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Wednesday, 13 November 1974
Page: 2322

Senator DEVITT (Tasmania) - I would like just for a few brief moments to speak on the social welfare aspects of Senate Estimates Committee E of which I was the Chairman and to make observations on a couple of points which I think are of consequence. Firstly, I would like to acknowledge that in a debate which ensued yesterday, when we seemed to get a number of committees involved in the one general debate, I made the observation that during the hearings of Estimates Committee E an ample opportunity had been given to all members of the Committee to ask questions of the Minister concerned and his officers. I think by implication I suggested that the wrong impression had been created by some comments which had been made by Senator Baume. I wish to acknowledge that shortly afterwards Senator Baume did produce for me the Hansard pinks of his speech. I observed that due reference was made to the fact that every opportunity was given to all the members of that Committee to ask questions. I think those honourable senators who have taken the trouble to read the explanations which have ensued from questions which were asked then and for which answers were not then readily available will note that Senator Baume did interest himself very greatly in the affairs of the Committee and received quite lengthy and detailed replies to the matters which he raised.

I think it is appropriate also that I should acknowledge the assistance and co-operation of the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) and the officers of the Department of Social Security who went out of thenway to facilitate our deliberations and to provide for us the information which we sought. The information which was not readily available has been subsequently provided to us. I do not wish to go into detail now. Perhaps the Minister in his reply to Senator Greenwood will refer to statement F which is attached to the report. I think Senator Greenwood was dealing with the Australian Assistance Plan just before he resumed his seat. I notice that in the document which was supplied to us reference is made to the desirability of local municipal councils being involved in the work of the Australian Assistance Plan. There is quite an amount of detail concerning the availability of funds which gave the Committee the opportunity to exercise a judgment in relation to the use of the funds for publicity and matters of that kind.

I wish to refer briefly to page 2 1 of the Committee 's report. I regret taking it out of context but I do not think it destroys the proposition that I am putting to the Committee of the Whole. In any case, the entire document is available to honourable senators. The report states:

Apart from this, groups involved in establishing an interim Regional Council for Social Development can use part of the $2,000 Initiating Grant for publicity.

Regional Councils for Social Development and interim councils can allocate part of their Administrative Grant to publicity, which is a recognised administrative cost. Some Councils have in fact done so.

That recognises that councils have a fair degree of autonomy as to how they go about their functions. The report continues:

The experiences of 2 Regional Councils for Social Development may be relevant to some of the Senator's queries.

This is a reply to Senator Baume 's request for information. The report continues:

The administrator of the Melbourne Outer Eastern Regional Council has reported that in his region interest in the Australian Assistance Plan had been stimulated in the following ways :

(   1 ) A publicity sub-committee was formed, with one person responsible for weekly contact with the Press;

(2)   Press releases to local newspapers, radio stations, etc., and circulating information to organisations;

(3)   Creating a speaker's panel to address organisations to in-depth discussions.

Very little was expended on paid advertising. It was considered more important to establish personal contact with news editors and journalists.

The final paragraph states:

The Director of Social Planning of the South West Sydney Regional Council commented similarly and reported that response to paid advertising in newspapers had been poor. Addresses by departmental and Commission officers to organisations had been 'fruitful'; as had one interview about the AAP on television. The most effective method had been to encourage leaders of local government authorities to promote the AAP and to take an active role in it. The Regional Council now employed a part time publicity officer, who had obtained widespread free publicity, and Community Development Officers stimulated considerable interest.

Brief as it is, I think that tends to indicate a concern and desire on the part of people involved in this subject to ensure that the widest possible publicity is given to the existance of the organisation. Surely implied in that is an invitation to local organisations to involve themselves in it. I am pleased to note the reference to local government because it is the initiator of thought in so many ways in local communities.

I think that I should highlight and emphasise one point of general concern to every member of the Committee. When we were discussing the adequacy and availability of social welfare advisers or workers, or whatever we like to call them, it became readily apparent- I think it was apparent to us all before we got to that stage- that in this country now there is a very grave shortage of trained social welfare advisers, planners and workers. I suppose that from day to day in our electorates we must find evidence of situations in which, due to the complexities of life and living these days and to the involvement of people in all sorts of matters, members of the community frequently run into difficulties of one kind or another in which the availability of social welfare advisers would be of very great assistance. Very few of us, however well meaning we may be, are adequately equipped to give the sort of advice that in times like this is necessary for people.

I wish to highlight the fact that there is this shortcoming at present in the Australian community. While I appreciate that efforts are being made to overcome the problem, I think we may well have reached the stage in the development of this Western, egalitarian society where greater encouragement must be given to the training of people in this area of work in the community. I wish to highlight that point because at that point in the Committee's deliberations it would have been very easy for me as Chairman, and for every other member of the committee, to stop there and dwell at very great length on this problem and try to observe upon it. We were under some pressure of time to complete our examination of the proposed expenditures. Suffice it to say that the thought was apparent that an opportunity would have to be sought shortly to bring this matter to notice in terms as strong as it was possible to do so.

I believe that there is a need for social welfare workers because in so many areas in the community people who have some type of entitlement miss out on that entitlement because they do not know that it is available to them. I suggest that if fully equipped social advisory services were available in the community the people who are now missing out on the services to which I am referring would receive them; it would be a happier situation for those people and for the community at large. I content myself with that brief observation and hope that having raised that matter on this occasion we may see an acceleration of efforts to train for and promote an interest in social welfare work in the Australian community.

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