 December 1982. She had applied for arrears for the four years since George's birth in November 1978. The Administrative Appeals Tribunal accepted that the special circumstances which applied in Mrs Damalas's case precluded either her or her husband from the opportunity for contact with possible sources of information on the handicapped child's allowance. I am pleased that this matter has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion and I am satisfied that it was dealt with as speedily as the appeals process that we have allows.

In relation to Senator Elstob's other question, the Department and I are very conscious of the need to inform potential clients about their rights and entitlements to departmental services and programs. However, in relation to most of those programs it is extremely difficult to determine the number of potential clients. The Department relies heavily on feedback from welfare and community organisations as well as direct information coming from clients and members of the public through the regional office network and State administrations. This direct feedback comes in a number of ways such as counter inquiries, telephone hotlines and radio talk-backs, et cetera.

Monitoring and evaluation is carried out on particular components of the information service rather than on the service as a whole. A number of specific projects which are currently under way include market research in Western Australia on certain information strategies in relation to sickness benefit, evaluation of the effectiveness of the information program in the Northern Territory aimed specifically at Aboriginals, the migrant information needs survey being conducted in the Marrickville region of Sydney, and evaluation of a pilot information dissemination system being conducted in conjunction with Australia Post in Melbourne. However, we will continue to look closely at all programs to ensure that as much information as possible is given with as wide a coverage as possible.