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Wednesday, 21 October 1970

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - After having heard so much talk in this chamber during the Budget debate and also during discussion of these estimates, it seems that social services have great appeal to most people, and I am moved to paraphrase an expression attributed to Mark Twain, that social services is something that all Government members speak about but none do anything about. We have heard many speeches similar to that just delivered by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan) who said that there should be greater benefits for returned servicemen and greater benefits paid by the Repatriation Department. He used the word sympathy'. Sympathy is on the same page of the dictionary as 'symphony' and synthetic'. It is more than sympathy that these people want. Members of the Opposition are not in a position directly to influence the Government on this matter, except by raising questions. Members on the Government side must surely have the ear of the Government and must be able to influence somebody to do the things that apparently they want done. Without exception they have all sought the same thing.

When one commences to speak on the social services issue - and it is on that which 1 want to speak rather than repatriation - naturally one thinks of pensions. I suppose that with the miserable amount that is paid as pensions and because of the inequitable way in which they are determined - it has been said that pensions are a political football with a 50c increase in off-election years and a $1 increase in election years - it is only reasonable to associate pensions with social services, but to my mind social services cover a far wider field than the payment of pension. The honourable member for Scullin (Dr Jenkins) mentioned the difficult position that pensioners find themselves in with respect to the payment of rates to municipalities and charges to public utilities. Pensioners in my area asked me to approach the Treasurer (Mr Bury) to see whether he would consider making a payment to their municipality equal to the amount of rates that they were expected to pay. The Treasurer did a fine job in his reply. He wrote a long letter of li pages explaining why the Commonwealth could not do anything about this request and suggesting that an approach should be made to the State government and the local government. If this were done we would be right back again to the matter of inequitable fund raising.

Municipalities obtain their funds from rates and rates fall as heavily upon the unemployed as the employed and as heavily upon the lowly paid as the highly paid and there is no way in which a municipality can distinguish between people in raising its revenue. The municipal council of the city of Broadmeadows, on which I have served as a counsellor for the last 10 years and which would not be considered, by any yardstick, to cover an affluent area, finds itself in the very difficult position of trying to levy rates on people in the area so that it can provide them with social services. That in itself is a ridiculous state of affairs. It would make sense if the municipal council of the city of Broadmeadows were able to raise its finance in an affluent area and then spend it in an area where it is needed. However, only the Commonwealth Government is in a position to do this; only the Commonwealth Government can raise revenue on the basis of people's incomes. Therefore, this question of social services rightly lies at the feet of the Commonwealth Government.

On page 9 of the Melbourne 'Sun NewsPictorial' of Monday, 12th October 1970 there is a half-page article dealing with the work that is being carried out by David U'Ren, who is the superintendent minister of the Methodist Circuit in Broadmeadows. The Methodist Church, like the municipality, is concerned about the need for the provision of social services and social welfare in the area. However, it is in the same position as the municipality which is unable to raise the necessary finance to undertake this work. Frankly, this question of social services falls into the lap of the municipality because the Federal and State governments have abdicated the field.

The Methodist Church in Broadmeadows has committed itself to a debt of approximately $50,000. Part of that money has been raised, but only last weekend Mr U'Ren told me that $10,000 was still to be found. The work to be performed by the centre which is to be established by the Methodist Church is true social service work. The centre is to be used to provide for the social welfare of the people in the area and, according to the surveys that have been made, there is a very great need for such a service. But it is being left to voluntary organisations to do this work. The Brotherhood of St Laurence has provided a full-time social worker for the area. The Methodist Church is playing its part by providing a part-time social worker. Churches of other denominations in the area are providing part-time social workers, and the Victorian State Government has provided a full-time welfare officer.

Honourable members might say that if an office of the Department of Social Services were established there, the area would be well served. But in my mind, although it would be a forward step to establish such an office, it probably would not fulfil the enormous need for the provision of social services for the people. There is in the area a large number of people who have recently arrived from Europe. Also in the area is a very large number of deserted wives. Generally the area is inhabited by unskilled workers who cannot demand a very high income for their labour. Because of this these people are subjected to all sorts of community pressures which they cannot withstand. Family counselling is required to show the people how they can overcome the pressures and the problems. But no attention is being given to this matter by the Federal Government. It has completely neglected this matter. When the matter is raised it is stated, as the Treasurer did, that it is the responsibility of the local people.

I return to what I said earlier. There is an annual rates debt of $40,000 for the city of Broadmeadows. In other words, people cannot pay the rates which are now being charged. As everybody knows, the amount of rales charged is geared to the earning capacity of the lower income people in the community. If this is not done, the rates remain unpaid. It is so easy to say that the local people should be looking after this matter of social services, but this is a difficult thing to do when the municipality has an annual rates debt of $40,000. It has long been my thesis that local people should act only in an advisory capacity. The advice should be transmitted from the local people to the people who can solve the problems by providing finance - the Federal Government. There is no provision for the matter I have raised in this year's estimates. Something should be done for these people.

The municipality of Broadmeadows is in a hopeless position. But to add to the problems of the municipality, we have instant families. The Housing Commission built 500 houses in the area and 1 ,500 children moved into them. This creates pressures which cannot be borne by the local people. The municipality cannot take money from the poor people in order to give a service to the poor people, and that is about what it amounts to. Only the Commonwealth can provide the finance, but it is not doing so. I criticise the Government for not providing the finance. I trust that the responsible Ministers will give this matter further attention.

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