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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 1614

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - The matter before us is of extreme importance and of very great urgency. For some time now all honourable senators have been concerned about the emergence of disastrous pockets of poverty in the increasingly affluent Australian society. It has been a matter not merely of political concern; it has been a matter also of personal concern. I know that individual senators feel very strongly about it. That a motion of this kind should be moved is appropriate and, in certain circumstances, it should attract the support of the Senate. What Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson said is correct. To create a select committee to which the matter would be referred would be to impose a very heavy burden on the body of senators already available for committee work.

The Senate Select Committee on Foreign Ownership and Control has recently commenced operations. Its work will be particularly heavy. It will take a considerable time to complete its hearings. Standing committees and other committees are already occupying all the time that honourable senators are able to give to them. There is still a long queue of subjects of a very embracing character before many committees. I was one honourable senator who queried the desirability of referring certain types of matters to standing committees. I regarded the committees as a repository for references of a limited character, such as the proposed take-over of Ansett Transport Industries Ltd by Thomas Nationwide Transport Ltd. You, Mr Deputy President, are Chairman of the Standing Committee on Industry and Trade, which is dealing with that matter. I thought that was the appropriate type of topic to refer to a standing committee. In the wisdom of honourable senators many matters of a major and extensive character have been referred to the committees.

The motion seeks to refer the matter of poverty to the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. That Committee already has references on the most important subjects of repatriation and the introduction of a national superannuation scheme, lt also has a reference concerning certain petitions. Some of the honourable senators who serve on standing committees would be required to serve on a select committee, if it were established, to deal with this matter. A particular type of inquiry is now proposed. It would scan many aspects of Australian life. A tremendous economic investigation would necessarily be involved. That would require technical, sociological and academic contributions. There would have to be an onsite inspection of areas in which the poorer people in the community live. The inquiry would have to extend into their housing accommodation, their social ambitions and their acceptance or resentment of the conditions under which they live. I could imagine that the committee would not sit in the splendid isolation of Canberra but would be required to move from place to place and to have protracted and numerous investigations on-site in relation to the physical conditions in which people live. That would cover an enormous spread of time. As this is a matter of acute urgency, I think that not only would that course be inappropriate but rather it would defeat the purpose of the inquiry if the matter were to be referred to the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare in these circumstances. If no other alternative were available, my Party and I would most certainly support the motion. If no other investigation were contemplated or available, I think the matter should be referred to the Committee, irrespective of all the disabilities to which I have referred, such as the additional burden on senators and the availability of individual senators.

Senator Sir KennethAnderson has drawn the attention of the Senate to a statement made by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) in the House of Representatives, in the presence of the Cabinet and the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon), that the Government is aware of the situation and that the Minister for

Social Services is making or has made certain submissions to the Prime Minister for an immediate inquiry into the subject of poverty. With due respect to the work of honourable senators, a body of investigators, adequately structured in personnel, adequately supported by technical assistants and without the commitments that honourable senators necessarily have politically and in the sphere of parliament, would be much better equipped to examine this matter with the speed and in the depth which is now required than would a Senate committee. I do not know what form of inquiry is contemplated by the Minister or what form would be accepted by the Government. By interjection, Senator Douglas McClelland indicated his concern that perhaps such an inquiry would not be a public inquiry. Would I be correct in saying that?

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - My word. The Government has not had a public inquiry yet.

Senator BYRNE - I think that is a valid point. In view of the announced intention of the Minister for Social Services, which apparently is finding acceptance in the Government, I think we can anticipate a fairly early announcement on whether the Government is prepared to do anything or whether it proposes to do anything. No doubt the Government will indicate in more specific terms what it intends to do. Therefore, I think it would be inappropriate for the Senate, on such a long standing motion as this, to create a select committee on the eve of an announcement that another body of investigation is apparently in early contemplation. I think there should be an investigation. If nothing else were available we would support the motion but I think the sensible thing to do in the circumstances - and I will move accordingly in the course of my submission - is to adjourn the motion.

Senator Murphy - I was going to suggest that.

Senator BYRNE - -It should be adjourned, but not indefinitely to a time after this session of the Parliament concludes. My suggestion is that the motion should be adjourned and if that suggestion is supported, a motion for resumption of the debate to be made an order of the day for 25th May could be moved. That is the next available Thursday. In that time the Government may have announced its intentions.

Senator Murphy - That is the course I would suggest. I think somebody else wanted to speak to the motion. Instead of Senator Byrne moving the motion, I would move in that direction.

Senator BYRNE - Thank you, Senator Murphy. That is the attitude of my Party. If a motion is moved that the debate be adjourned and the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for Thursday 25th May in the anticipation that in the meantime the Government will come forward with a specific announcement as to the creation of body of inquiry, its nature and the terms and conditions under which it will operate, we will be content.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Whether public or private?

Senator BYRNE - Yes. If the course I have proposed is not satisfactory to this chamber, if it is too restricted, too limited or too circumscribed, it will still be available within the sitting times of this session on Thursday 25th May to ask that the matter be brought forward again so that the Senate can resolve whether in the circumstances it should not proceed to create a select committee. If Senator Murphy is disposed to move in the direction I have suggested we are prepared to agree. That is our proposal.

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