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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 1619

Senator CARRICK (New South Wales) - In this building there are some 184 persons, 60 honourable senators and 124 gentlemen in another place, who day by day throughout the year in their roles as members of Parliament are in contact with the problems that we are discussing in this debate. Sadly enough, to any one of us in public life there is nothing new in the anguish, suffering and hardship of those who are poor. And who are the poor? They are the unemployed, the widowed, the deserted, the disabled, the improvident, the old, the inadequate, and, for my part, more than anyone else, the lonely. Tonight, whilst supporting the terms of the amendment, I want to make a few observations. I would have hoped that this subject of poverty would lend itself as much to broad debate in this chamber by way of philosophy as it would to the deliberations of some specialised inquiry - although of course I personally support the concept of inquiry. Indeed I have had over the years the benefit of reading the reports of many inquiries. Recently there became available to all honourable senators the report of the royal commission on social security in New Zealand, and to those who have not read it I commend chapter 10, the concepts and definitions of poverty and need. I think if one bends one's mind to that, then the real problem emerges.

Mankind - and I refer to the Western world - in its development towards affluence over the past decade has believed that the problems of poverty, hardship and distress can be solved and dealt with primarily and predominantly by some appropriate fiscal measure passed by a Parliament. Indeed, in my studies not only of what we have done in Australia but also of what has been done overseas, notably in countries such as the United States of America, Britain and Canada, I have seen many things done in the name of social reform which in the end have created great hardship. I think that statement needs some explanation. I have said that we as senators and members of the other place are in fact, in our daily duties, ombudsmen - as we ought to be - the people who can listen to the problems of the electors of this country, I hope, understand them and try to help by resolving them. We are inadequate social workers, all of us. Every one of us is inadequate, but nevertheless ever-present psychotherapists. I shall return to that theme in a moment or two.

More than anything else in the relief of distress in this community is there a need for people to communicate, to go to somebody who they believe is a person of some authority and reliability and, more important, to confide in him. More than anything else, what they want to do is to talk out their problems. Many of the problems do not have solutions, but much relief comes from talking them out. Many of us in this chamber and in the other place were creatures of the depression years and therefore would personally not need any vicarious experience in poverty. What I am saying is that whilst I would of course be keenly interested in the undertaking given by the Minister for Social Services to raise with State Ministers for social welfare at a conference in Brisbane on 5th June this year one half of this motion - that is, the relationship, delineation and partnership of Commonwealth and State associations in this field of poverty - whilst I would support that, and whilst I would indeed support the concept of the Government's setting up an inquiry, what 1 want to press is that we as a Parliament and we as a community should look not only to the material things - and I do not talk in any starryeyed way about this - but also to the intangible and abstract things of the community which in my judgment are far more important.

Some reference was made to the fact that, by way of invitation from the Church of England in Sydney recently, I was associated with an inspection of areas of poverty. I accepted that invitation. I would like to make one point clear. I have a feeling that it is strange to find the politician who is in some way shy of publicity, and I do not want to appear so naked or embarrassed, but I do not believe that the way to find out about poverty is to make a public inspection, although I am grateful to the Church for its invitation. Indeed, I would like to say that prior to accepting that invitation I had telephoned the Bishop - I know him well personally - and said to him: 'Can I have a talk to your social workers, and can I bring a member of State Parliament and a member of a local government authority? Above all, when we have this talk, can we talk free of any kind of mass media?' In my view the only way that one will start probing honestly in this field of poverty is to do so in private. I simply say that it is my intention to continue doing what I have been doing for many years, trying to find the causes of human hardship. I do not believe one can do so in the light of publicity.

Since that matter has been raised, may I say that I would very much like to commend the great dignity, restraint and courtesy - as one would have expected - of those who invited us into their homes, who talked to us quietly and with restraint about their problems, and who helped us to some undertstanding of them. Those people had never before been confronted with such a volume of Press men, radio men and TV men. Although these men were legitimately going about their job, nevertheless these people were involved in something that was quite terrifying to them, and they behaved extremely well and with great dignity. To that extent in individual cases, we learnt a very great deal indeed.

I rose not to say such things and indeed not to oppose the Democratic Labor Party's proposed amendment, but rather to say that in my view any solutions whatsoever to the problem of poverty cannot be made at the level of government alone, whether it is local government, State government or Commonwealth government. What we have to understand as an Australian community is that most of these problems arise because of the isolation of the individual from a family or, if I may use the phrase, a tribal group, so that in adversity he is incapable of banding together with others and solving his problems. What these people need more than anything else is relatives or friends, or, in their absence, for the community to band together and help them. So much of the problem is personal; so much of the problem is one not of talking to an official, however understanding, but one of confiding and receiving understanding, sympathy and compassion.

