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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 3728


Ms McHUGH(10.19) —In rising to speak on the Disability Services Bill and cognate Bills, I wish to congratulate the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) on his dedication to the task of providing the legislative basis for improving the community support services and rehabilitation services for those Australians with disabilities. In just four years this Government has achieved quite a deal. It has introduced the home community care program which incorporated a number of wide-ranging initiatives in community care for aged and disabled people and families in need of home care services. It established the handicapped persons review, which called for all future work opportunities and services for people with disabilities to be designed to improve their image and develop their abilities to enable them to participate in mainstream community life. Out of this review came the `New Directions' report which outlined the major concerns of people with disabilities who wanted independent living options, realistic training and employment opportunities and better access to generic or mainstream community life. More importantly, it challenged both governments and service-providing agencies to re-examine their objectives and outcomes in the light of these aspirations. This legislation will reflect the new directions identified by the review and provide a basis for the provision of a more flexible range of services and associated arrangements designed to improve the opportunities for disabled people in the community-based settings.

I wish to address my speech to a particular segment of the Bill-that is, supported employment services. Under section 5 of the Handicapped Persons Assistance Act 1974, the Minister may direct that paid employment by an eligible organisation at particular premises is sheltered employment. Chapter 9 of the `New Directions' report of the handicapped programs review identified a number of problems in relation to sheltered employment. In particular, problems were identified in the unchallenging and inappropriate work frequently found and the low level of wages paid. A new definition of `supported employment services' is included in clause 7 of this Bill which increases the range of services that can be funded by removing the current requirement that the employment be provided at particular premises.

There are a number of work preparation programs already in existence for intellectually disabled people. An approach which features a concentration of professional resources in providing the necessary training and placement is the work preparation centre concept which, following the success of two experimental programs at South Yarra in Melbourne and Granville in Sydney, has now developed into a national system administered by the Commonwealth Department of Community Services. In the seven years since its inception, the system has been the subject of an extensive program of research and development and 385 intellectually disabled people have been trained in this centre. Although problems have arisen over the seven-year period, the assessment of the work preparation program is powerful evidence of a successful social intervention. Significant numbers of socially marginal young people have been helped towards productive and fulfilling lifestyles and in many cases have independently developed high levels of personal and vocational competence. This legislation will make it possible for more programs of this kind to be established.

In Western Australia, Project Employment Incorporated was established in the private sector to increase the employment opportunities for intellectually handicapped persons seeking fully paid jobs in open employment. One such initiative was `Repeat Business' where a major corporation was targeted and an initial position developed into multiple jobs. The major corporation targeted was the G.J. Coles and Co. Ltd supermarket chain in Perth. One fully paid position soon increased to eight fully paid positions in seven months. The G.J. Coles initiative has already saved the taxpayer $55,000 in unpaid pensions and subsidies. In addition to these savings the workers are also contributing to the Australian Taxation Office. The cost of supporting this operation has been about $4,500, consisting of $2,700 in wages, $1,300 in travel costs and $500 in administrative support, but the success of this venture cannot be measured only in terms of savings to the community. More important is the impact that open employment has had on the quality of life enjoyed by the workers.

On the measure of material possessions, these workers have individually purchased two horses, a speed boat, a motor vehicle and a 10-speed bicycle. On the measure of self-development, one worker has undertaken an adult literacy course and two have undertaken to gain drivers licences. On the measure of career development, one worker has been promoted to the shop floor and another is to be given supervisory responsibility for non-disabled casual trolley collectors. This very successful venture has worked with the co-operation of a sheltered workshop catering exclusively for intellectually disabled workers. This success story will be repeated many times.

From the recognition that persons with dis- abilities have the ability to participate in the work force as an integral part of society, one fundamental philosophy which has emerged is the understanding that persons with disabilities need to be able to choose their employment freely according to their own knowledge, interests and capability. The incorporation of a work experience program as an additional sheltered workshop service will allow individuals to make a better choice and decision before applying for sheltered employment. The concept of supported employment grew out of research and experience which has proved that people with the most severe disabilities are capable of performing complex tasks with appropriate support and on the job training. There is a 10-year history of individuals taking out of institutional settings people who have been seen as the most severely disabled and the hardest to assist in proving their capacity to work.

I will tell honourable members of an initiative in my office in Randwick which other electorate offices might like to follow. We responded to a request from a severely disabled young man for work experience in the office. Despite his severe physical disabilities he was a real computer whiz. It is a bit unfortunate that we did not actually have a computer in the office, both for him and for us, but his work and his help in our office was outstanding. We will certainly never forget the week we spent with Zell Goldman. I am sure that it is another example of how, given work experience, young people such as Zell can better choose the sort of work that they will go on to later. It is a magnificent opportunity for government departments and government offices to use the skills of young people such as this. The new services to be funded under this disability services legislation are crucial if we are to deliver a range of positive consumer outcomes which are aligned to the expressed needs of the people using their services and relevant to the local environment in which the service is to be delivered.

The honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt), who is the shadow Minister, mentioned the need for consultation. He correctly gives consultation with members of the disabled community very high importance. Certainly the Government in the last few years has given great importance to and place great weight on consultation. I am sure that more than adequate consultation will continue. I commend the Bill to the House.