Seeking to assist diverse groups

My reputation as a feminist … was vouched for by some senior public servants. Presumably that was why I was interviewed for the position of Head of Women’s Affairs in the Federal system. Not surprisingly, the job went to a woman; and women continue to hold that post in an allegedly non-discriminatory service.

It was not that different when vacancies arose in two States for the head of their ethnic advisory councils. I applied, with agreement from up to five ethnic communities in each State to work with me. And I had the support of eminent ethnic leaders in each State. Yet parochialism prevailed. … ; the subsequent appointment of deputy chairmen might not have been insignificant.

I am sure that there is a lot more that these peak ethnic bodies can do than act as lobby groups for additional taxpayer resources. In contrast, there are community groups in the country which are very effective in providing aid to the genuinely needy overseas. While the Federal government does its best in this area, there is a great effort made by ordinary folk to raise funds.

I joined one of these groups, having agreed to make a small financial contribution regularly (through a deduction at source from my wages). Somehow, I finished up on the local committee for a year, when it was dominated by the wives of senior defence officials and senior public servants. Our publicity efforts led not only to an expansion of membership but to responsibility for managing the organisation being passed to the younger generation, especially university students. So, instead of eating our way to raise funds, … …

When our Indian representative was brought to Australia, my wife and I were asked to host him, as he was a vegetarian. As carnivores, we had little experience of a total vegetarian diet in Australia, but we managed to feed the man successfully. However, when he asked to meet some poor Australians, we were flummoxed. Many Australians are, of course, described as ‘poor’ by welfare researchers. But their measure of poverty is a very quaint one; one is below the ‘poverty line’ if one’s income is below, not a minimum level of need or necessity, but below average weekly earnings (initially) or (latterly) a deemed after-tax disposable income.

… … we took our Indian visitor to the poorest family we knew. They were neighbours. They lived in a rented government house, had carpet on the floor (vinyl in the kitchen and wet areas), fridge, stove, washing machine, TV, radio, some curtains and blinds, some light fittings, and an old car. He was a builder’s labourer. The wife stayed home with four children. They thus lived on a minimum award wage, i.e. the lowest legal wage payable. In our working class suburb, a few others earned as much (or as little); the three bus drivers in my street were the highest income earners (because of shift-related wages). When our guest and we came home, all that our visitor had to say was, “I wish to God that we could all be as poor as that family!” …

(These extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ raise the difficult question as to how much of the federal government’s policies might be seen as fringe social issues. Does the nation really need a separate bureaucracy to look after the interests of women?

Was there a need for taxpayer funds and part of the bureaucracy to be allocated to enabling immigrant organisations to be formed, to be then joined together in state-wide co-ordinating bodies, and then to have a national organisation, for whose meetings agendas and briefing papers were produced by public officials like me? At one national conference I attended, the most vocal participants were State Government officials.

Then there is the controversial issue of overseas aid. What were the outcomes of benefit to the recipient nation or to specific communities? We, in Community Aid Abroad, sought to assist in practical observable ways.)