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Thursday, 27 May 1993
Page: 1465

Senator NEWMAN (1.21 p.m.) —I was not going to speak about Bangka but I cannot resist adding a few words to what Senator Giles has said. There is a frontbencher here who would dearly have liked to have been associated with that ceremony on Bangka. I have long had an interest in the plight of those nurses. In February of last year I was in Singapore for the commemoration of the fall of Singapore. I met a number of nurses who had nursed in Singapore and a number of them had tried to get away at the fall of Singapore. Matron Bullwinkle has talked for a long time about the wish to have this memorial on Bangka.

  When I was in Indonesia last year, I raised the matter with the Minister responsible for women's interests in the Indonesian Government, who did not know about the issue and who was very concerned to see it go ahead. The Australian Embassy in Indonesia was, at that stage, trying to see what could be done. I came back here and also raised it with the Department of Veterans' Affairs. I have had a continuing interest in the matter and I am very glad that after all these years these women's sacrifice of their youth, and in many cases their lives, has been recognised at last. The provision of that memorial was far too long in the making. I am glad it has now happened and I add to Senator Giles's comments on that.

  My purpose today is to speak on matters which should be of great concern to all Australians as we draw closer to the 1994 International Year of the Family. I want to speak about the Australian Institute of Family Studies in the International Year of the Family program. Although the problems affecting each may be somewhat different, the underlying theme is the same—government mismanagement and broken promises. I would like to begin by drawing the attention of the Senate to a remark in the 1991-1992 annual report of the Institute of Family Studies. The report states:

Concerns that the Institute's budget would constrain operations, identified and referred to in last year's Annual Report proved only too real.

It goes on:

Financial problems persisted through 1991-92. . . These problems persist into 1992-93 and pose a threat to our work and its dissemination and to the exercise of our statutory responsibilities as a national body.

I believe that last comment is very serious. It means that an important institution, a national body, is being starved of funds to the extent that it may not be able to meet its charter. One of the reasons that the institute finds itself in financial trouble is a broken government promise. A specific oral undertaking was given to the institute by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Howe, and this has been broken.

  In 1991, the institute began a living standards project which was to cover a period of three years. It is a study which will reconsider how we should define living standards, the poverty line and the role that services play in accounting for the quality of life of families. It will provide detailed information on 6000 households in 12 geographical areas, covering family income, employment, health, education, children's services, housing, transport, leisure, family relationships and personal wellbeing. Honourable senators can see how extensive and how important a project it was. Its cost was put at $1.89 million.

  The Government said that it was a high priority project and the Deputy Prime Minister, Brian Howe, promised the institute full funding for the project. It was to be the major client. But since then the wheels have fallen off. The funding department, which was the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has met less than half of what will be the total cost of the project. Not only has the Government been lying to the people of Australia in regard to its election promises, it has also been misleading national institutions.

  The institute started the study on the basis that it would be fully funded. Brian Howe gave this assurance. After being given $1 million for the project, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet told the institute that this now was all it could expect to receive. All of a sudden, the institute was faced with having to complete an extensive project and yet being underfunded to the tune of nearly $1 million. Asked when the institute first found out that it would not be fully funded, the director said:

It was about six months after the design and work on the study had been completed. There were delays in the funding process so that we moved ahead on the understanding that it would be fully funded. When it was not fully funded, we had then to rethink the design of the study.

In order to deal with the breach of faith by the Government, the institute has had to alter the design of the study to reduce costs and to absorb the rest of the costs itself. The situation has become even worse since at Senate estimates committee hearings it was revealed that the final cost of the project would now in fact be $2.47 million. Responsibility for the project has now shifted to the Department of Health, Housing, Local Government and Community Services under the very Minister who said that the institute would receive full funding for the project and who has stood by while this promise has been broken.

  As a consequence of this funding shortfall, the institute is having to run itself down. Other important projects have been delayed. There have been no new library purchases for 10 months, and the library houses the best collection of family related material in this nation. It is now 10 months out of date and who knows when it will be in a position to again purchase material. The institute has also been forced to drop two permanent staff in the research and information areas. The ability of the institute to disseminate information has been curtailed. It has lost its national reach since it has not had funds to run workshops or conferences or hold seminars interstate or conduct research interstate.

  With the International Year of the Family nearly upon us and at the very time that we would want the Institute of Family Studies to be at its most effective, this Government is starving it of funds. That the institute should have to say in its annual report that financial problems pose a threat to its work and to its statutory responsibilities as a national body, is a ringing condemnation of the Government and its unceasing capacity to promise something and then blatantly breach that faith. No person or institution in this country can now reasonably believe anything this Government promises.

  I turn to a related matter, and that is the Government's program for the International Year of the Family. It has had a short but rather nomadic history. In September 1991, Minister Staples was given responsibility for the International Year of the Family. The international branch was responsible for the early International Year of the Family. In August 1992, the International Year of the Family office was established as a section in its own right in the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services. On 11 November 1992, just a few months ago, the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) announced that the office of the International Year of the Family was coming to his department. He said:

I have decided to establish an International Year of the Family Secretariat in my department so that I can be closely involved in the year's activities.

That is interesting. What happened was that in January 1993 the arrangements with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet were effected and on 7 February 1993 the election was called. On 23 March 1993 arrangements commenced for moving the secretariat of the International Year of the Family back to the Department of Health, Housing, Local Government and Community Services. Surprise, surprise! The Prime Minister was no longer interested in being quite so closely involved in the activities of the International Year of the Family. So it moved away and on 19 April it was established as a branch within the children's services section.

  We can imagine how this toing-and-froing has seriously impaired the work of the International Year of the Family program. It cannot get going. In the words of the Assistant-Secretary for the International Year of the Family, commenting on the changes:

I think it is fair to say that they have not sped up the pace of activity. It is probably inevitable in changes of that sort, including physical relocations, that there is some disruption . . .

To say that there is `some disruption' is a bit of an understatement. On an insincere and self-aggrandising whim of the Prime Minister, work on the International Year of the Family has been seriously disrupted. A lot of work will be required to get it back on track.

  Recruitment has been delayed, with only five permanent staff appointed. The staff that have been appointed to work on the program do not have specialist research skills or any special expertise in relation to families. They are generalists from the bureaucracy. None of them have any experience in researching family issues. As a consequence, they have been relying very heavily on the Australian Institute of Family Studies for advice and assistance. We all know that that is under-resourced and in great difficulties itself.

  In other words, the International Year of the Family program is still not even properly off the ground yet there is only a little over six months until the International Year of the Family begins. When we consider the chain of events, together with the running down of the Institute of Family Studies, what emerges is a totally incompetent and dishonest government which does not really have any concern for the family unless it happens to be election time. We have learnt in the last week that the Government is delaying introduction of the home child-care allowance that was the cornerstone of the Government's appeal at the election to women working in the home—very important to families where the mother or the parent at home is providing the child care. That is very much a family issue. The Minister for Family Services, as honourable senators would recall, did not even want to answer questions on that.

  We would all know from the last few weeks that the duckshoving and the ineptness of Senator Crowley is pretty symbolic of the attitude and performance of this Government in matters concerning the family. It is starving the most important national institution concerned with family issues of funds, it is handicapping Australia's efforts to establish a credible International Year of the Family program and it is breaking a most vital promise that it made to families during the election. So much for this Government's concern for families!