Senate Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committees
The First 20 Years 1970 - 1990

Table of Contents


The Committee and its Predecessors

Since the establishment of the Senate Standing Committees in 1970, matters presently covered by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs have fallen, formally, within the areas of interest of the following Committees:


Current Membership

The membership of the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs in December 1990 was as follows:

A full listing of membership and Committee Chairpersons on the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs and other related committees are listed in an attachment to this section. Other attachments to this section include lists of committee secretaries and reports tabled by the committees.


The Work of the Committees

In its twenty-year existence the Committee (and its predecessors) has concentrated on the areas of social and community health and welfare, and family issues. Apart from specific inquiries, it has also conducted investigations into annual reports and petitions referred to it within this general area of public policy.

The initial inquiry of the Standing Committee on Health and Welfare was into 'The Problems of, and the Provision of Assistance to, Mentally and Physically Handicapped Persons in Australia'. The report of this inquiry was tabled in the Senate in May 1971.

It is interesting to note that almost twenty years later, the Committee once again was conducting inquiries into the employment of people with disabilities and accommodation for people with disabilities. The Committee reported on the latter subject in May 1990 and is still inquiring into the former. The conclusions and recommendations on accommodation differed considerably in the two reports reflecting significant changes over twenty years in the prevailing community attitudes towards people with disabilities.

In August 1972, the Senate referred to the Committee a continuing oversight of aspects of the report of the Select Committee on Drug Trafficking and Drug Abuse which had been tabled in the Senate in May 1971. In an initial report in February 1975, the Committee outlined developments that had taken place since 1971 in all areas covered by the Select Committee in its report, commented on those developments and made further recommendations.

The Committee resolved to keep drug trafficking and abuse under review. In June 1976 it embarked on an inquiry into the nature and extent of the inappropriate use of alcohol, tobacco, analgesics and cannabis. In its report, 'Drug Problems in Australia - An Intoxicated Society?', tabled in October 1977, the Committee put forward a seven point strategy supported by eighty-four specific recommendations. It was the most comprehensive report on this subject in Australia up to that time.

The Committee's third major report on drugs was presented to the Senate in May 1981. Entitled 'Another Side to the Drug Debate ... A Medicated Society?', it dealt with the use and abuse of medication available over the counter or on prescription. More specifically, it concerned itself with the prevalence of medication in society; the system of evaluating, distributing and controlling drug usage; the untoward effects of drugs; and the question of whether medication is a solution to the ills of society. The Committee recommended that all governments in Australia reaffirm their commitment to the Committee's declared strategy included in its earlier report. It also recommended that governments support the reappraisal of that strategy called for in its report.

In June 1976, the Senate charged the Committee with evaluating the adequacy of Australian health and welfare services. Work was interrupted on this inquiry to enable the report 'Drug Problems in Australia - An Intoxicated Society?' to be completed. Work was resumed in 1978 and the report was presented to the Senate in May 1979. In the report, 'Through a Glass, Darkly', the Committee sought ways of making the system of health services and social welfare more equitable, rational, efficient and effective. The Committee asserted in the report that to do this, it was necessary to conduct ongoing evaluation of government programs.

'Through a Glass, Darkly' achieved wide acclaim. It helped to stimulate awareness of the need for evaluation to become an integral part of government programs. Over the next decade, the operations of the Commonwealth Public Service underwent radical changes. Program performance is now monitored and evaluated through the use of such measures as program budgeting, corporate plans and performance indicators.

The second volume of 'Through a Glass, Darkly', which was tabled in the Senate in September 1979, contained seven papers commissioned by the Committee to fill gaps in information which could not be covered adequately through the normal inquiry process.

In the early 1980s, the Committee turned its attention to youth problems.

The Committee's report 'Homeless Youth', tabled in August 1982, contained recommendations on crisis accommodation such as the youth refuge; youth unemployment and income security. This was an important forerunner of subsequent research into this problem, including that undertaken by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Another far-reaching report, tabled in August 1985, was entitled 'Children in Institutional and Other Forms of Care - A National Perspective'. Hitherto work in this area had been undertaken mainly at the State level.

A long and comprehensive inquiry into superannuation and pension provision resulted in the tabling in the Senate in December 1988 of a report entitled 'Income Support for the Retired and the Aged - An Agenda for Reform'. Part One of this report dealt with income support provided through the social security system and Part Two covered income support obtainable through the occupational superannuation system.