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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 1622

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - I add a word in support of the amendment for a couple of reasons. I ask honourable senators to look for a moment at the committee system which has been the subject of part of this debate this evening. I draw attention again, as other honourable senators have done in the Senate tonight, to the problems which arise as a result of the increasing number of references which are put down in the Senate for one or other of the Senate standing legislative committees. As honourable senators are well aware the references are very wide. Classic examples have been given tonight of the repatriation and national superannuation inquiries which are listed for reference to the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. In my own situation serving on the Senate Standing Committee on Education and Science, I point out that there is the enormous reference relating to radio and television. Of course the reference which is suggested before the Senate tonight and which is related to the amendment which has been put forward is also a very wide one. It has an additional aspect in that it is linked with an announcement by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) that he is putting forward a plan for an inquiry by the Government.

Sooner or later the Senate will have to couch the terms of its references to committees along narrower lines and require a report to be presented on a reference by a date that will give a committee a reasonable chance of accomplishing its task. I fear that by not doing this we could rapidly approach a situation in which the committee system would be in jeopardy. It has been said before, but I wish to add my own emphasis to it, that the committee system has provided not only a splendid opportunity for the Senate to be, on the one hand, a States House and, on the other, a house of review but also a relationship between the public and the Parliament which has been very worth while indeed. An additional benefit of the committee system has been the enabling of all members of the Parliament - supporters of the Government, Opposition or other parties as well as the Independents - to play a fuller role. We have the opportunity to be involved in matters of great public importance and interest in our community.

If the proposed reference were to be approved it would be some considerable time before the relevant committee had an opportunity to deal with it. I think it would be an excellent step to postpone this reference so that the Government can give an indication of its views and the Minister for Social Services can put forward his own ideas about an inquiry into pockets of poverty in the community. The Minister for Social Services is a man who has a deep concern for the welfare of the community, particularly for those who are in special need by reason of absence of an income, poor housing, old age, infirmity or some other handicap. I am sure that anyone who has had the opportunity of sharing a platform with him or of being present on one of the many occasions on which he has made some statement in relation to the subject of social services has been impressed by his concern for the people of this country who have a particular need. At the same time one has to take into account that he, as only one of the

Ministers in the Government, is bound by the limitations of finance. I applaud the interest which the Minister for Social Services has shown in these areas of human need. It was pleasing to me to note that he has made certain references in another place. I hope to hear from him further to the effect that he has agreed to undertake an inquiry.

I turn briefly to the problem of poverty. I am only repeating what others have said when I acknowledge that there are pockets of poverty within the Australian community and that it is no credit to our affluent society that we have these pockets of poverty. But the answer to the problem is not just to refer such things to the governments. There is a need for us all to have our share of concern and for us to encourage the community to have its share of concern. All of us have been involved with cases of hardship at a personal level. All of us have received representations about cases which are incredibly difficult and in relation to which, when we examine the circumstances and read through the briefs associated with them, we are at a loss to know what to do because there are so many areas and so many personal or individual situations in which there is no solution to all but just next steps. It is this matter of next steps that the Senate needs to inquire into and to urge and persuade the Government to inquire into.

I want to pay my tribute, as I am sure other honourable senators who have been involved will, to the members of the social welfare organisations who work in this field. I think of the countless times I have pleaded and made representations to the Citizens Advice Bureau. I think also of the times when, in my association with the Immigration Advisory Council, I have had negotiations with the Good Neighbour Councils and between us we have sought to work out solutions to the problems of certain migrants who are in need. But one should not forget the record of 100 years, as it were, day in and day out of the churches and the missions within our cities and large towns. Coming from Adelaide I have had association only with the missions in that city, but I know of the work of the missions in all of our major cities. I know from personal and continued contact with the missions not only in the city of Adelaide itself but also in some of its suburbs of the needs of families for clothing, warmth in winter, food, money and general help. Indeed, I know of the need for care, concern, companionship and interest. The community owes a great deal to the dedicated superintendents, social workers and so on who are counsellors in the field of social services. I know of the Lifeline people, who man telephones around the clock. All of these people are caught up in a programme of Christian concern which is born from their association with one or other of the denominations of the Christian Church and all of them have their various areas of work. It would be very good if the Government could initiate an inquiry which would determine how we can take the next steps towards a gradual solution of these problems.

When thinking in terms of areas of poverty we should think not only of the middle aged people who have problems in raising their children, problems in finding jobs or problems in providing food. We must also think of the children. Reference was made to this matter this afternoon. We think of the unfortunate person who is an alcoholic. We think of the person who has just been released from prison. We are grateful to the Prisoners Aid Society for its involvement in this regard. We think also of the widows and the unmarried mothers and the areas where people are in need of not only the material things but also the social and spiritual things. The Government has over the years given a great deal of time and attention to the needy in the community. The report of the Department of Social Services refers in great detail to a large range of services provided by the Government. It sets out the new techniques the Department has undertaken. The Department has given substantial financial support to private social workers and instrumentalities whose work has been of the greatest possible benefit. But theproblem is still with us and steps must be taken to see what can be done to alleviate suffering. Because poverty is part of the environment the need to meet that poverty is an environmental matter.

Reference was made earlier to the establishment of homes for the aged. I know that there are problems with the high rise homes which are being built for the aged in Adelaide and I know that there are problems in large establishments which have been built for the aged elsewhere. Anyone who has had anything to do with homes for the aged - I had a great deal to do with them in earlier years - will know the benefit derived from a sense of belonging to a community. People can experience utter loneliness even in high rise buildings. There is something to be said for the wellbeing, stability and security that comes from living in a community. It is perfectly obvious that in a community that is devoted to this sort of thing there is a need for hospitalisation as well as for welfare workers. Great advantage is* derived by involving a range of voluntary workers, and by voluntary workers I mean people within the community who, because of their concern for others, lend their assistance in this way.

Senator Murphy - Has the honourable senator seen the film 'Kotch' which deals with the problem of the aged?

Senator DAVIDSON - No, I have not but I will take the opportunity to see it. I imagine from Senator Murphy's interjection that he is suggesting that there is a disadvantage in having large settlements. I am well aware of the disadvantage of having large settlements. I have seen this for myself and I am just pointing out that these people are not at a complete disadvantage because in, shall I say, a medium sized settlement which is properly designed and arranged there are advantages for people who are able to enjoy the companionship of other people in similar circumstances. Also there are advantages for people to enjoy community functions and community recreations which are not available in a small settlement or when a person is living in a single unit. I will take an early opportunity to look into this because I believe that we should move forward not only in relation to development but also in relation to individual needs and so on. I think you would agree, Mr President, that the steps that have been taken to create larger developments arose out of the then latest thinking on the matter of loneliness, old age, physical need and medical care. I support the amendment. We look forward to seeing the results of the steps which the Government has taken and to giving the matter further consideration in due course.

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