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Thursday, 30 August 1973
Page: 668

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) - In responding to this motion I first thank the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) for his courtesy in allowing me to look at these reports last evening and also for the great pleasure of joining him at dinner and meeting the charming, intelligent chairman of the Commission. I sincerely hope that neither the Minister nor I is responsible for the fact that she has to wear dark glasses today.

After complimenting the Minister on his courtesy I want to make a point about something which has nothing to do with the Minister and I do not blame the Leader of the House (Mr Daly); it is part of this system that seems to be bugging us and we are as much to blame as the Government is now. Here is one of the most important social documents laid down in this Parliament for 20 years and I have had less than 12 hours to study it. Today the House has not time to debate it and it seems to me that the workings of this Parliament are out of perspective when we go on for hours and hours with tedious debates about holes in the road when something as fundamental as this, which affects almost every person in Australia, is rushed through and honourable members are told to shorten their speaking time.

I should like to compliment the Commission for an outstanding document and I extend my appreciation to the Minister for embracing it and its philosophies. Indeed, one would almost be persuaded that a Liberal Minister wrote the document and embraced its philosophies. This is in fact liberalism at work. It is a document and a speech to which I personally would have been proud to attach my name. I quote from the Minister's statement the following comment which was taken from the report:

The aim of a social welfare system is to produce, through a range of social policies, a social environment in which every individual has the opportunity to develop his unique potential, and in which various supports are offered to those individuals who, through some inherited or acquired disadvantage or handicap, need special assistance.

That is most commendable. It has been Liberal policy for years and we accept it. The Minister had a tilt at previous Governments. That is his right. I would feel that I was not doing my duty if, while acknowledging that maybe he was correct in that, I did not pay a public tribute to my friend and colleague the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) who was Minister for Social Services for 3 years in the last Government and who continuously in and out of Cabinet advocated the very kind of philosophy that is in this document. I think that should be on the public record.

Mr Hurford - He received no support.

Mr Keogh - You would not take any notice of him.

Mr CHIPP - If honourable members opposite want to make cheap political points out of a serious matter like this that is their right. I thought it was proper to put on record the performance of my friend and colleague.

I should like to deal particularly with the philosophy of the report, and I shall break it up into 7 sections. The first one is that the Commission right at the outset said that it will wait before making any recommendations to the Government - and the Government has accepted this - after it has received the many reports and evaluation statements about homeless men and women, national superannuation plans and so on. This is a responsible recommendation and it is the action of a responsible Government in accepting it. I commend the Government for it.

The next point is that the Commission is advocating a new look at social welfare problems. No longer does the Government propose to look at social welfare only in the context of dispensing charity to somebody who happens to be disadvantaged. This I thoroughly agree with. Even the approach of dispensing charity has an inbuilt disadvantage because if one approaches people in indigent circumstances and makes them feel special, they then feel like patients. They then will not participate in any social welfare programs and the whole thing is self defeating. I support that section of the report.

The third point concerns community involvement. It is refreshing for a Labor Government and a Labor Minister to be saying that it is not the intention of the Government to take over all social welfare activities and that they want to encourage voluntary community involvement, which, if I can be excused for having a small tilt of my own. seems to be 180 degrees from their philosophy in implementing the health scheme. I believe it is vital in the twentieth century for the Government to encourage community involvement. We are now proceeding apace to the hideous situation in which Melbourne will have 5 million people and Sydney will have 7 million people by the year 2000. One wonders how in the name of fortune a human being living in those cities can have any sense of involvement or any sense of participation being a member of such an amorphous mass. I believe that governments have a responsibility in this area which the Minister and the Commission recognise.

I make a plea to the Minister and through him to the Commission that in involving voluntary organisations, there is an enormous number of amateurs who could be involved in assisting in social welfare problems. As one example, I cite the Honorary Probationer Service in Victoria where housewives and ordinary people are appointed by (he courts as honorary probation officers to lighten the load on the paid professionals. I believe that in most activities of social welfare there are great opportunities for the recruitment of such people.

I wish to quote from the report one section which shows the Commission's philosophy. It states:

Therefore, the Commission will give detailed attention to the development in other areas of social policy of an appreciation of the welfare implications of such matters as incomes policy, the taxation system, recreation, housing and immigration policy, urban development . . .

