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Tuesday, 29 August 1972
Page: 830

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Leader of the Opposition) - Honourable members and the listening public will be able to judge the sincerity of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) by recalling his own words when, on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I moved on 10th May last for discussion in the House the following matter:

The need for a national and independent public inquiry into poverty and all related areas of social need.

In proposing that matter for debate I quoted the documents which had been prepared by the Church of England social welfare authorities in the diocese of Sydney - at Redfern and at Mount Druitt. Following me the Minister for Social Services spoke. These were his opening remarks:

The speech of the Leader of the Opposition has been, I think, typical and transparent. He is out to get votes and he does not care bow he kicks people around in order to get them. He does not care whom he rubbishes. He is entirely without heart in these matters.

He went on to say more in the same vein. When my colleague the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) moved that the House should express the opinion by vote that the Government should establish a national and independent public inquiry into poverty and all related areas of social need the Minister for Social Services was one of those who voted against the proposition. On this occasion he has adopted exactly the same attitude and is resorting to abuse and vilification of anybody who suggests that the terms of the inquiry could be wider than they are. Nobody is going to suggest that Professor Ronald Henderson is not a person who has for very many years devoted himself to inquiries into social and economic matters involving poverty. He has been, of course, the man who has published the pioneering works and has conducted the pioneering surveys into poverty, particularly in the monetary sense. My colleagues and I for some years have quoted his test as to the poverty line and have moved motions in the House suggesting that it should be regarded as the starting point for social service payments.

Indeed, I agree that the Government is fortunate in having his services for this inquiry. I yield to no-one in my admiration of the gentleman and, as I say, my colleagues and 1 have consistently put before the House his facts on monetary poverty. These have been disparaged again and again by honourable members opposite, and not least by the Minister for Social Services who has made claims concerning the money value of social services which Professor Henderson and his colleagues in the Melbourne Institute have disposed of long since.

The honourable member for Oxley has pointed out that the terms of reference, though wide, do not really touch many aspects of social deprivation. I would have thought that the Minister for Social Services would have seen this point because, having launched into his vituperation against me for having had the hardihood to raise this subject, he mentioned the usual alibi of the Liberals in this place that the areas of deprivation upon which the Anglican social workers had concentrated were all matters in the State sphere - alienation, poor services, municipal services, hospitals, schools, assistance, advice and so on. The honourable member for Oxley and many others of us have constantly pointed out that it is not merely a question of what a person's income may be, even when that person is injured, bereaved or unemployed; it is also a question of the availability of advice and services in the community. The terms of reference here are not calculated to cover those matters which on 10th May the Minister for Social Services emphasised. A person with quite a large income may be socially deprived. These are the mtaters to which the honourable member for Oxley pointed tonight. He was perfectly entitled to point them out. The terms of reference are wide in the sense of monetary poverty, certainly, but they are not nearly as wide as those of the Canadian inquiry which we have used as our example for many years.

The other suggestion which has been made by the Australian Labor Party and by the Australian Council of Social Service is that it is too much for any one man or any one woman to conduct as wide ranging an inquiry into social welfare as this country needs. As the Council has pointed out, it is necessary to have on such an inquiry people who are familiar with running State, local government and voluntary agency services. There is a need to have sociologists and users and consumers of these services. People who come into the whole range of these categories are needed.

Professor Henderson has : been immersed in this inquiry for many years,, particularly in the field of monetary poverty. He has headed an institute which has. conducted pioneering work and published the results of that pioneering work. But it is legitimate to point out that it is too -much for one man or one woman to carry out an inquiry of the magnitude which is heeded. The terms of reference do not cover those other matters which it is necessary in a federal system to co-ordinate and provide. The whole of this inquiry could be carried out and there still could be avoidable deprivation in this federal community. The instances which were given to the House on 10th May by the honourable member for Sydney (Mr Cope) and myself from the Anglican social workers related' to people who in many cases would still fall outside the terms of reference given to Professor Henderson. As far as the inquiry goes, of course, it is a step in the right direction. Nobody looking at the voting list - those honourable members who are trying to interrupt me were among those who on 10th May voted for the. . idea of having an inquiry-

Mr Irwin - Why do you 'not-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member for Mitchell will cease interjecting.

