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Thursday, 14 September 1978

Senator CHANEY (Western AustraliaMinister for Administrative Services) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The purpose of the Bill is to provide for direct matching grants, with the States, for a range of home care services, and for the salaries of approved welfare officers employed at or in association with senior citizens ' centres. The Act provides for continuation of subsidy, on a $2 for $1 basis, for the capital cost of senior citizens' centres. Thus, the Bill gives effect to policies announced at the most recent Premiers Conference which recognise that the State Governments are in the best position to assess the requirements for home care services and to determine their priorities accordingly.

As announced at the Premiers Conference, the new subsidy arrangements are to have effect on and from 1 July 1978 in respect of home care services, and for welfare officer salaries for a salary period commencing on or after 1 July 1978. The States Grants (Home Care) Act was introduced in 1 969 on the basis of a recommendation made at the 1968 Health Ministers Conference. The Act broadly provides three forms of assistance:

Firstly for home care service schemes which provide housekeeping and other domestic assistance to aged people in their own homes; secondly, for the building and equipping of senior citizens' centres; and thirdly, for the employment of welfare officers employed by, or in association with, senior citizens' centres.

A later amendment to the Act increased the subsidy from one-half to two-thirds of expenditure through the States. The importance of locally based home care and welfare officer services for aged and infirm people is fully recognised by the Government. Indeed, provision is made for significant overall increases in assistance for domiciliary services in this year's Budget. For the States grants home care program overall, there is an increase of 12.28 per cent in the estimates for this financial year, over the expenditure for last financial year. For the home care services component of the program, there has been an 83.5 per cent increase in estimated expenditure for this year over that for the financial year 1975-76, when the Government took office. Details of Commonwealth expenditure for the past three years is set out in the following table:

The increased funds made available for the program, together with the changed subsidy basis has enabled new welfare officer positions and home care services to be approved for the first time since October 1975. 1 was recently able to announce that Commonwealth support could be extended to an additional 79 welfare officers and 22 home care services. Overall the Commonwealth will subsidise 191 welfare officer positions and 271 home care services. It will also be possible to consider some additional applications for home care services. This particular legislation is but one avenue of Commonwealth financial assistance for those requiring support services to continue to live independently in their own homes. Other important services include mealsonwheels, subsidised under separate legislation also administered by the Department of Social Security, expenditure on which has increased by nearly 30 per cent in the last three years, to an estimated $2. 3m this financial year, and domiciliary nursing care programs, which involved Commonwealth expenditure last financial year of $ 10.7m. The estimate for the current financial year is $ 12.1m. It has been suggested in some quarters that the Government is suddenly withdrawing from funding home care services, causing large numbers of aged and infirm people to look to nursing homes and other institutions for help. The fact is that the Commonwealth will continue to match every dollar allocated by the States for approved welfare officer and home care services.

As I have already indicated, the new arrangements for the program were announced at the time of the Premiers Conference in June, and of course are fully in line with the Government's policy of federalism, which recognises that State and local governments are well placed to assume greater responsibility for locally based programs of this nature. Provided that State governments act responsibly within the framework of the federalism policy, there is no reason to believe that there will be any reduction in the level of welfare officer and home care services. Indeed, it could be anticipated that the States will allot a high priority to these services, which make a contribution to maintaining people in their own homes. The main function of a welfare officer is to provide a link between aged persons living in their own homes and domiciliary and other supportive welfare services.

The activities and responsibilities of welfare officers vary according to local needs and priorities, but in general include determination of the needs of the aged population and the development of services and facilities to meet these needs; liaison with committees of senior citizens ' centres and service clubs for the purpose of establishing or extending the centres' services and facilities; supervision of the services provided; fostering co-operation and liaison among various welfare activities for aged persons and encouraging interest in these activities; and providing an education program which will encourage senior citizens' centres to promote purposeful activities. Home care services which can be subsidised under the legislation include home visiting, laundry and shopping services, home handyman and related home maintenance schemes, housekeeper and other services which complement health or welfare programs designed to enhance the independence of aged and infirm people living at home.

I am sure that all honourable senators will recognise the importance of every encouragement being given to the States to maintain, and as necessary expand, their commitment to the home care program which will encourage independent living of aged and infirm people for as long as possible, and help to reduce the need for people to seek institutional care. As I have shown, it is simply not true that the Commonwealth has in some way absolved itself of responsibility in this field. Rather, the Government is seeking to build on the present partnership with State and local governments in the context of increased overall funding for these services. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.

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