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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2582


Senator POWELL(11.29) —The Australian Democrats too welcome the thrust of the Disability Services Bill 1986 and the Disability Services (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 1986. I think a brief quote from Australian Democrat policy clearly outlines the reasons why we support this legislation and the process which has led to it. Our policy states:

Every individual regardless of sex, age, marital status or disability in Australia is entitled to the basic means of support as a right . . .

It recognises that assistance from government and elsewhere:

. . . must be designed to enable individuals to develop fully their capabilities both for their own satisfaction and the consequent benefit to the community.

The policy goes on:

This will require a complete change from the present system. People must regain control of their own lives . . . and community services must be improved so they are more efficient, more readily available, and more responsible to changing needs.

We commend the Government on the priority it has given to improving the services available to people with disabilities; the general thrust of the principles and objectives which underlie the legislation before us; and the trouble and care it has taken actively to involve the community, especially people with disabilities, their families and service providers, in devising the report entitled `New Directions' which this legislation puts into effect.

This legislation embodies a significant and welcome shift in the way in which the Commonwealth Government will allocate funds for people with disabilities. Funding will be based on the actual outcomes achieved for the users of the services-that is, people with disabilities. Organisations receiving funds will be accountable for the content and quality of the services provided to those who have disabilities. The draft principles and objectives will become the measure by which benefits achieved for people with disabilities will be evaluated. All services will be required to be formally reviewed at least every five years so that their ability to produce outcomes in line with the draft principles and objectives may be evaluated.

The Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes), in his second reading speech, refers to the potential for providing initiatives for performance in the achievement of positive client outcomes. My discussions with the Department of Community Services indicate that these incentives could be given in the form of additional financial incentives grants for achieving the outcomes negotiated and contracted by the organisations who receive funding. I welcome the future development in implementation of this method of rewarding organisations which can make a definite contribution to the achievement of the stated objectives. Let me outline some of those objectives. Services for people with disabilities should ensure that the conditions of everyday life of people with disabilities are the same as or as close as possible to the norms and patterns which are valued in the general community. People with disabilities should receive services which are tailored to their individual needs and goals. Programs and services should reflect the needs of people with disabilities, who experience double disadvantage as a result of sex, ethnic origin or Aboriginality. No single organisation providing services should exercise control over all or most aspects of the life of an individual with disabilities. Finally, services should provide appropriate avenues for people with disabilities to air and resolve any grievances about the service they receive.

It is of concern, however, to the Australian Democrats that people with psychiatric disabilities are excluded from the ambit of this legislation. During the International Year of Disabled Persons, it was debated whether people with psychiatric problems had disabilities. That debate during that very important year for all people with disabilities concluded with a strong affirmation that people with a background of psychiatric illness are often disabled and that often the disabilities are of such severity as to handicap people for long periods. People working in the area of the psychiatrically disabled make it quite clear that people with psychiatric disabilities have particular needs. Those needs, as recently outlined in a speech by a representative of VicServ in Victoria, are the need for shelter and housing; for general and specialist health services; for access to community resources in education, recreation and leisure time activities, transport, information services and vocational training; for the support of family and friends; for social competence and development in social and practical skills; for a supportive community network; for security and access to entitlements; and for advocacy. This, of course, is a very similar list to the list of needs which people with other disabilities are recognised as having. It seems that the Minister has argued that psychiatric disability should remain a State responsibility because it has traditionally been one.


Senator Grimes —I do not argue that at all. Do not say that.


Senator POWELL —That is fine. I doubt whether this is a real reason for the decision because certainly it is obvious that within the range of areas between State and Federal, such an argument would not bear very much weight. The Commonwealth Government gets involved in a range of areas which can be seen to be significantly within the responsibility of State governments. We have also had statements from the Minister, particularly when he appeared before Senate Estimates Committee B on 16 September this year, that if psychiatrically disabled people were included, we would need a huge expansion in money and services. I have been informed that currently services to the psychiatrically disabled account for $2m out of $130m of expenditure and that even if another $2m or $3m were spent over the next two or three years, that seems to us not to be an enormous impost, particularly when the issue of equity is raised, and I will refer to that in a moment.

