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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 3734


Mr CONQUEST(11.10) —The report of the handicapped programs review `New Directions' indicated that substantial improvements were required in the accountability of subsidised organisations for service content and quality and that major changes were needed in the programs to reflect this consumer outcome focus. It also said that a restructuring of services, funding and other resources was required and that such changes could be effected only by legislative change, particularly the replacement of the Handicapped Persons Assistance Act 1974. In a ministerial statement in the Senate on 12 June 1986 the Minister for Community Services, Senator Grimes, advised of his Government's intention to introduce new disability services legislation based on the principle that positive consumer outcome should be the rationale for program development, delivery and review. In the legislation that is before us I do not believe it is spelt out how the consumer outcomes will be measured or what mechanism will be used to see that they are being met.

The Disability Services Bill 1986 provides a legislative basis for the provision of financial assistance to organisations conducting services for people with disabilities as well as a specific legislative base for two related sub-programs. I refer, of course, to the program upgrading scheme and assistance for people with print disabilities. It also provides funding for existing subsidised services which may, under certain conditions, continue to receive financial support while upgrading to meet the more stringent requirement of this legislation.

The Minister also outlined seven principles and some 14 objectives which reflect the Government's belief about how all services for people with disabilities ought to be developed and delivered. The Bill clearly defines a target group to remove any doubt about the intended users of services receiving Commonwealth support under the program. Service must be predominantly for people having a disability deriving from intellectual, sensory or physical impairment, whose disability is permanent and whose debility results in substantially reduced capacity for communication, learning or mobility and a need for ongoing support. Those funded organisations which presently provide services to people who do not fit the target group will need to make some alternative arrangements. For the time being, I understand, separate carry-on funding will be provided.

In the Senate Estimates Committee B on 16 September the Minister indicated that the other arrangements would be arrived at between the Commonwealth and the States. He later said that if no arrangements were made these people would not be defunded, because there are not many of them. When the target groups are considered in juxtaposition with those presently receiving funding, we discover a grey area comprising those groups which the Minister says will not be defunded. What concerns me and some of my colleagues is that other grey area groups will be in need of assistance in the future, but they will or may miss out because they are not included in the target group. The target group, which was discussed in some detail in the Estimates Committee hearing, was in the area of the psychiatrically disabled. The problem for these people is that the margins are blurred between State and Federal government responsibilities, with the Commonwealth saying that the provision of treatment for psychiatric illness is a matter for State governments to handle. It is to be hoped that a more rational delineation of the responsibilities between the Federal and State governments can be achieved through a consultative process because we do not want to see people with some form of disability, not necessarily psychiatric, outside the target group and left with no access to funding.

Although this legislation provides funding to the States in their capacity as service providers, it can be only for services provided by them which are covered by the legislation. Any joint Commonwealth-State funding of services and projects considered as being of joint interest could possibly be broadened by the application of ministerial prerogative which permits the Minister to approve other classes of services, which would further the objectives of the new legislation. Maybe in this way the legislation can address the problem of groups outside the target area missing out on funding. It is significant that the work of self-help groups is recognised and that they will be eligible for funding so long as they intend to seek incorporation. The value of self-help groups has long been underestimated.

In the second reading speech of the Minister mention was made in regard to the Bill widening the scope for what may be provided to an eligible person from `treatment and training', as it is currently described in the legislation, to `a rehabilitation program'. He then went on to mention that the new definition will still allow the Department of Community Services to arrange for the provision of treatment services where they are necessary and that the services will assist people with disabilities in the target group of this program to reach their social or vocational goals.

I certainly hope that in that context of social or vocational goals the services will take into consideration matters such as those the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Donald Cameron) brought up in regard to those people who are providing recreation services to the disabled. I noticed that in the report `New Directions' on page 130 there is a section on sport, recreation and leisure in which recommendations were made to the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) and the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment (Mr Cohen) in regard to what should be done for those disabled people.

In the Bundaberg area I helped form an access and recreation club. That was some 10 or so years ago. At that time I was the chairman of the area committee for the Queensland Recreation Council. We foresaw a need to help these people by providing facilities. It is recognised that handicapped people have better access to jobs today. New technology has allowed people with disabilities to operate certain types of machinery. Over a century ago, of all the energy expended in the world over 90 per cent was from the muscle. Today less than one per cent of the total energy expended in the world comes from the muscle. So people with disabilities have a better chance of getting jobs today because what was done by muscle power previously is now done by machines which are mostly operated by pushing a button or some other simple method. It has allowed them to gain better access to the work force.

We know that in the last 10 to 15 years moves have been made by local government, State governments and Federal governments to ensure that buildings that were being constructed provided access for handicapped and disabled people. At the same time many buildings which are used for active and passive recreation purposes but which were constructed long before that still do not provide the necessary ramps or other access for disabled people. I believe that this legislation, as I read it, will provide avenues for funding for some of those groups to upgrade their buildings to allow access for disabled people. It is most important that people with some disability or handicap be able to go into those buildings. It is just as important for people with disabilities to have access to either active or passive recreation as it is for other people in the community. I am sure that that will meet the social goals that were mentioned by the Minister in his second reading speech.

I refer now to the aspirations of some service providers. Let us look at a centre which provides activity therapy for the physically and intellectually handicapped. It is conceivable that such a centre may be able to rehabilitate its clients to a level at which they may be capable of entering the work force, be it in a sheltered workshop or even the mainstream work force. An education program at a suitable facility is needed to provide special transitional training for individual centre clients to equip them with the basic skills needed to enter the work force. These people have progressed as far as they can at a centre; yet to confront and overcome the next challenge transitional education of the appropriate type is essential. A series of ongoing programs at TAFE colleges or similar institutions which tailor their training style and pace to suit the individual client or student would seem a possible way to go.

The legislation is based on the principle that positive consumer outcomes should be the rationale for program delivery-and what could be a more positive outcome than having a disabled client satisfying his or her higher order needs through entering a new phase, the work force. We cannot take for granted that a client who has attained greater locomotive skills or a higher level of mental activity will be able to apply those gains immediately. These people suffer from a lack of sufficient education in social and other necessary skills, which must be remedied before they can advance to the next stage. The suggestion that the existing further education colleges look to providing that training is based on their reasonably wide dispersion through the country. This would dovetail reasonably well with the similar dispersion of activity centres. It would seem to me that if we are to consider the disabled as people first-that is, people whose abilities are more important than their disabilities-then we need to provide them with every opportunity to self-actualise. That is what will happen if we provide the link between rehabilitation and rewarding activity, such as work.

The Minister indicated in his foreword to the Handicapped Program Review report that it was not an end in itself; rather that it was the start of an ongoing review of all matters affecting the quality of life of the disabled. As the Minister will have noticed, a fairly bipartisan view has been taken on this legislation. Some amendments will be moved in the Committee stage, but I believe that the Minister's work for the handicapped should be recognised. If the Minister closely examines the outcome of his measures to ensure that those for whom the services are provided will get the major benefit of any funding, that will go a long way to meeting the needs in that sector of our society.