For the Church it is an enormously important job which it undertakes under very difficult circumstances. It is a job for voluntary organisations and for every member in the community. What we have done inside the Western community, including the Australian community, is to believe that we can solve human problems by institutional means. That is the greatest fallacy of the affluent society. Human problems cannot be resolved by institutional means. Let me demonstrate this. We were proud and, indeed, 1 was proud to have been associated with a policy of granting financial assistance to provide homes for the aged. But this community which puts aside the aged, isolates them and virtually quarantines them has nothing to boast about.

Senator Murphy - It becomes a ghetto.

Senator CARRICK - That is right. I agree. We must accept with a sense of shame that such a policy is destroying a most valuable and precious part of the community. Every human being from a babe to the aged must feel that he belongs, that he is secure, that he is needed and that he is significant. By Acts of Parliament which we solemnly pass in this place we set out to emasculate those qualities in people at 60 or 65 years of age. In my view we do this to our eternal disgrace because we have a lack of understanding or compassion. This is not a problem which we have just discovered. I commend the Archbishop's winter appeal but it does not mean that we have suddenly discovered poverty at all. Everyone has known about it. Many honourable members in another place represent electorates which are pockets of underprivilege. Let nobody deny that at all. But do not let us believe that by increasing a benefit here and by raising a pension there we will solve these problems. The hardest case which everyone of us finds is the individual person facing hardship all on his own, lonely, and shattered as a personality. What such persons need is not just another $2 in pension. They need warmth, friendship and to be gathered inside the community.

Let me give an illustration of a great country - America. We tend to denigrate America but it is a country with great compassion. A classic case was evolved by a great man, Roosevelt, for good reasons but the people concerned reacted in the wrong way. As honourable senators may know, over the centuries the negro population of America was denied the right of marriage. For 250 years marriage was not for negroes because they were not human beings until after the Civil War. For many years thereafter families did not develop under the institution of marriage because they had been completely shattered as tribes. Therefore in the 1930s in the ghettos, in poverty that I have seen, many mothers were found with strings of children but with no obvious husbands. A President of the day said: 'We must stop those mothers from going out to work. We must keep them at home with the kids. We will bring in aid for dependent children.' So the Government brought in a policy of aid for dependent children. Unbeknown to themselves they virtually created a profession of mothers without husbands and with the kids at home. This did not resolve the problem at all. In fact it created a problem. The problem in America among the negroes is the same as the problem which we have among the poor here in many cases. It may seem strange that I should raise the negro problem in America on this debate but I was privileged to have a pretty good look at it. It is not really a problem of colour. It is a problem of a shattered tribal situation, of a shattered family situation, of a people who have no traditions, nothing to fall back on and nothing to belong to.

When we push down the ghettos - beware of this - and when we go in, as we must, to our slums with our bulldozers, remember that when we are pushing over old and tumbly places and when we take these people and put them in other places we can be creating for them a loneliness which we do not understand. I am not here on my feet to appear overwise - to appear to be trying to resolve anything. Tonight 1 rose to say that the problem we are facing is a problem which we do not face by ourselves. If we accept the report of Professor Henderson of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research, we have some 4 per cent of our economic units in the kind of situation I have mentioned. But it is equally true that compared with the rest of the world we have been tackling this problem. I say this in no spirit of partisanship at all because, in my view, both sides of the Senate can take pride in striving for those kinds of goals. But I shall spend a few minutes explaining what I mean by 'community participation'.

In recent months and years I have taken part in various discussions at various seminars with members of the medical profession who are feeling more and more that they are getting out of touch with the community. More and more they are feeling that one does not prescribe medicine by writing prescriptions in their surgery. They feel that the fact that psychosomatic disease is developing so rapidly in the community is a reflection on their own practice of medicine. If they are to do their job properly they have to reach out into the community. They have to have contacts with the community so that the community can bring to them people who need help and they can go to them. More and more we are looking into a community which will have not just a group practice of doctors but also social workers creating what we have shattered - small integrated communities.

In supporting the amendment I emphasise that I would like this Parliament and the people of Australia not to deal with this problem of poverty purely on material lines but to ask on all levels: Are we dealing with these things so that we create and strengthen human dignity and human personality? Are we making people feel that they belong, that they are needed and that they are significant; or are we, by some monetary gesture which we make here, destroying all dignity and significance and therefore destroying the spirit of the individual aged people of this country? I say that because in my view the problem is absolutely enormous. I therefore commend the amendment.

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