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Wednesday, 19 September 1973
Page: 1237

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) (Minister for Social Security) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

On 3 April 1973 I announced that Cabinet had that day approved the establishment of a Commission on Social Welfare to make recommendations to the Government on the development of social welfare in Australia. The need for setting up the Social Welfare Commission is based on the new emphasis we have given to the recognition of adequate welfare systems as being a public right which contributes to the well-being of the total Australian community. This new philosophy demands a change of emphasis in government policy and in welfare programs.

Because of the new dignity which such a philosophy gives to the recipients of welfare services, it is the role of the Commission to evolve strategies which will enable those people in the problem - situation to take part in the planning of immediate objective and long-term goals. Moreover it is the role of the Commission to monitor existing programs, institute research projects, conduct public consultations and to ensure that those who use the welfare services are involved in the evaluation of the relevance of welfare programs to their needs. In developing new goals, implementing long term planning and setting priorities in the welfare field, the Commission is charged with the task of taking an overall view of social policy, which encompasses such areas as education, housing, health services, emplovment policies and other matters, as well as the more specific issues of income-security payments and personal welfare services.

The concept and role of the Social Welfare Commission is a most exciting one. In future there will be a rational development of welfare programs in the community. More importantly programs will be developed flexibly and largely guided by priorities identified locally. When the Australian Assistance Plan is fully operational - the Commission is drafting the plan and will test pilot programs and evaluate the need for alternative and supplemental measures - the social welfare needs of Australia will be released from the heavy hand of centralism which defined programs in the past.

I would assert quite firmly that the development of social welfare programs in this country to date has been blighted by the way in which past governments as a matter of centralised decision-making determined priorities^ - and not many priorites at that either - and then by implication indicated to the community that if areas were either unsuitable or had no need for these particular programs that was tough luck; they missed out altogether. For instance, of what use are programs for the aged, except in a limited way, in the rapidly burgeoning areas in the fringe suburbs of our cities where young families often on low and inadequate incomes are congregated? Similarly, the reverse situation would apply if a rigid commitment were made as a matter of centralised policy making that the priority would be given to programs for the needs of the young families while the needs of the aged were ignored.

In any event the special needs of particular areas, for instance, have been totally neglected in altogether too many instances by the rigid nature of previous Canberra centred decision-making. Programs just have not allowed for the diversity of the nation's social economic and cultural pattern between regions. Accordingly the response to the welfare needs of these regions has been inadequate and often irrelevant. Local communities know their needs best and that is why we will be stressing regionalised administrations with as much regionalised decision-making about priorities as possible in the application of programs. This will allow for a flexibility and diversity of programs attuned to the varying needs of this wide-ranging country of ours.

I should also mention that when the Australian Assistance Plan - now being developed by the Government - is fully operational, community based voluntary welfare services will be fostered and stimulated with generous sup- port so that the services provided and the organisations providing them are related to, and are identified with, the community in which they operate. Again the stress is on flexibility and local autonomy. It emphasises and encourages local initiatives. The only display of centralism in this exercise is the display of responsible decision-making by the Australian Government which has established the Social Welfare Commission and which in turn directed the Commission to develop the Australian Assistance Plan according to guidelines set down by the Government in order that the administration and operation of social welfare programs and key decisionmaking affecting their direction are very much a local community concern.

Since the Cabinet approval the Commission has been operating on an interim basis. The Bill before the House is not a complex one. It is simple in its purpose to establish the Commission formally and to set out its powers and functions. The Bill provides that the Commission shall consist of 11 Commissioners - a full-time Chairman, a full-time Deputy Chairman and 9 part-time Commissioners. The period of appointment in the case of the Chairman is up to 7 years, in the case of the Deputy Chairman up to 5 years, and in the case of the part-time Commissioners up to 3 years. The Chairman of the Commission is Mrs Marie Coleman who, prior to her appointment, was Director of the Victorian Council of Social Service. The position of Deputy Chairman has not yet been filled but all 9 part-time Commissioners have been appointed. They are: Professor R. G. Brown, Mrs Sadie Canning, Mrs Edna R. Chamberlain, Mr Charles H. Fitzgibbon, Professor C. P. Harris, Mr Tom Roper, Professor E. G. Saint, Reverend Keith Seaman and Mr G. T. A. Sullivan, Q.C.

The detailed functions of the Commission as set out in the Bill, but which I will repeat for the information of honourable members, are:

To ascertain, and report to the Minister on, the social welfare needs of the community and to make recommendations to the Minister in respect of those needs.

To make recommendations to the Minister for furthering the achievement of a nationally integrated social welfare plan, including:

Recommendations of priorities in relation to social welfare programs.

Recommendations for the development of social welfare programs on a regional basis with localised administration.

Recommendations for the participation in the implementation of social welfare programs of representatives of the persons or agencies to be assisted.

Recommendations for the co-ordination of the social welfare activities of organisations, including State, local government and voluntary organisations, involved in the provision of social welfare.

Recommendations for the adjustment, from time to time, of social welfare programs in the light of changing community circumstances and attitudes and the state of the economy.

Recommendations for avoiding the duplication of social welfare programs and for promoting the maximum efficiency and effectiveness of the community social welfare effort.

To estimate, and report to the Minister on, the likely cost of proposed social welfare programs and to advise the Minister on the relative priorities to be given to the implementation of those programs.

To keep social welfare programs under constant review and to re-assess and evaluate those programs in the light of experience.

To propose to the Minister measures to give all organisations, including State, local government and voluntary organisations, concerned with social welfare access to available information and technical assistance.

To consider, and report to the Minister on, measures designed to provide skilled staff for the successful implementation of social welfare programs.

Such other functions in connection with social welfare programs as the Minister approves.

In connection with the functions of the Commission, honourable members will recall that the need for social planning at the regional level was recognised in a major election proposal, the Australian Assistance Plan. The aim of the Australian Assistance Plan is to assist in the development at a regional level, within a nationally co-ordinated framework, of integrated patterns of welfare services, complementary to income support programs and the welfare related aspects of health, education, housing, employment, migration and other social policies. Further information concerning the Australian Assistance Plan is contained in discussion paper No. 1 prepared by the Interim Committee of the Social Welfare Commission which I tabled in the House on- 30 August 1973. On that date I also tabled the first report of the Interim Committee. Under the powers conferred on it by the Bill the Commission may, with the approval of the Minister, conduct an inquiry, including a public inquiry, into any matter being investigated by the Commission. It may also arrange for individuals or organisations to carry out research projects on its behalf. The Commission will, of course, have the right to confer with, and accept submissions from people and organisations including governments.

An important provision in the Bill is that which requires all reports of the Commission to be tabled in each House of the Parliament. Such reports will include not only those requested by the Minister but also those initiated by the Commission. This is a marked deviation but an improvement on past practices. These public reports will serve as a standard by which the Australian people will be able to judge the Government's performance in the social welfare area having regard to the information provided and the recommendations made to it in the Commission's reports.

The establishment of the Social Welfare Commission is a further demonstration of the Government's commitment to introduce democratic participation into national government. The charter of the Commission is a broad one. Its aims are ambitious. The task is not easy. But we are confident that the work of the Commission - which will facilitate informed public discussion of welfare needs and priorities - will be invaluable in devising new policies and the establishment of a better social welfare system for all Australians. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Street) adjourned.

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