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Wednesday, 14 June 1989
Page: 4023

Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Consumer Affairs)(6.51) —The Government also opposes the amendments, for two sets of reasons: the first general and the second more specific. In terms of the general reasons, the Government is concerned about getting it right. To get it right we will not be involved in ad hoc reactive decision making. What we have in process is the development of a social justice strategy for young people which will be announced in the Budget context. We also have in process a working party of Commonwealth and State officials working on the inquiry into homeless children. That particular working party is reporting today at a meeting of Commonwealth and State welfare Ministers.

In essence the major issues involved are not just the levels of income support payments concentrated upon by Brian Burdekin in chapter 14 of his report, Our Homeless Children, but a whole range of interrelated issues such as promoting participation by young people in worthwhile activities, reinforcing parental responsibility and so on. There are also questions about Federal and State responsibilities and roles, as well as community roles, all of which have been highlighted by organisations such as the Brotherhood of St Laurence. These issues are very much at the forefront of the Government's considerations in developing its social justice strategy for youth.

Specific problems-I instance just two-arise out of the amendments from the Australian Democrats. Under the proposed subsection (8a), for instance, every child who qualified as homeless would automatically be entitled to young homeless allowance regardless of age and regardless of work or activity test requirements. One could have 10-year-olds who were not living at home being paid an allowance by the Commonwealth.

It is very much a broad amendment which may have as its motivation the right sentiment but it has particular problems in implementation. Proposed subsections (8b) and (8c), for instance, create a completely new discretionary benefit with not one iota of criterion of eligibility for the benefit. Very briefly, the proposal would cause the Government two significant problems. As I said, there are no criteria for eligibility. Under this Democrats' amendment a social worker could properly determine to pay the benefit to a young person who lived at home. The proposal would give unlimited discretion to any social worker employed in the Public Service. That of course would have all sorts of problems in terms of appeals, the roles of social workers, the discretionary powers of social workers and so on.

It is very much a general amendment, the bottom line of which-it may be that the Australian Democrats have not assessed it closely enough to work this out-is, for example, that proposed subsections (8b) and (8c) would permit payment of a homeless allowance to a young person who was living in a house supplied by his or her parents and provided with regular maintenance by his or her parents. That could be done on the recommendation of a social worker and in the circumstances in which that child was away for three months and asserted independence. In essence we have problems with the amendment. We are concerned about developing a cohesive, coherent, broad response to the problem. We warn the Senate that the amendment, as now framed, would cause unforeseen problems that have not been foreseen by those who moved it.