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Wednesday, 13 November 1974
Page: 2320

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) -I am grateful to the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) for the way in which he has expressed his case for the Australian Assistance Plan and for the way in which it is developing. But there are matters of some concern to which I want to give expression. The basic concern derives from the fact that the Australian Assistance Plan is something which is entirely administrative. No guidelines are laid down in any act of Parliament. The circumstances and the conditions under which money is to be expended- I notice that this year the amount sought to be expended is approximately $6m- have no guidelines which will insist or require that the money be spent in a particular way. With a view to highlighting some of the problems and in the hope that I might get a response from the Minister I refer specifically to a scheme which has developed in Melbourne.

I have had a number of inquiries and representations from concerned citizens as to the way in which these interim councils are being established and to the way in which they seem to have fallen into the hands of pressure groups which have started off the organisation and which are determined to keep that pressure group in their own hands. When the amount of money to be expended is a very considerable amount, I think it is high time that we tried to bring some rationality and some parliamentary supervision into the expenditure of public funds.

Senator Baumesaid that when the Social Welfare Commission Act was passed in 1973 the attitude then adopted by the Opposition was to welcome the initiative and to support the Bill. That support was faithfully given in both Houses. Of course the Bill was the framework for legislation under which a commission would be established and under which certain desirable objectives could be recommended. My recollection is that the Social Welfare Commission Act provided for recommendations to be made by the Commission to the Minister. Presumably the Minister would then have the executive ability to be able to implement the recommendations which he thought were worth while. I know that Mr Chipp gave the Opposition's general endorsement to the concept of what I see now as the Australian Assistance Plan. But there is a world of difference, as I know Mr Chipp would want to have known, between the concept and what it can achieve and in the way in which that concept is sought to be implemented. What we have is an Australian Assistance Plan which seems to have crept upon us as a mixture of experimentation, of dispensing of public funds on an increasing scale and of desirable objectives all under the umbrella and justification of social welfare.

But what is this plan? It is a plan, to use Senator Baume 's words, under which there can be community involvement in the provision of welfare. But that is a tremendously vague and generalised concept. It is good in itself but it depends for its effectiveness on how the community is involved and how welfare is advanced. How does it operate? Here again we see put before us an embryonic plan or program as it is envisaged it will operate when it has been consummated. It has not yet been consummated. At the moment we have the formation on a most haphazard basis of interim groups which, in due course, can become permanent groups within regions which are specified. But the way in which they are specified is not a matter for us to be able to examine.

We do not know how the persons who will receive invitations to create these interim groups are determined. We do not know by what criterion some are selected and others are not. We do not know what advertising is engaged in to inform the public generally of an organisation which, presumably, members of the public are entitled to attend. But we do not know whether they are entitled to attend. It was that aspect of advertising to which Senator Baume referred today. We do not know what is meant by the term social welfare and whether any limitation is placed upon the way in which the moneys granted to these interim bodies, may be spent.

Apparently there is no charter or limitation upon the work in which the community development officers may engage. We do not know whether there is any sanction which is capable of being imposed on them if they act outside the generally assumed area of their operations. We do not know what is a welfare project and what is not a welfare project. We do not know whether there is a needs basis operating so that persons or organisations which receive payments are in need or whether it is a payment to groups which could well afford the additional provision of extra facilities. We do not know what has to be done by organisations which receive the grants in order to qualify for the receipt of those grants and there seems to be little check upon the expenditure of those grants.

One matter which to me is a matter which is unexplained is why, in the effort to create regional councils, the activities of the local councils are bypassed. Why have the local municipal councils not been used as the means by which money for welfare provision in a region is dispensed? It seems to me that it would be the appropriate way in which welfare services could be provided. The councils are commonly called the third tier of government but their representatives are directly elected by the people in a way that makes them probably the most responsive of all elected officials in this country. They have shown, I think right around the country, a developing concern with welfare needs within municipal boundaries in recent years, but apparently the councils and the council structure are completely bypassed.

