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Thursday, 24 May 1973
Page: 2665

Mr DRUMMOND (Forrest) - Tonight I wish the attention of this national Parliament to be drawn to the plight of the isolated children in some of the remoter areas of Australia. I believe that this Government has acted in good faith in introducing the present scheme of assistance to these children. Its contribution would have been a generous one to a section of our community who are disadvantaged by where they live if it had been accepted by the States in the manner in which it was offered. In response to my question this morning the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) said:

When we launched this scheme an appeal was made to the State governments to continue their form of assistance monetarily, their travel warrants, rail warrants and so on that assist isolated children.

He also said, as reported in the 'Australian' of 19 January 1973, that he hoped the States would not halt grants to outback students because of the Federal Government's intention to give them additional financial aid. I believe that the Minister's intentions were made abundantly clear. This was to be an addition, a topping up of the assistance to isolated children given by the States. But some States - and I make particular reference to Western Australia - could not drop their responsibilities quickly enough, and near chaos has been the result. The Western Australian State Government immediately this year dropped its grants to isolated children. The Federal scheme in Western Australia is not understood. Application forms for assistance have not been applied for, have not been sent out or have not been sent back. The Minister said this morning that only a third of these forms had been returned. I say again that obviously the scheme is not being understood. I am sure that any one of us here who received an application form telling us that we would receive $350 per child would ensure that the application form was sent off in the next mail, affluent as we may be in comparison with the people concerned in this issue.

Might I just also comment on the Minister's answer to my question this morning regarding the Hon. W. R. Withers and his part in supposedly discouraging people from applying by the campaign that he is waging. Firstly the Minister implied that nearly all the representations he has had on this subject came from the Hon. H. R. Withers.

Mr Beazley - His is the only telegram or message I have received on this subject.

Mr DRUMMOND - The Minister implied that other groups were not concerned.

Mr Beazley - I do not imply that. You asked me about representations.

Mr DRUMMOND - I feel that this is far from the case. If that is not implied, I can assure the Minister that members of the Isolated Children's Section and the Hostels Association and such people are most concerned. The Honourable W. R. Withers represents in the Western Australian Parliament the people in the North Province electorate. He is a hard working, dedicated man and he has the confidence of the people in the north. I feel that the people go to him and make representations when they have problems. This is how I thought government should work especially as this has been a State matter. I think people should go to their State members so that the information can be correlated, sifted and presented to the Federal Minister who is concerned without everyone running to him and perhaps loading him down with additional work.

I have said that the Honourable W. R. Withers has had the strongest representations made to him from people concerned about isolated children, including Captain David Perry who is the chairman of the Port Hedland Hostels Association. He has passed on to the Minister not only his own thoughts but also the thoughts of a very concerned and very unhappy community today. The honourable W. R. Withers has also urged the Western Australian Government to find out - and the Federal Minister referred to this today - why people had not received or sent back the forms. He has also asked whether it would be possible to advertise through the Press and on radio to inform the people on this matter and to urge them to claim boarding allowances or to contact the Department if they had not received application forms in order to find out what they should do. I believe that the Minister did unfairly denigrate the Honourable W. R. Withers this morning because his actions have been only in the interests of thu people he represents.

What has led to this concern and worry on the part of these unhappy people in the north of Western Australia? As I said earlier, on the face of it the scheme is a good one. There is an across the board grant of $350 to all isolated children. There is an additional amount of $350 which may be applied under a means test. There is a further amount of $304 for cases of special hardship. The additional amount of $350 which is subject to a means test is granted where the gross combined income is below $4,200. This limit in these isolated areas is truly unrealistic. At Kununurra in the north of Western Australia the average earnings of a labourer working for the Public Works Department - including overtime - are $5,720 per annum. A carpenter who works approximately the same amount of overtime would receive $6,500. A fourthyear clerk would receive $6,760. Honourable members can see how unrealistic a means test of $4,200 is when a labourer receives $5,720 annually. The cost of living is so high in these areas that the means test is at least $2,000 below the required level. At the wage level for the people I have mentioned they could not afford to send their children away from home to high schools under the present system of allowances unless the wives worked to bring in extra money. One must remember that areas such as Kununurra and Wyndham have no school hostel and the children have to travel to the nearest high school hostel which is at Port Hedland, approximately 1,000 miles away.

The cancellation of State assistance which was $312 for fourth and fifth-year students plus the Commonwealth across the board grant of $350 may have been adequate. The State of Western Australia has left this Federal Government high and dry. Let us look at rising costs. The fees even at the Port Hedland hostel have risen above $350. The people and the children are today left in a worse position than they were in 12 months ago even with the best endeavours of the federal scheme. There is another unusual twist to the fate of many people as a result of the introduction of this scheme. Some people are now receiving less money than they did before. I mention the case of a fourth or fifth-year girl who won a nursing bursary. Under the old system she received $250 bursary and $312 State living away from home allowance, giving a total of $562 for the year. Under the present system she does not qualify for the federal allowance because she is under bond. She does not even qualify for the first $350. After the State allowances were cancelled she was left with a bursary of $250.

Mr Beazley - This was for nursing training?

Mr DRUMMOND - Yes. I am sorry that I did not mention that. That is all that she receives. That lass now gets $312 less than she received before. One would have assumed that she would be better off because of the federal allowance of $350 compared to the former State allowance of $312, but in fact she has lost $312. I appreciate that the Minister said this morning that the means test and zone allowances were under review but time goes by. It is almost the middle of the year. Tonight I spoke with Mrs Margaret Lacy who is an acquaintance, I believe, of the Minister for Education. She is very involved with isolated children. She has 4 children of her own and she lives out at Meekatharra. As soon as the forms were available she filled them in and returned them but she has not received any money yet, nor to her knowledge has anyone else in her area. The money is not flowing on to the hostels. I repeat, as I said earlier, that chaos is reigning supreme. I wonder how Mrs Lacy feels today. Some months ago she came to see the Minister for Education who was then the shadow Minister for Education and after an hour and a half spent in an interview she said, as is reported in the 'West Australian' of 26 April 1972:

The ALP sees education as a total concept with equal opportunity for all children. Mr Kim Beazley, M.H.R., said that disadvantaged children would automatically be taken care of, and therefore, there would be no need for this piecemeal approach, where associations such as ours had to plead the cause of the underprivileged.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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