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Wednesday, 24 May 1989
Page: 2608


Senator JENKINS(6.00) —This report on homeless children has indeed shocked everybody. The Australian Democrats certainly join with Commissioner Brian Burdekin in expressing our deep concern over the issues that have been raised by this inquiry into child homelessness. As Senator Hill stated earlier, the news is not new to us. As long ago as last December, the Age reported on a report of the Australian Institute of Family Studies that:

Government policies to aid unsupported, homeless youths need overhauling because they have created confusion and failed to give adequate support . . .

I agree with Senator McKiernan that it is up to all of us to work together towards correctly putting an end to the dreadful situations highlighted in the report Our Homeless Children. Nonetheless, in doing that, we must look at the situation and what is provided. The article in the Age highlighted the fact that the programs of income support, training and homeless allowances do not appear to be working. It went on to say:

. . . recent policy developments placed the responsibility for young people firmly back on the family, leaving many homeless young people in a perilous state, while responsibilities were shuffled between departments.

That is not helpful to our homeless youth. When Commissioner Burdekin was questioned on his report, he pleaded with governments, the media and the bureaucracy not to let youth homelessness become just another issue. He stressed the enormity of the situation and pleaded that we should all recognise it. He said that if we cannot recognise this:

. . . we face the very real prospect of an already tragic problem becoming something virtually uncontrollable.

The report estimated that there are between 130,000 and 150,000 homeless Australians, of whom up to 70,000 are aged between 12 and 24 years. Mr Burdekin continued:

. . . the number of homeless would rise unless governments and the bureaucracy adopted a revolutionary solution to the problem.

Of all the recommendations in the report, Commissioner Burdekin highlighted the need for a task force which, although it may be composed of bureaucrats, would spend time talking to people on the ground. The issues that Commissioner Burdekin was referring to are highlighted in a horrendous article in today's West Australian, entitled `What is happening to our children?'. It reads:

The dreadful fantasy of the Clockwork Orange in which violent gangs turned on the society that spawned them, does not seem so fantastic these days.

Clearly, the danger is that we can look to greater violence on our streets unless we can solve the homelessness problem. Although the young muggers on the streets are not all homeless-and there is no doubt about that because some of them come from very good homes but still resort to violence-the homeless youths on the streets can also be drawn into those sorts of situations. Certainly, social conflict and violence within the home environment remains the major cause of young people leaving home, forcing them to fend for themselves on the streets.

The report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children has been awaited with a lot of trepidation, and it is unfortunate that the findings are predictable. It is becoming increasingly obvious that the Federal Government has not been successful in its endeavours to eradicate child poverty, which is one of the major problems. It will not be until all levels of government and, indeed, all of us accept responsibility for the development of a comprehensive and effective youth program that the social difficulties created by child poverty and the subsequent homelessness can be resolved.