I refer to the Western Regional Council for Local Development, I think it is called, which operates in the western regions of Victoria. The way in which it came into being has been related to me. It is astounding that this body could have received an amount of, I think, almost $750,000 since it has been in operation. I would appreciate confirmation of that fact. I believe that $30,000 or $40,000 was available for ordinary assistance provisions and a development officer, and there was a capitation grant which must have come to about $700,000 for that area and all of that, I u nderstand, was expended in terms of the appropriation which was made available last year before 30 June 1974. But I would appreciate confirmation of that fact. But how was this council established? I believe that following Labor's success in the election in 1972 there was a commission formed in the western suburbs of Melbourne in which prominent Labor Party personalities were involved and it was established with a view to promoting what was said by the Labor Government and by some of its Ministers to be the needs of the western suburbs of Melbourne. As I understand it, this commission was the body which had the arrangement of the meetings which took place I think at Footscray and Essendon in late 1973 and early 1974 for the establishment of this council. But before the council was established this commission had established some interim body. Who comprised it I do not know, but it was established by the commission and it received portion of the money which was available.

At the meeting which was held, I think in Essendon in February 1 974 where a council was elected, which is the interim council for this western region, various accounts were given as to the circumstances in which the members of the council were elected. I would be grateful if the Minister could say who were the persons who received invitations to that council and who were the persons who received votes at the council. Is it a fact that there were in fact 2 elections, the second election taking place because the names of 3 persons who had been nominated were left off the original ballot paper so a second ballot was held on that night in a rather haphazard manner. 1 do not know whether it is true or not but this is what has been related to me and this is the most convenient place to seek from the Minister some confirmation of what is alleged. This council was established and I gather it carries the responsibility for disbursing approximately $750,000. I gather that part of the money was allocated to a group known as the Western Suburbs Union Community Centre which is pre-eminently a body established by the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. The Union has an income, I understand, of approximately $4m a year. It cannot be said to be a union which is in need of funds. It has a host of officials. Why this body received assistance in this way I would have thought requires some prima facie justification.

Another body which, I believe received assistance was the Altona North Migrant Community Centre. I think I read in some document that a sum of $45,000 was made available to that body. I also understand that that centre had been in operation for only one month. It consisted of a number of teachers in the area who had sponsored this centre and received substantial sums from this interim council. A report to the Footscray council indicated that this body was not known of amongst the local groups working in the migrant community in Altona even though it was a body called the Altona North Migrant Community Centre. Again there was a report to the Altona Council which expressed surprise that the money had been given to this group because the officer of the council who had been engaged in looking after migrant activities did not know of its existence. I do not know whether these matters are true. I am asking for some confirmation from the Minister, if not today then at some later stage, as to whether this is the case and what are the checks by which we can be sure that this money is being spent in the appropriate way.

It can be- the allegation is certainly madethat it is a method of patronage and support for the Australian Labor Party because the persons in this western region commission who have had the sponsoring of the organisation are essentially there in order to ensure that by the use of money judiciously dispensed the Labor Party can secure votes for itself in the future. Patronage is certainly a means by which votes can be secured and patronage can exist where there is no parliamentary requirement as to the terms upon which money is to be expended. It is a new development in Australian politics, similar to the politics of certain well known places in the United States of America. I think it would be a bad day for Australia if we have millions of dollars available for Ministers or others to dispense as they think fit in order to promote what is broadly called a welfare objective but in a real sense is securing the interests of the persons who dispense the money. I can only say that in my region which is represented by a Liberal member of Parliament we have recently had a public meeting, which was mentioned in the local newspaper, for the purposes of establishing an eastern suburbs region. But the local member of Parliament did not receive any invitation to attend. He was not told by the Department of Social Security or by the Minister that the meeting was being held. He simply read the papers and from that he picked up his information. I would like to know the reason for this.

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