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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 3736

Mr HOWE (Minister for Social Security)(11.12) —in reply-I thank honourable members on both sides of the House for contributing to the debate on the Disability Services Bill and cognate legislation. It seems that on most occasions on which the House discusses reform in the community services area there is a great deal of bipartisan support and genuine interest among honourable members. I shall not take up a great deal of time referring to matters that have been raised in the debate, because for the most part they have related to concerns some of which were dealt with in the discussions in the other place. I refer particularly to the concern raised by the honourable member for Richmond (Mr Blunt), the shadow Minister for Social Security. He referred to problems in defining who was covered by the legislation and the exclusion of people with long term psychiatric illnesses. I draw his attention to the statement made by Senator Grimes in the Senate. We are talking to some extent about a distinction in areas of responsibility between departments, but primarily between the Commonwealth and the States. Senator Grimes referred to this practice being traditionally, whether it is right or wrong, a State matter. I have always taken the personal view that the Commonwealth has to take more responsibility for psychiatric care. I believe that the tremendous problems associated with funding and the inequities that exist between psychiatric and overall health treatment may not have arisen if a different approach had been taken. I repeat that this is a personal view, but Senator Grimes was essentially saying that clearly there would be great cost implications for the Commonwealth:

My concern is that we do not give people that impression, because if we did, it would cost not only $2m as Senator Powell says, it would cost many times that, and we would have to get more funds, or we would have to distribute the funds we have got now over a very small group of people.

The Government's concern is to make clear that it is not the purpose of the legislation to cover people who are the responsibility of State health departments.

I turn to a number of points made by the honourable member for Moreton (Mr Donald Cameron). I think he is a little sensitive about his age. I guess that when one reaches 46 1/2 years of age, or whatever he is, perhaps the sense that life is terminal starts to intrude, with the feeling that perhaps one will not be eligible for the kinds of services one may need later on, perhaps a feeling of insecurity. This legislation is concerned with disability and is complementary to measures that have been adopted by the Government in respect of aged people, such as those in the home and community care program. It is not designed to exclude people who are aged or even aging, but distinctions have to be made on the matter of age in the field of rehabilitation.

I wish to pick up the subject of penalties for disclosure on clients, a matter raised by the honourable member for Moreton. I understand that that applies much more narrowly than he was suggesting in terms of the legislation. It applies particularly to rehabilitation services where the Commonwealth provides direct services to clients. It does not apply to non-government organisations to which the honourable member was referring. The honourable member for Richmond mentioned the subject of funding of State governments. There is nothing unique about this legislation; it is no different from the provisions in the Child Care Act nor is it dissimilar from the cost sharing arrangements envisaged in relation to the home and community care program and supporting parent beneficiaries. The Government in providing funding under this legislation to States for individual projects will provide an avenue for greater use of Commonwealth-State co-operative arrangements. The example I have in my notes is that the New South Wales Department of Housing is to buy 10 group homes at a cost of some $1m. It will rent the houses back to the Spastic Centre for 28 people presently in nursing homes. The Commonwealth will subsidise certain recurrent costs such as salaries and equipment. The legislation provides for funding of State governments, which gives a great deal of flexibility as to the way in which cost sharing is achieved between the Commonwealth and the States. No insult is intended or any infringement of State sovereignty. We simply seek to achieve maximum flexibility.

Several members referred to the closure of some rehabilitation centres. It is now coming to be understood that the Commonwealth wishes to see better use of existing resources and also seeks to achieve a much more comprehensive service in regard to rehabilitation than has previously been the case. That is the main thrust of the provisions. The Commonwealth seeks to ensure that during this transitional phase in which the Commonwealth reorganises its programs in consultation with the States services will not be reduced. It is important to state clearly that the Commonwealth's role is primarily in the provision of social and vocational rehabilitation. The provision of medical rehabilitation is predominantly a State responsibility. The Commonwealth will continue to provide specialised social and vocational rehabilitation programs to special needs groups. As I understand it, consultations are going on at present with a number of the States, and have been continuing all this year, to achieve a regional network of services which will be much more comprehensive and which will clearly distinguish the appropriate roles of the Commonwealth and the States.

I conclude by thanking honourable members for their contributions to this very important legislation. A number of honourable members referred to the fact that the origins of this legislation go back to 1981. The Bill reflects the changing and improved social and public attitude towards people with disabilities. It is a mark of progress, not only for the Government but also for the Parliament, that these Bills are about to pass the House.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.