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Wednesday, 16 October 1996
Page: 4328

Senator COONEY(6.51 p.m.) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I want to make some remarks on the annual report of the Department of Social Security. The Department of Social Security is one of the most important departments of government. That is brought out by the departmental charter, which is set out on page 3 of the report, which states:

The Departmental charter is:

to achieve social security policies that meet the needs of the Australian community and to deliver entitlements and services with fairness, courtesy and efficiency.

You will note that its ends are not limited to simply those who are most vulnerable in society; it also sets out to meet the needs of the Australian community. That is a good way of putting it because in meeting the needs of the most vulnerable in society we are meeting the needs of society as a whole.

A core test of a good society is the way it treats its most vulnerable. You are either a good society or not depending upon the way you—I use the word generically—treat those who are, in the traditional biblical sense, halt and lame.

Amongst those most vulnerable in society are those who are not adequately housed. To use the word that Senator Woodley suggested to me, it is `fundamental' to any good society that it properly houses everybody in society. The importance of that has been stressed to me today by some people who have given up time to come to this parliament to talk on behalf of those people who are not adequately housed now and those who might not be adequately housed in the future. I was very impressed with what they had to say. They come from my state but the sorts of things that they are saying are universal throughout Australia.

I will mention their names. There was Catherine Upcher from the Ovens and Murray district; Gay Hosking, a public tenant from Dandenong; Jude Harvey from the Westernport area; and Chris Couzens from the Barwon area down through Geelong. Then there were two other people who have done an amazing amount of work in this area: Stephen Nash, the Executive Officer of the Inner Urban Regional Housing Council; and Andrew Mahar, who has now gone on to other things but for years has done great work in this area. In total, they have over half a century's experience in public housing. On page 374 of the report it says:

Housing is an essential element of Australian's quality of life. The CSHA—

the Commonwealth-state housing agreement—

has played an important role in housing assistance policies since its inception in 1945, providing Australians with greater choice in their housing and responding to the diverse needs of the population.

The people I have named have told me that the Commonwealth-state housing agreement has been an outstanding success but that they are fearful that capital expenditure on public housing under the act is likely to go to be replaced by rent assistance. This change might be for the best of motives but there people are saying that—

Senator Woodley —A terrible result.

Senator COONEY —Yes, to adopt Senator Woodley's words, it would be a terrible result. Time is short and I know that other people want to speak on this document at a later time. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.