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Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1718


Mr BRUMBY(11.53) —I wish to make a few points about the rather emotive comments made by the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd).


Mr McGauran —Sincere comments.


Mr BRUMBY —The honourable member for Gippsland says that they were sincere comments. I doubt that. As the honourable member for Murray well knows, there has been no legislation at all that deals with the defined and final procedures for the assets test applicable to pensions.


Mr Lloyd —Mr Chairman, I take a point of order. What I said was based on answers to questions on notice in the Senate by the Minister for Social Security.


The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN —Order! There is no point of order.


Mr BRUMBY —I repeat that the honourable member for Murray knows full well that final details of those assets tests have yet to be announced. He is engaging in an unnecessary campaign of fear and scaremongering. That is typical of the tactics of the National and Liberal parties. It is typical of their policies in Government continually to divide the community. One would think that honourable members opposite would have learnt from events on 5 March. They have not. The former Government divided the community time and time again. The object of its tactics in government was to create division. It is still doing it. I thought that honourable members opposite might have learnt something from their massive defeat on 5 March.

Unlike the members of the Opposition, I would like to speak to something positive in the appropriations for the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security and the Department of Veterans' Affairs. Firstly, in the area of health, I refer to the Budget allocation of $489,000 under the national disease control program. That money is allocated to control the spread of Australian encephalitis and dengue fever. The Budget increase is a very significant one. It provides for an increase of $295,000 over funding for disease control of that kind in 1982-83. Most significantly-I hope that this is of interest to the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) and the honourable member for Murray- the Commonwealth will be providing dollar for dollar a $103,000 grant to Victoria this year. As honourable members know-the honourable member for Mallee knows this full well-that compares with the very meagre, in fact miserly, $35, 000 which was actually spent by the Federal Government in Victoria in 1982-83. Of course, last August, when that decision was announced by the Federal Government, I was a candidate for Bendigo. I campaigned strongly against the then Government for that massive cut in funds for this very important activity.

I do not need to remind honourable members of the events of 1974, when 13 Australian lives were lost because of the outbreak of encephalitis. Apart from generating very serious personal and health costs for those individuals and their families, it decimated the tourist industry along the Murray and the tourist industry in my electorate of Bendigo, which area is frequently used as a thoroughfare to the Murray and as an overnight stay. I draw to the attention of honourable members, in particular the honourable member for Mallee and the honourable member for Murray, that this Budget increase is a significant one. It will enable the continuation of full and thorough research into Australian encephalitis. It should severely restrict, if not totally eliminate, further possibilities of another disastrous outbreak of Australian encephalitis.

Also in the health field I raise a matter of some concern to me and to constituents in my electorate concerning allocations made to the National Acoustic Laboratories, which come under the Department of Health. The Laboratories provide a diagnostic and remedial service to hearing impaired persons. In Victoria that service is operated from Melbourne. While I certainly acknowledge the very dedicated, sincere and conscientious efforts of all staff at the National Acoustic Laboratories to provide the best possible service, the service provided to the people of my electorate is, because of the shortage of resources, totally inadequate. Since March of this year I have received an enormous number of representations from constituents and organisations within my electorate concerning this matter. They have all complained that the National Acoustic Laboratories, visiting service to Bendigo is now less frequent than it has been in the past. The technician who used to make those visits no longer goes to Bendigo.

I want to outline briefly the extent of the need for services of this type in Bendigo. The need cannot be underestimated. I think it is important for honourable members to be aware of it. The Eaglehawk and Long Gully Community Health Centre, a magnificent complex which was funded and constructed under the previous Whitlam Government, has some seven resident general practitioners. During 1982 each of those GPs consulted, on average, 12 seriously hearing impaired persons. I have made a few investigations of my own and I think that that is a consistent level of consultation. Some 40 GPs operate in private practice throughout Bendigo. On that basis alone some 480 individuals in my electorate of Bendigo are consistently seeking services for their hearing impairments.

A second group of people need this service. I refer to the McDonald House School for Deaf Children in Bendigo. That school has 29 students. It is highly regarded by the community and performs an absolutely essential and valuable service. All the children there have very severe hearing impairments with ongoing needs for assessment and technical assistance. The third group of my constituents that needs hearing services comprises the aged. I refer particularly to the Bendigo Home and Hospital for the Aged which accommodates approximately 400 people in nursing beds. At present the home forwards more than 100 hearing aids to the National Acoustic Laboratories in Melbourne annually for repair or modification. It is making new applications at the rate of more than 12 per year.

The figures-I think they fairly and reasonably represent individual groups within my electorate-show that, in the general community, there are some 480 people with severe or serious hearing impairments who need that service. At McDonald House 29 children regularly need that service. At the Bendigo Home and Hospital for the Aged more than 100 people regularly need and require the services of the National Acoustic Laboratories. Those figures come to a total of more than 600 people. I will be raising this matter with the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) this week. I have prepared a very detailed submission to give him on the need for increased servicing in my electorate of Bendigo. I certainly hope that my comments today ensure that the Minister will be able to see fit next year when we are discussing these estimates to make an allocation for the establishment of the National Acoustic Laboratories service in Bendigo. I know that would be welcomed by the people of Bendigo, that it would be cost effective and certainly that the need is there.

The last point I make refers to aged care which again comes under the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security and, as well, initiatives taken in the Department of Veterans' Affairs. We announced in the Budget a number of new initiatives in the aged care field. Some $2m was allocated for the development of effective approaches to assessing the care and needs of aged people. It has certainly been demonstrated that aged people are happiest and best cared for when they receive the level of care which is most appropriate to their needs. That sum of money which has been allocated will enable effective assessment of aged care needs in the future and that, in turn, will ensure that premature dependency, which is sometimes created at the moment when people are put into nursing home beds when they do not need them, is eliminated in the future.

I particularly welcome those initiatives. Honourable members would be aware of the difficulties in my electorate in respect of the Stella Anderson wing of the Home and Hospital for the Aged. I have raised this matter in this Parliament in a question addressed to the Minister for Health. It is a building well ahead of its time which wants to offer care for the frail aged in the space between the care offered by hostels and nursing homes. But at the moment, as we follow the policies of the previous Government, there is simply no legislative mechanism to allow that building to be funded. As a consequence it has been unoccupied but I know that we are taking the right steps now to ensure that it can be opened.


The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.