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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2773


Senator REID(10.30) —I wish to refer to the report of the National Inquiry into Homeless Children by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission called Our Homeless Children. The reason I wish to do so is that I have received from the Weston Creek Community Service a very detailed response to that report. I hope that those considering the report of the Human Rights Commission will look at this very closely, together with the other submissions they receive. I will not go through the response in detail, but the Service comes to the following conclusion:

The fact that there are young homeless people living in our communities should be of enormous and grave concern to everyone. In responding to this very significant report on ``Our Homeless Children'', the Weston Creek Community Service has registered its concern and its willingness to do what is necessary to alleviate youth homelessness in Weston Creek in Canberra.

It refers particularly to the recommendations, but I want to refer to their comment in relation to recommendation 20.3. It is a comment that I particularly wish to endorse. It reads:

The Weston Creek Community Service believes very strongly that non-government agencies are better accepted by the community in supporting families under stress and reiterates that its current level of family support funding is insufficient to meet current community needs.

There are very positive suggestions throughout this report in relation to the recommendations of the Human Rights Commission, but I think there is a very real place in this area for groups such as the Weston Creek Community Service, as a non-government agency, to be involved. Earlier today I showed to the Manager of Government Business in the Senate (Senator Robert Ray) the introduction to the report. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the first two pages of this report, which I commend to those who will be responding on behalf of the Government.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

RESPONSE TO ``OUR HOMELESS CHILDREN'': REPORT OF THE NATIONAL INQUIRY INTO HOMELESS CHILDREN BY THE HUMAN RIGHTS AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION BY WESTON CREEK COMMUNITY SERVICE.

The Weston Creek Community Service agrees with the Commission in its adoption of the South Australian Council of Social Services definition of homelessness as being:

``for homelessness to exist, at least one of the following conditions should be operative:

(a) an absence of shelter;

(b) the threat of loss of shelter;

(c) very high mobility between places of abode;

(d) existing accommodation considered inadequate by the resident for reasons such as overcrowding, the physical state of the residence, lack of security of occupancy or lack of emotional support and stability in the place of residence;

(e) unreasonable restrictions in terms of access to alternative forms of accommodation.''

We believe that it is essential that homelessness as it relates to young people be discussed in its widest context to enable a comprehensive and sensitive response to be made to the problem.

The Weston Creek Community Service believes that it is totally unacceptable for the community to allow the problem of youth homelessness to continue unchecked and we are keen to do what we can to alleviate youth homelessness in Weston Creek in Canberra.

We agree with the Commission in that failure to address the problem of youth homelessness results in costs to the individual and costs to the community. The costs to the individual, as identified in the report, are considerable; financial costs, social isolation costs, psychological injuries costs, health costs, drug and alcohol costs, prostitution costs, disrupted education costs and disrupted employment costs. The costs to the community, as identified in the report, are also considerable in government outlay costs and costs related to crime in the community. The Weston Creek Community Service strongly believes that a perceived lack of current financial resources is no excuse for government failure to address the youth homelessness problem as a matter of urgency.

We support the ``Declaration of the Rights of the Child'' which states ``that all children have a right to enjoy special protection, to receive adequate housing and to be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation.''

The comprehensive response needed to youth homelessness as indicated earlier must be rapid, sensitive and appropriate to the differing needs of young homeless people.

We must respond appropriately to young people who leave home for short periods to ``cool off''. We must respond appropriately to young people who need only minimum support by ensuring they have enough financial support and a number of housing options available to them.

We must also respond appropriately to the chronically homeless, those who share a profound alienation from society, and respond sensitively to each individual on the basis of their age, intellectual disability, emotional disturbance, poor education, inadequate living skills, extensive poverty or combinations of these.

We know in the Australian Capital Territory that there are at least 50-60 young people homeless each night and we also know from the report that the youth workers in our community are perceived by young people as trusting and supportive. We need to encourage our young people to seek out our youth workers for assistance when they become homeless and when they are thinking of leaving home.

The Weston Creek Community Service acknowledges that young people leave home when their families are under stress, and agree with the Commission that insufficient funds are currently spent on family support services and preventative programs aimed at families under stress. We know already that our level of family support funding at Weston Creek is totally inadequate to meet the needs of the community we serve. We also acknowledge that family poverty and isolation are important factors in young people leaving home and urge the Federal Government to ensure that all individuals and families have an adequate income to enable them to properly function in our community.

Before examining the Commission's recommendations in detail, it remains to be said that we agree with the Commission that the number of crisis refuges currently in existence appears to be adequate, that more medium and long term accommodation for young people is desperately needed and that accommodation needs to be different for 13-18 year olds and 18-25 year olds, respectively, according to their different needs.


Senator REID —I wish to raise another matter. It is a story I find quite appalling and one I can hardly believe, but I can only present it to the Senate as it has been given to me. I read from a letter which has been written from a constituent to the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel (Mr Simmons). The letter states:

I am writing to you as an employee of the Department of Defence and Taxpayer. I am employed as a Senior Storeman at the Fyshwick Bulk Store of the Department. An incident happened on Thursday 18 and Friday 19th May which caused me great concern and extremely upset me.

Due to a recurring chest complaint and recent respiratory infection the week before (on sick leave for 4 days), I was wearing a personally owned jumper to help recover from my infection and was told by the Executive Officer of Stores to ``take off my jumper'', as according to Stores' regulations I was out of uniform for wearing the jumper as an outer garment. I have been supplied with a jacket which is regulation issue but it fails to keep my chest warm and is cumbersome for me to carry out many of my duties . . . I refused to remove my jumper on explanation of my illness, and was informed that I would be on leave without pay if I did not. At 9.30 a.m. I was advised by the Stores Manager under instruction from the Executive Officer of Stores that I was indeed on leave without pay. I telephoned Senior Executive Officer of Transport and Stores to request that I could leave my jumper on, and was advised no. As I was quite adamant that I should be allowed to wear it, considering my illness, I continued to refuse to remove it. I remained at work and continued my duties for the day.

It gets worse:

On Friday 19th May, I was issued a Minute from the Stores Manager under instruction from the Executive Stores Officer that confirmed the previous days action, i.e. on leave without pay . . . I contacted Branch Staff Cell to ask for a telephone number for Civil Personnel, and was told that I was not allowed to talk to Personnel, I had to go through them. I explained the previous days events and they said that they would investigate the matter. I did however contact Civil Personnel myself and they too said they would investigate the matter. I have in support of this letter, copies of correspondence from my doctor and my mother confirming my health problems, and would ask that you find the time to investigate this matter.

I have in my possession a copy of a letter from the man's doctor confirming a recurrent respiratory infection and his need to take steps to keep himself warm and well. I also have a confirmatory letter from the man's mother. I have what might be regarded as a remarkable document which is a copy of a minute paper, headed `Subject: Protective Clothing', and directed to my constituent. It reads, in part:

You are advised that as at 0930 hours 18 May 1989 you were on leave without pay until 1651 hours 18 May 1989.

I find it hard to believe that such a thing could happen when we are talking about productivity and people attempting to do their work and to be a part of the community. It may well be that the clothing issued is not adequate for this climate and that there should be regulation jumpers, if jumpers are in fact required in that area. The jackets may not be adequate. A situation where a man has been off work sick with respiratory problems for four days and is then faced with this sort of petty bureaucracy is something that the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel should look into as a matter of urgency. I hope that his representative in this chamber will report back to the Senate equally as a matter of urgency. I will be very disappointed indeed, to put it very mildly, if this man suffers the consequence of leave without pay for that one day.