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Tuesday, 9 October 1973
Page: 1753

Mr HOLTEN (Indi) - I move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: While not refusing to give the Bill a second reading in this House -

(1)   expresses reservations with the establishment of a complex new Commonwealth instrumentality for which the Government was not given a mandate by the Australian people;

(2)   is concerned at vagueness and lack of definition of the proposals and considers the Commission should be termed an interim Commission until more definite proposals as to its powers and functions are available;

(3)   is concerned at the overlap with existing Government departments, of interference in present activities and possible loss of staff; and

(4)   sees a danger of domination and possible elimination of State Government and voluntary agency welfare Services'.

I have only 12 minutes remaining in which to speak to this important Bill. This does not afford much opportunity for me to express at length my thoughts on it. I shall deal with the amendment as I proceed. As honourable members know, the Bill is designed officially to establish the Social Welfare Commission. In my judgment it is appropriate to question whether this Commission is really necessary. It will be one of more than 40 new commissions and boards created by the Labor Government which seems to have gone commission happy. In the Labor Party's policy speech there was no mention of this new instrumentality, to be known as the Social Welfare Commission, being set up. This is another example of the Government having misled and misinformed the people. The second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) was vague, as was the first annual report of the Social Welfare Commission which, incidentally, this Bill seeks to establish although it has already produced an annual report, and also the booklet entitled 'The Australian Assistance Plan'. These 3 documents are all vague and it is not possible for an informed judgment to be made or informed debate to be conducted.

It does appear that this Commission may be duplicating many services that presently are working well. The eventual function of the Commission could be that of a giant government machine with an enormous expenditure budget conveying with it gigantic economic strength and administrative centralist domination. In his second reading speech' the Minister attempted to dismiss in almost one sentence any concern that the establishment of this new Commission' could be thought to be a centralist move. I want it clearly understood that I believe that the broad concept is to be commended, but the way of achieving it is very questionable because it is another move towards centralising power in Canberra and even . towards abolishing the Department of Social Security and other departments.

The Minister's second reading speech, the booklet entitled 'The Australian Assistance Plan' and the annual report of the Social Welfare Commission are full of references to links between the Commonwealth and regional areas. In that regard this Bill follows a similar pattern to that of the Grants Commission Bill. These documents certainly mention the States but I can see no definition of the link with regional areas. Although mention is made of the States and links with them, I can see the State authorities either being phased out or by-passed by the power of money. It is well known that the organisation which provides the money will be the organisation which will dominate the administration of the Commission. Who will provide the funds? It is not possible to give a definite answer to that question. However, every indicator points to the Commonwealth Government providing the bulk of the money. Therefore, the Commission could be fairly said to be another move to centralise more power in Canberra over a far-reaching range of government departments, State and Federal.

To attempt to obtain some basic understanding of this Bill it is necessary to concentrate on 4 documents. They are the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security, who is obviously a strong disciple of Parkinson's law, the first annual report of the Social Welfare Commission, the Australian Assistance Plan compiled by members of the Social Welfare Commission and the transcript of the comments made by Mrs Coleman on the television program 'Monday Conference' a few weeks ago. It is possible to make only a very brief reference to each of those 4 documents in the time available to me. The 'Mrs Coleman' to whom I have referred will be the full time Chairman of the Social Welfare Commission - at least, I presume she will be. She has been up to date. I presume that if this Bill is passed by both Houses of the Parliament she will be appointed as full time Chairman of the Social

Welfare Commission, which has been operating for 6 months or so without any authority from this Parliament. I have said that broadly speaking the concept of this Bill is a good one, but it is absolutely staggering to me that the Government should set up the. Commission and appoint a Chairman and 9 members to it and for it to be working for 6 months without the consent of the Parliament.

Mr Oldmeadow - It is an interim committee.

Mr HOLTEN - I heard an interjection that it is an interim committee. I have in front of me the first annual report of the Australian Social Welfare Commission. The fact of the matter is that it will not be an official body until this Bill is passed by this House and the Senate. This seems to me to be quite in keeping with the contempt that is being shown by the Government to the Parliament. We have seen it with the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) at question time. I guarantee that he has not answered 50 per cent of the questions that have been put to him. We have seen it with the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor). We now see it with the. Minister for Social Security. This Commission has been in operation for 6 months without any charter from the Governor-General. If I have time to do so I will deal with certain sections of the Bill which indicate that the Governor-General has to make the necessary appointments. Parliament has been ignored in the. setting up of the Social Welfare Commission. This is a very wide ranging piece of legislation, as anyone who reads the Australian Assistance Plan will see but even if it were only a minor Bill, relatively speaking, it would be still showing contempt for the Parliament to have such a commission operating for so long without parliamentary approval. I say that it is quite typical of the Government that it should do this.

I referred earlier to the transcript of an interview on the television program 'Monday Conference' with Mrs Coleman, who is the full time Chairman of the Commission. I want to raise another matter that I think is a matter of principle. If I am wrong the Minister may correct me later on. As far as I know the position of Chairman of the Social Welfare Commission, which carries with it the status of Permanent Head of a Government department and a salary of $25,000 a year plus allowances, including a $34 a day travelling allowance, was not advertised.

Mr Hayden - It would have been a waste of money because we would still have appointed her.

Mr HOLTEN - The Minister for Social Security agrees with me. Fancy the Minister talking about the wasting of money. He has just spent more than Sim of the taxpayers' money on putting out a pamphlet supporting his health scheme but he would not spend a couple of hundred dollars advertising the position of Chairman of such a far reaching and important body as the Social Welfare Commission.