Mr WHITLAM - The honourable member comes from an area where he should know that if a person loses ,his job

Mr Irwin - I have done more than you ever thought of.

Mr SPEAKER - Order! That is the third time the honourable member for Mitchell has interrupted in spite of my warning which he has ignored. I suggest that he cease interjecting.

Mr WHITLAM - One of the most audible honourable members in the House is. the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) and he should know the deprivation which is suffered in many fields of social welfare by the people who live in so far flung an area as his area on the outskirts of the metropolis of Sydney. If a man. loses, his job in the electorate of Mitchell he may well have to travel 20 miles to seek other employment. We have seen such cases. If a woman is deserted in the electorate of Mitchell she has to go a very long distance to appear before a chamber magistrate. In order to secure an order against the desert- = mg husband she has to go very many miles indeed. Having obtained such an order, she has to go very many miles to a branch of the New South Wales Department ofSocial Welfare before she can get the forms of assistance available from that Department. When 6 months has elapsed she has to go very many miles to a branch of the Commonwealth Department of Social Services in order to get a widow's pension. A person resident in the electorate of Mitchell who requires health treatment for herself or her children in case of sickness or injury probably has to go further than anybody else who would be said to live in Sydney. This is an area which the honourable member for Prospect was illustrating earlier tonight will have a much larger deficit of hospital beds at the end of this decade, even if every prospective hospital programme is fulfilled, than it has at the present moment.

It was an area similar to the area in the electorate of Mitchell which the Anglican social welfare workers showed to me when I made my visit early in May. In that area can be found people who are unemployed, people who are bereaved, people who are injured, and migrants, and they are the people who are socially deprived in Australia. It may be that in some terms they do not have a low income, but when one takes into account the amount of money they have to pay to buy a block of land, to pay off their house when they get one and to spend on fares to get to and from work, and the amount of time they have to spend in getting to hospitals or to welfare agencies* it can be seen that these are people who are deprived even if they have an income which is larger than that which Professor Henderson regards as the poverty line. If the honourable member for Mitchell would only go around his electorate he would see how people like this are deprived. They will continue to be deprived until the Commonwealth accepts in the Australian federation the degree of responsibility that is accepted by the Federal Administration in the United States, or the Federal Government in Canada or in West Germany. Iti this federation, the amount of resources in the financial sense available to the Federal authorities is very much greater than that available to the federal authorities in West Germany, Canada or the United States.

All that one finds either from the Minister, for Social .Services or members such as the honourable member for Mitchell is that they blame the States for every social shortcoming, every municipal shortcoming and every welfare shortcoming in this country. This excuse would not be accepted in any other federal system. When Ohe looks at the fact that the total share that: the Commonwealth has of total government revenues in Australia - it is 78 per cent Or 79 per cent compared with 62 per cent in the United States, 51 per cent in Canada and 49 per cent in West Germany - one sees how much more is the responsibility of the Australian Federal Government than of any other Federal government. Even if there is an inquiry into monetary poverty, it will not alleviate the position of people who lose their job, who are deserted, who are bereaved or who are injured. This is so particularly of those people who reside in the outer areas of the metropolitan zone such as in the electorate of Mitchell.

I doubt that Professor Henderson will be charged to inquire into these matters, and that is the gravamen of the comments which the honourable member for Oxley ' made on the Prime Minister's statement. Certainly the Prime Minister's statement marks an immense advance on his thinking and on the thinking of the Minister for Social Services back on 10th May. It shows a much bigger advance on the thinking of the Prime Minister as displayed a week before when he patronised his good friend, but economic innocent, the Archbishop of Sydney.

Mr Barnard - The Minister for Primary Industry said that it was an academic question and it ought to be left to the academics.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I do not think your leader needs any assistance.

Mr WHITLAM - The Deputy Leader of the Country Party did make this statement. He had always made the excuse that it was not for Federal authorities to inquire into matters of welfare or social services, that these were academic matters which were better discharged by the researchers at the universities such as, of course, Professor Henderson. Professor Henderson has been given his opportunity to inquire into monetary poverty, but the inquiry should be wider in its terms and it should be wider in its membership; and a Labor government will see that it is both.

Debate (on motion by Mr Giles) adjourned.

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