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Wednesday, 13 November 1974
Page: 2337

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - One can arouse one's feelings and I know how they can be aroused on particular issues. The fact that feelings are aroused and strong words are spoken ought not to obscure the fact that we are dealing here with an Australian Assistance Plan which has enormous implications and which ought to concern the Senate when the Senate is probing into ways in which money is being expended. There is not one jot of parliamentary authority for the way in which moneys are expended under this Australian Assistance Plan. What we are being asked to do tonight is to approve the voting of approximately $6m to the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) to spend as he pleases. We are told that there is an Australian Assistance Plan which represents the way in which he will spend this money. All that the Opposition is trying to do is say that it is not good enough to have an Australian Assistance Plan which has flexible guidelines, which has no determined criteria, and in relation to which in the ultimate the manner in which the money is to be spent rests upon the Minister's discretion. No matter how much this Government tries to cloud the issue it becomes ultimately a matter for the Minister's discretion as to how the money is to be spent.

In those circumstances any parliament which wants to preserve the rule of law and parliamentary supervision of expenditure of public moneys is going to question the basis upon which this is to be done. That is the fundamental point about which we are concerned. I am prepared to suffer any amount of abuse from the Government if I can get my voice heard on this issue because what the Government is proposing is totally and fundamentally wrong. A parliament which allows it to occur might as well give the whole expenditure of public moneys to some Prime Minister or some Treasurer- albeit he might be changed in the next two or three days- and say: Spend the money as you please because Parliament is not concerned with how you spend it'. That is not the Westminster system and that is not the way we have conducted government in this country, and just because there is a temporary Labor Government in office it ought not to be the standard which prevails in this country for the future. This, I believe, is fundamental.

Let us get back to the point with which we are really concerned and that is the way in which the Assistance Plan shall work and why we say it is a question of possible patronage and is subject to the Minister's control. We have for the expenditure of these moneys an interim committee prior to the establishment of a permanent regional council. How many permanent regional councils have been established? We have not been told. There are 6 regions which are constituted in Australia but in those 6 regions how many councils have been permanently constituted? I challenge the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) to say. Is it more than one? If it is only one, who is expending the money in these other regions? I suspect that where money is being expended in these other regions it is being expended by these interim committees. But who constitutes these interim committees? We are just not told.

Before Estimates Committee, Mr Luby who is concerned with the administration of this scheme, had this to say:

In this interim period of the experimental program -

That is the position we are in at the moment- money is being given to these interim committees to form themselves the regional council.

Who asks people to become an interim committee? How is that interim committee established? The Minister, for all the time he has taken in this Senate trying to explain the Assistance Plan, has not yet said who are the people who constitute these interim committees. Who are the people to whom invitations are sent? That is the fundamental question. I mention my own area, the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, and refer to the fact that in the last fortnight or 3 weeks there has been an Eastern Suburbs Social Regional Development Council established or, if it was not established there was a meeting held, which had been publicised, for the purpose of constituting that council. Who were the persons who received invitations? I spoke to my local Federal member of Parliament and he had not received an invitation to this Committee. Yet I look at other committees which have been established in the metropolis of Melbourne and I note that Labor members of Parliament are right to the forefront on them.

Is the Minister prepared to say that Liberal members of Parliament are given invitations to these bodies? If he is prepared to say so, let him give the chapter and verse and explain why Mr Staley never received an invitation to the regional development council in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne of which the electorate of Chisholm comprises the major part. Senator Button is trying to interject now. He knows that if there was any fairness in this Mr Staley ought to have been told that there was an interim committee being established in his locality.

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