Dr Forbes - They wanted to give it a Labor Party hack.

Mr HOLTEN - I leave it to the people of Australia to make their own assessment. The Minister's actions were an insult to the members of the Public Service and, to a certain extent, an affront to the social workers or any other persons around Australia who would have applied for the position if it had been advertised. I am not reflecting upon the person who was appointed; I am reflecting upon the principle of not advertising the position. I do not intend to discuss the comments made on the 'Monday Conference' program to any great extent, except to quote 3 paragraphs from the transcript of it. I would like anyone who does not think that the fears I have expressed in the amendment I have moved, to the effect that this organisation could be a tremendous move towards further centralism of power in Canberra, are warranted to listen to the quotation I wish to make from the transcript of the interview on 'Monday Conference' with Mrs Coleman. Robert Moore asked: . . is there some much bigger, granted social welfare plan quite unlike anything we've even known before, that the Government has in mind?

Mrs Colemansaid:

Well, whether it's in the mind or whether it's a gleam in somebody's eye at the moment I guess is the operative question, but we certainly do not want to try to completely restructure the social welfare system . . .

What is going to happen to the departments of Social Security, Health and Repatriation - to name 3 of them - which have social workers working for them? The Department of Social Security has hundreds of social workers working for it. What are they going to be doing? Why can they not advise the Government on this matter? Mrs Coleman went on to say: . . if one is talking there about the network of cash benefits that are paid as income supports for various people, and the range of personal welfare services that are provided f - various people for particular purposes. But in addition to that I think the function of the Social Welfare Commission is very much broader than to think in terms of even an amended system which will catch the casualties, so to speak. We're very concerned to try to make some kind of very broad policy input in the whole area of the social consequences of other areas of Government policy so that, for example, we're profoundly concerned with the social implications of housing policy, the social implications of migration policy.

It looks as if every government department is going to have a member of the Social Welfare Commission within its organisation - that is, if they are not all swallowed up by it.

Dr Cass - Oh!

Mr HOLTEN - There has been some ridiculing of that comment. I feel that someone has to flag a warning. Only time will tell whether what I am saying has any substance to it. I have quoted just a couple of paragraphs from a 25-page transcript. Mrs Coleman and her Commission have outlined for themselves a huge ambit of power and influence. A close watch will need to be kept on the progress of this organisation which has all the earmarks and ingredients of attempting to forge itself into a super overriding bureaucratic structure which will extend its tentacles and authority into practically every government department and everyone's life in Australia.

Mr Clyde Cameron (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - You are not reading this, are you?

Mr HOLTEN - At least I can read. That is more than the Minister can do. Those of us in this Parliament - particularly members of the Country Party - who represent the country areas will be seeking to obtain the answers to some questions. Are the Government and the Commission to make a special effort to help to attract more social workers and trained personnel to country areas? If funds are provided on a per capita basis it woud seem that there could be cause for concern that more of the available money and personnel will be directed to the densely populated metropolitan areas.

Members of the Country Party and other members representing people living outside Melbourne and Sydney appreciate that there are more people and more problems and therefore greater necessity for more trained staff in the metropolitan areas. But those who represent non-metropolitan areas in this Parliament have a duty to speak up for our people. We must not, and will not, allow the deafening silence on behalf of the non-metropolitan people exhibited by the Labor Ministers and the members who represent the country people to paralyse our voices too. People living outside the capital cities already have been treated shockingly and savagely by this Labor Government. Not only have the rural people received no help from this Labor Government but also actually have had their incomes reduced and expenses increased over a wide range of goods and services.

As I implied earlier it could be fairly said that a great part of the Minister's second reading speech, the discussion paper No. 1 and the Social Welfare Commission Annual Report consist of cliches, vague statements, no expenditure estimates - which is typical of many of the pieces of legislation which recently have been brought into this Parliament - and hard to define technical jargon. Looking at the whole concept in a very broad way it must be conceded that there are some socially worthy and desirable features. There seems to be a desire and an aim to encourage more people to involve themselves in a much wider range of welfare activities. It is hoped that there will be an increasing feeling of community involvement in areas of social welfare which previously has been lacking in many communities. It is clear that an improved quality of life can result only from more people involving themselves with and assisting local welfare programs. However, I pose the question: Do we need a huge new national welfare commission to achieve these aims?

It must be conceded that the objective and concept of improved provision and awareness of social welfare will assist many Australians. However, I believe the effectiveness of the scheme and the achievement of its objectives will depend on many factors, one of which is co-operation with State organisations and cooperation with and encouragement of voluntary agencies to ensure that maximum use is made of their experience and skills. Clients must retain the right to choose from a variety of organisations for help, rather than being dealt with by one big bureaucracy. Co-operation must be achieved with regional areas, particularly making sure that there is maximum community involvement. It must be ensured that rural areas outside the capital cities obtain a fair share of money and personnel. Maximum use must be made of the skills and knowledge of people who already live in the rural areas. The success of the scheme will depend on its ability to attract suitably trained personnel and not on robbing other departments and services of trained workers. Care must be taken not to overlap and interfere with established departments, which I fear will happen if the Commission is allowed a free rein. As my time is almost up I remind the House that I moved the amendment to put on record some of the concerns of members of this Parliament towards the Social Welfare Commission Bill.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes}Order! The honourable member's time has expired. Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Corbett - Yes. I desire to second the amendment and to reserve my right to speak.

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