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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 1612

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON (New South Wales) (Minister for Health) (8.5) - This proposed reference to the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare was moved on 2nd November 1970. [n this year of grace, 1972, we are a long way from that date. The motion moved by Senator Murphy was as follows:

That there be referred to the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare the following matters - The incidence, distribution and causes of primary and secondary poverty in Australia and the adequacy of existing Commonwealth and State social welfare legislation.

Today the Senate dealt with a report from the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. I can be corrected if I am wrong, but I suggest that that report took a considerable amount of time to come forward.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It took 8 months.


I am told that it took 8 months. Albeit, it was a first class report. We have before us now a proposed reference to the same Committee. I want to canvass the role of these various committees and to repeat what I have said in the Senate before. The concept of creating these committees was born during the life of this Parliament. It has been demonstrated that they have a role to play. The greatest risk we run with these special committees is if we give them references on which it will be beyond their capacity to bring forward reports in a reasonable time. We all know what happened in relation to another one of these committees. The Senate Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources took more than 3 years to bring down its report.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That was a select committee.


There is no essential difference between select committees and standing committees in their procedures and the way they deal with matters. I am not talking about the matter of substance at the moment. I am talking about the role of the Senate and the capacity of the Senate in relation to these committees to do a worth while job and to do it in a period of time which makes it valuable in terms of the purposes that the committee set out to achieve. I would say that this proposed reference in its own right, without arguing it, is one which by the very nature of its wording, as it was moved in November 1970 would require a tremendous amount of time from the honourable senators on that committee. This year there is the possibility that other things will happen.

Senator Murphy - There will be a change of government.

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON - Not necessarily a change, but there will be an abortive attempt made by some to achieve change. Be that as it may, the situation is that the time available to the honourable senators to work on these committees may be more restricted this year than perhaps would be the case in the next 3 years. I put it to the Senate that to refer another matter to the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare is striking a blow at - perhaps destroying - the very work that these various committees do. That is only part of the story.

I now deal with the references that are being considered already by the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. The Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into all aspects of repatriation. As the Leader of the Government in the Senate, I have sought information from my representatives on the Committee in particular. I am assured that, having regard to the circumstances pertaining this year, 'he problems existing, apart from the functions Which the Committee has to perform, and the fact that the Budget session will commence in August, it is highly improbable that a report on the reference in relation to repatriation will be presented to the Senate this year. It should also be borne in mind that, if what may happen does happen, the Budget session will not necessarily last as long as some other Budget sessions might last. It is highly probable that the report on the reference in relation to repatriation which the Standing Committee on

Health and Welfare has before it already and which its members are working on may not be presented to the Senate before it adjourns at the end of the Budget session.

The Committee also has another reference. It has a reference in relation to the introduction of a national superannuation scheme. Those who have read the history of politics in Australia since Federation and certainly in the post World War I years know that this question of national superannuation is not one that is likely to be resolved very easily. The implications of a national superannuation scheme have been under discussion in Australia for at least 25 years.

Senator Murphy - I would say that it would be longer than that.

Senator Sir KENNETH ANDERSON - It may be longer than that. Senator Murphy might say that this is a very good reason why the matter should be referred to this Committee. The fact is that I am talking about a time slot. I am sure that no honourable senator would suggest that the Committee would be able to deal with the repatriation reference this year. Do honourable senators think that the Senate will get a report in 1973 from the Standing Committee on the introduction of a national superannuation scheme? I am sure that I will not be here to see that report presented because the magnitude of the issue is such that it will make the performance of the Senate Select Committee on Off-shore Petroleum Resources pale into insignificance.

Senator Murphy - Does not that-


Let me make my case. If the motion were carried we would be giving another reference to the Committee, which already is overburdened with references. The Committee does a magnificent and painstaking job, and it could easily take the next 3 or possibly 4 years to complete the references that it already has. Then we would be giving it another reference if the motion were carried. I have made no mention of certain petitions which have been referred to that Committee. That is a very delicate subject at the moment.

Senator Murphy - They are for information only.


Some are for information only, as I understand it. If we give the Committee this additional reference we will be putting upon it a burden which is completely unfair and unreal and which, because of the nature of the reference, will help to destroy the concept of the committee system.

I make only one other reference. In the other place as recently as yesterday the matter of an investigation into poverty was raised. The Opposition moved a motion in the other place. It did not succeed. In the other place the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) said that he has put to the Government the view that there should be a governmental investigation into the matter. What he said can be read in the Press, can be heard on the radio and can be seen on television. He has the burden and carriage of matters associated with social service benefits and similar matters. He said it quite openly, at question time, in the presence of the Government. The Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) was in the chamber at the time. The Minister for Social Services has made it clear that in his view at a governmental level there should be an inquiry into this broad matter.

Senator Gair - Is that his recommendation?

Senator Sir KENNETHANDERSONThat is as he put it.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will there be public hearings?

Senator Sir KENNETHANDERSONDo not try to get conditions before we get to the matter of substance. There can be nobody better equipped to organise an investigation, if it were thought necessary, than the Government. I put to the Senate that the investigation should be at that level. If an inquiry were justified, that would be a far more logical way of inquiring into the matter than by referring it to the Standing Committee which has not the capacity, in terms of time and in terms of work load to deal with the issues that should be considered. I shall not go into the matter of substance at this time. I believe that the Government has responsibility to govern. It has to make decisions in relation to these matters. If it believes that there is a need for certain investigations to be made, those investigations should be made at the government level. To refer this matter to the Committee would impose on it an impossible task. The Committee would not be able to inquire into the matter for years. For those reasons the Government resists the motion moved by Senator Murphy.

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