It is extremely refreshing that a broad look will be taken at these matters. In respect at housing, for example, one of the most hideous monuments to Liberalism in Australia is the way in which Liberal governments and Labor governments - but I am being critical of Liberals - solved the slum problems in Melbourne and Sydney. People were living in slums and a computer or some boffin suggested that the cheapest, most efficient way to solve that problem was to tear the slums down and erect high rise flats in their place without thinking for one moment of the impact of that on the individual concerned and without thinking about the kind of environment, both social and other, of the child living on the 31st storey of a 32-storey high rise flat.

In relation to recreation, I hope that the Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart) will not be obsessed with the term 'recreation'. It seems that to local councils and do-gooders in the community recreation for youth is often translated as building better sports stadia and beautiful playing fields so that the strong, decent young men in the community can play cricket and football. As an avid, almost fanatical cricketer and footballer, I support that action. But what of the kid who is a dropout, who wears no shoes, long hair, T-shirt and jeans and who despises the establishment? We can build a thousand beautiful sportsgrounds for him and that action will be of no avail. I would hope that the Commission would get under and look at the kid who feels disadvantaged, who feels outside society, and recommend to the Minister for Tourism and Recreation the kind of recreational activities that are realistic for such a kid.

Another area I am glad that the Commission is looking into is education. That is mentioned in this report. Does anybody in this Parliament ever consider the effect on individuals of what our education system in almost all the States of the Commonwealth does to a young Australian at the age of 16 years or 17 years? There he or she is at an age when their minds are at their sharpest, when theninclination for social activities with the opposite sex are emerging and are probably at their strongest and when their need for a social existence is strong. What does the system do to those kids? It says: 'For this year, in your seventeenth year, we will make you work from 9 o'clock in the morning till 10.30 p.m., every day of the week - or at least 6 days of the week. We will make it impossible for you to engage in a normal social life with your colleagues. You will be stuck in your room studying subjects from this ridiculous syllabus that is set by most State education departments for teenagers today'.

Why in the name of fortune it is necessary for education departments, for example, with respect to the English literature course to set a teenage child 14 books to read, to absorb and to understand, and another 10 books dealing with English expression passes beyond my comprehension. Surely it is in the wit of the educators of this country to devise a system which does not deny young human beings the enjoyment of that time of their lives which should be for the development of their social graces and their personality and which does not turn a lot of them into physical and mental wrecks. At the end of the year, the educators say: 'We will prescribe for you an examination paper that a normal human being would take 6 hours to complete; but for you, just because we single you out in the community, we will set you 3 hours to do it'. The impact of that year alone on the teenage population of Australia - I have personally observed its effects - I hope would be one matter that the Commission would examine under that heading.

We approve also of the Commision's view of experimentation, of non-uniformity in the various States of the Commonwealth. We also believe, as the Commission believes, that it is desirable in the long term to establish a welfare system in which the services are planned and provided at the most decentralised level consistent with efficient administration. The Commission believes in regionalism, as we do. But may I sound a note of warning here. The Liberal Party stands for the sustenance and the preservation of Commonwealth-State relations, a 2-tiered form of government, with 2 prongs - State governments and local councils - to the second tier. I find nothing in this report or in the statement by the Minister to he in conflict with that posture or attitude. I commend the Commission for recommending the concept of regionalism. But I do sound this warning: Before the Government and before the Commission recommend a certain region to undertake certain responsibilities, for goodness sake, prepare for the day so that in the local area the administration is efficient enough to administer the responsibilities which the Commission or the Government wishes it to undertake.

I can think of nothing worse than, in a certain region of a State the Commission not going into the matter thoroughly enough to determine whether the administration in the area is competent to administer this terribly complex and highly sensitive area of social welfare, and the administration in that region collapsing. The responsibility then would revert to the central government. This would be bad for government, bad for social welfare and, I am sure, is a responsibility which neither the Minister nor his Department wishes to undertake, that is, to have to organise and administer centrally every social welfare program in every region of the country. (Extension of time granted) I thank the Minister for Social Security and the House.

