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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2056


Senator MACKLIN(8.45) —by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

This Bill is designed to eliminate an anomaly in the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act 1935 which discriminates against handicapped persons.

Exemptions from sales tax relating to disabled people are limited to the first schedule of the Principal Act and restricted to those items specifically designed for the handicapped and not usually used by others.

The problem arises because this only assists those people who have a common handicap for which specific aids have been developed to the point of commercial availability. The legislation does not cover either general purpose goods that can be adapted after purchase to become aids or general purposes goods that can be used without any modification.

The need for such items by some handicapped persons in order to live as normal a life as possible is just as great as the need by other disabled persons for specifically-developed aids yet the legislation discriminates. It all depends on the type of disability a person suffers and the availability of aids specifically designed for that disability.

To illustrate this problem I would like to relate a case that recently came to my attention and, in fact, prompted this Bill. It concerns a three-year old boy who was born without arms and has been classified by the Department of Social Security as severely handicapped. His inability to use a pencil or pen greatly restricts his ability to communicate and will be a major disadvantage when he reaches school age.

To overcome this problem, the boy's father purchased a micro-computer and began developing a special keyboard which would be suitable for his son's use. The initial cost of the equipment was $4,800 of which $1,100 was sales tax-almost one-quarter of the total cost.

The boy's parents were forced to take out a loan to buy the equipment, on top of other debts that had to be serviced, and exemption from sales tax would have significantly lightened the burden. This is just one example of the problem. There are many handicapped people in much worse situations who would simply not be able to buy the item because of the sales tax imposed. People who are disabled face enough difficulties trying to live normal lives as it is without facing such unnecessary hardship. Honourable senators would certainly agree that no disabled person should forgo available aids simply because of the sales tax imposed.

My amendment is a simple way of overcoming the problem while being easy to administer.

The essence of this simplicity is that the onus of proof would lie with the consumer. The person would first be recognised as disabled and the extent of the disability determined. This would provide a measure of how necessary the aid is. The Department of Social Security, which would administer this legislation, holds detailed records on each handicapped person, which would normally be sufficient. However, certificates from therapists, doctors and others may be required to prove the handicap still exists.

It would also need to be proved that the aid would assist with a function regarded as important by the community, such as eating, dressing, or communicating. This could be certified by the person's occupational therapist or physiotherapist.

The criteria of eligibility that I have just outlined are not included in the actual amendment I am proposing today. It is obviously impracticable to spell out this detail in the Bill. I would recommend that these details be best dealt with by regulations, as is the case with other items in the Act such as 114B, 115, 115A and 115B.

This set of criteria also acts as a safeguard against abuse. The fact that the onus is on the consumer to provide evidence that the aid is necessary and that it is to be used by a person recognised as disabled makes abuse difficult. There are many examples to draw upon to prove that when an individual is required to prove eligibility to a government department, abuse is minimal.

Finally, I would like to stress the other factor which makes this Bill so attractive. It is easy to administer. There is no need, as is often the case, to establish a new bureaucracy to administer it and any administration that is required is relatively inexpensive.

The Department of Social Security could receive and process the applications. Apart from simply checking the details of the application, the disabled person's file would be checked for previous applications. Where similar aids have been previously given exemption, an explanation could be required from the consumer. When eligibility for exemption has been verified a certificate, which need not be complex, could then be issued. It would name the retailer, applicant, aid required and purchase price. A record of this would then be placed on the disabled person's file.

I believe it is important that every effort should be made to ease the burdens faced by disabled persons in our community. Many of these people are facing unnecessary hardship because of the limited scope of the existing legislation. It is time that these limitations are acknowledged and rectified and that is what my amendment does.

I commend this Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Gareth Evans) adjourned.