It is quite likely that if psychiatrically disabled people are excluded from this legislation, there will be a consequent rise in the amount of money which States have to spend and so, from the taxpayers' point of view, the question of money is not particularly cogent. It is also the case that the exclusion of the psychiatrically disabled has been noted by the Human Rights Commission as being a breach of human rights. It undermines, too, the second principle of the Minister's statement of principle and objectives that people with disabilities, whatever the origin, nature, type and degree of disability, have the same fundamental rights as all members of Australian society. Given the exclusion from the Bill, we probably need to add to that principle the rider: `Except for those with psychiatric disabilities, who have no right to Commonwealth funding under the disabilities services legislation'. People with psychiatric disabilities were invited to participate in the Handicapped Programs Review. The `New Directions' report made the following recommendation on psychiatric disabilities:

It is recommended that relevant Commonwealth and State Ministers hold discussions about: sharing the responsibility for the provision of non-medical services for psychiatrically disabled people; expanding Commonwealth programs, including the proposed Disability Services Program, Home and Community Care Program and the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program, to provide services for people with psychiatric disabilities; and State Departments of Health/Mental Health maintaining responsibility for treatment and crisis intervention.

In spite of all that, these people remain excluded from this legislation. As I told the annual conference of the Australian Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled last Friday, the Australian Democrats are prepared to stand firm on the principle expressed by the Minister. Consequently, we announced that we would be moving an amendment to include the psychiatrically disabled. That amendment was circulated to all honourable senators on Monday, 17 November. I note that on the afternoon of Friday, 14 November, following my announcement to the ACROD national conference, I received a telegram which said:

This morning at the ACROD national convention it was unanimously resolved that the conference deplored the failure to include people with psychiatric disabilities in the Disability Services Bill. ACROD members greatly appreciate the Australian Democrats' intention to seek amendment.

I am sure that ACROD members greatly appreciate, as we do, the fact that the Opposition, obviously moved by the comments that have been made, subsequently proposed an identical amendment. This means that the move we have taken will ensure that the psychiatrically disabled will be included in this legislation.

We have some other concerns about the legislation. One of those is with regard to the exclusion of interpreter services for the deaf from the lists of types of services which the Minister may approve, as outlined in clause 9 of the Bill. We recognise, however, that they could possibly qualify under clause 9 (2) (e), information services. While we do understand that ultimately there is a limit to the amount of money available, we believe that that must not and should not be used as an excuse in cases where there is genuine need. We trust that the ability for interpreter services to qualify under clause 2 will mean that from time to time they will.

We also express some concern at the inclusion of State organisations in clause 10, and concern has already been expressed on this by the Opposition. State organisations were excluded under the Handicapped Persons Assistance Act, which this legislation replaces. However, we recognise that that created difficulties when the Department of Community Services wanted to fund services through the State organisations. To continue to exclude State organisations would make it difficult for the Commonwealth to fund such activities as private housing for people with disabilities, for example, through a State housing commission. Although we understand some of the concern which has been expressed to us and which has been expressed by the Opposition, we will not do anything other than draw the Minister's attention to it.

As I have said, we welcome this Bill because it represents a considerable step forward and also because it represents the results of extensive consultation in the community with consumers, providers and families across the board. We are particularly pleased that as developments have unfolded the legislation will be improved in the way that we initially proposed, to provide justice and equity for the psychiatrically disabled. We commend the other groups of people with disabilities who have supported this move for justice for the psychiatrically disabled under this legislation, and who have resisted what might have been a temptation to accept an exclusion which might have been seen to be in their best interests, given that it is quite possible that they might have accepted arguments which said that the fewer groups involved, the more money there might be left over for those who are included. I have been pleased to have been associated with this kind of selfless attitude and recognition of justice on behalf of people with disabilities.

We welcome this legislation. We support its thrust and trust that the Government will recognise the improvement made by the amendment which the Australian Democrats first proposed.