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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1752

Mr OLDMEADOW (Holt) - I rise to speak briefly in support of the Bill. It is not a complex Bill. Its purpose is to establish formally the Social Welfare Commission and to set out its powers and functions. It is to be a Commission composed of 1 1 commissioners. The detailed functions of the Commission are very clearly set out in the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden). I believe that it is an opportune time to congratulate the Interim Committee on the work that it did. I think the quality of its work is reflected in the reports that were tabled in Parliament. These reports referred to the preparations for a comprehensive Australian social welfare assistance plan. One of the things which I think are important in this measure is that there is not to be undue haste in the implementation of this assistance plan. I think that, if we send out discussion papers to the people so that they can really come to grips with the problems at the local level in their community and then feed information back to the Commission, when the plan comes into operation it will be a first rate plan.

The honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) pleaded that time should be given for debate on reports from this Commission in future. I support him strongly in this matter. I believe that in this very important area of social welfare for the nation, particularly the provision of assistance at the local level - a concept which is a new and exciting one - it is imperative that this Parliament should give of its time. I believe there is much evidence that some of the time we take in other debates could be done without, as frequently such debates are on issues that are not worthy of debate.

I said that the involvement of the local community in a nationally co-ordinated regional plan is an exciting concept. Stress should be placed on the fact that the program will be flexible and one in which priorities will largely be guided by decisions made at the local level. I applaud this grass roots approach. I feel it is most important in any scheme of this type if it is to measure up to what are the needs of the particular community. Planning and funding obviously must be done at the national level, but at the local level the administration and decision making regarding the actual needs of a particular community can be carried out most effectively. I believe that in this way this Parliament, through its assistance, can maximise the effectiveness of voluntary organisations, service organisations, churches, local government bodies and those bodies that are already in the field and operating. We can work in conjunction with these organisations in regionally planned councils and gain the very best in a social welfare scheme.

As I said earlier, this is not something that should be done in haste but rather with careful planning, assessment and reassessment throughout. In this way the social welfare needs of Australia will be released from the heavy hand of centralism that for too long characterised the programs of the past Government. Too often decisions have been made in Canberra. Priorities have been determined in this Parliament with little contact at the local level and then applied across the board. This assumes that the needs of communities are the same but all honourable members know that this is not so. I know that the social welfare needs of my outer suburban electorate are vastly different from the needs of the electorate of, say, the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), which is an inner suburban area. In the past the special needs of particular areas have been neglected through the rigid nature of the previous administration and the way that centralised administration or decision making took place in Canberra. The diversity of the nation's social, economic and cultural patterns in the past too often has been neglected but I believe that through this plan the problem can be overcome.

With regionalised administration we can move into the area of regionalised decision making and here we can come to grips with the problems. During the last week's break from parliamentary sittings I became aware of problems in . my own area, including the need for emergency housing. This may well be a problem in many other areas but it is of great magnitude in my area. I believe it requires attention at the regional level rather than attempting to cope with it through municipalities, as has been done, or even on a national scale. Again I stress that in such a case the funding would, of necessity, have to come from the central government. My reason for rising to support this Bill is that I believe it places the emphasis on grass roots development while, at the same time, maintaining co-ordination at the national level. I commend the Bill to the House.

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