The philosphy of the report reflects an obvious awareness that modern social problems are rarely, if ever, the result of a single event or shortcoming and therefore require a complex and continuous response from a variety of agencies and individuals. Few people in need of support are simply impoverished or simply suffering from malnutrition, for example. Most individual crises are a result of several or many interacting pressures, all of which may require attention. For example, the family in danger of disintegration does not need just marriage guidance counsel alone. There are financial problems present, probably work pressure problems and problems with the children, of personal adjustment in the parents, and many other problems, all of which need attention. Does anybody here believe that a narcotic addict seeking treatment needs medical care only? Quite often, medical care can do nothing for the addict. That is not the cause of his being a narcotic addict. He often suffers from poor personal adjustment, poor work prospects, the weight and disadvantage of having a criminal record, the need for companionship outside his peer group of addicts, and so on.

What makes it vital for this Commission to look at social welfare - this is why I find its whole philosophy, attitude and recommendations so refreshing and why I compliment the Minister for embracing them - is that we do live in a period of change. There are very few Australians - unfortunately, too few Australians - who believe that we are living in a period when all of our structures and our social institutions are undergoing enormous pressures. The family unit, the marriage unit and the religious structures are quite different from what they were just one generation ago. The family unit as it exists today in the nuclear age is hardy recognisable from that unit which existed one generation ago.

My philosophy is that, if we want to maintain those standards, if we do believe that the family unit is something worth preserving in a country that wishes to have some sort of social stability, we must not lower the standards; but, for goodness sake, we must change our attitudes on how to cope with them and on how to maintain the family standard with all the erosions of it that are occurring all the time.

The Minister referred to the social costs of social welfare. He mentioned the obvious ones that everybody recognises and which I liken to the bushfires or the brushfires that suddenly flame up and we send the fire brigade to put them out. I refer to social costs like delinquency, like bashings which are now so prevalent in Melbourne and like alcoholism* which causes road accidents. I mention also drug addiction.

What happens with respect to alcoholism is a typical example. We say: Tut, tut', when we see a human being in a crumpled heap in a gutter with a disused Army greatcoat around him. But we do not seem to give a damn about the 200,000 Australians who, according to recent statistics, have a heavy drinking problem, and who are not found in such conditions but who go on as so called respectable citizens with a problem which they cannot handle. Those are the brush fires which are obvious and to which the Minister referred. The Minister, to his credit, also recognised the not-so-obvious ones which cause equal damage and equal social cost, such as broken homes, the defects in the education system to which I have very quickly referred, mental breakdowns, the feeling of persecution of minority groups and the generation gap - a term which I hate but which I use because my time has almost expired. Those things in fact cause delinquency, alcoholism, bashings and drug addiction. It is these kinds of things to which the Commission is directing its attention.

Let me conclude by making 2 suggestions as to the sorts of areas at which 1 hope the Commission and the Minister will look. These are not things that win votes. They are not the brush fires. They are things underneath. The French have a system, as I understand it, described as l'ecole des parents the school for parents. It is based on the philosophy that for most of the things we do in life we are educated to a high pitch, particularly in this age of specialisation; but for the thing which is probably the most important thing with which a human being is entrusted, namely raising children, there is virtually no training and no education except that which may or may not be passed on by parents. The French have accepted this principle. The bricks and mortar in school buildings are there in abundance. I have proved, with a pilot scheme in my own electorate, that once this sort of scheme is offered to parents they will flock to it. One thing parents want is communication with other human beings, other parents, who have similar problems to their own. It is by this joint discussion that they can be helped.

My other suggestion is that the Commission might give some consideration to adult education. I know that the Government of which I was a member gave funds to it and I know that this Government has; but are people using adult education enough? Is it enough simply for a government to say: 'Yes, we are for adult education. Here is X million dollars for it'? I believe not. I believe that we should get out and evangelise. Let me give an example. I refer again to the horrid term 'generation gap'. I believe it is a fact that most teenagers in Australia today have a better education than their parents. It does not mean they are smarter; but I believe that the system of education has improved, affluence has increased and kids today are better educated than their parents. I also believe that the kids know it and their parents know it, even subconsciously. In family dialogue this has 2 results: The child feels superior and is therefore patronising and the parents feel inferior and are therefore aggressive. They are the complete ingredients for tension, breakdown and lack of communication. I believe that adult education would be one means of partially overcoming that problem. I repeat, at the risk of being tedious, that I have the highest compliment for the Chair man and members of the Commission and for the Minister on a very worthy and significant contribution to this Parliament.

Debate (on motion by Mr Cohen) adjourned.

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