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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2584

Senator BROWNHILL(11.43) —I support the comments made by Senator Peter Baume on the Disability Services Bill 1986 and the Disability Services (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 1986. I want to talk to only one aspect of the Bills. The Treasurer (Mr Keating) in the Budget Speech said:

This Government has a commendable record of directing assistance to those in greatest need

I think that comment is rather hollow at this stage. In this legislation we have clear evidence that the Federal Government is walking away from its responsibilities. I refer particularly to the decision to sell its rehabilitation centres in various places around Australia. The Minister for Community Services, Senator Grimes, who is sitting at the table, after the Budget announced:

More and better regional rehabilitation services around Australia will result from the Government's decision to redirect resources from large rehabilitation centres to a community based network.

That may well be so, and that sounds quite commendable, but in reality that is not what is happening. It is certainly possible that more centres may result, but the more important criterion, that of quality, is certainly not going to eventuate. The speed and the manner in which this Government has approached this change has upset many people in the community and it will only serve to create further hardship for families who have already had enough personal tragedy. The changes to the rehabilitation program follow the Handicapped Programs Review, which has already been mentioned. This review stressed among other things the need to assist people with disabilities to achieve independence in their own communities, and I wholeheartedly support that view. I believe the authors of the review consulted extensively with people with disabilities in the community, and I do not agree that there should be either a cutback in the quality of service or any suspension of services while any changeover is being organised.

The Government intends to sell the Federally funded centres and to use that money to provide the funds for the community based centres. The Minister has claimed that the moneys from the sales would more than double the numbers and range of regional services throughout Australia. That may well be, but unfortunately, this policy does not spell out just what is to happen to those people who are presently in those places that are to be sold while more numerous community based centres are being developed. As a New South Wales senator I have had numerous calls from people who have been associated with the Mount Wilga Rehabilitation Centre in Hornsby in the northern suburbs of Sydney. I have had similar calls of concern from people associated with the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Camperdown. These centres are held in the highest esteem in the community.

Let me explain what they are all about. For many of us in the Senate the Mount Wilga and the Queen Elizabeth II centres do not mean terribly much. Most of us have had no direct involvement with them and no need for their services. We are the lucky ones, but it may be tomorrow or next week that Mount Wilga or a similar place will become significant to us. Mount Wilga and Queen Elizabeth II deal with victims of motor accidents and illnesses, such as strokes. They get their patients after the doctors have patched up the gaping wounds and revived them from comas. They come as paraplegics, quadraplegics, with head injuries and amputations, or they are sound in body but with no control over their minds. Many come as angry young men and women, bitter at a world which has dealt such a vicious blow, and those angry young, and just as often not so young, men and women have families who are equally as confused, angry, bitter and frightened. However, those people have the determination, the courage and the desire to improve their lives and they want to acquire new skills and to regain old ones.

These centres are very often the last hope and the saviour for these people and their families. The people at the centre are known and expected to work miracles at putting people back together, people whose minds and/or bodies refuse to function properly. They give their patients hope and new lives, and they do it in a variety of ways. Many who come to places such as Mount Wilga come with horrendous problems and with little chance of regaining a useful place in society. The staff at these centres work on these physical and mental disabilities with a great deal of success. But not only do they work with the patients, they also provide hope for the families. They help them to come together, to see a light at the end of the tunnel and to cope with the many new problems that they have been faced with, problems that they could not cope with at home. They perform these miracles every day of the week.

They have at their disposal a full range of medical facilities-physiotherapy, occupational therapy and vocational training, combined with other specialist services, social workers, psychologists, et cetera. The regionalised centres that will take the place of these larger centres cannot possibly provide the same full range of expertise. People wanting all of these services may be forced to move to several locations. Many of them do not want to move. Where will they go while these centres are being established? This is the worry and concern to me at this time. A letter to the Sydney Morning Herald recently from the President of the Australian Council of Social Workers, said:

Costly medical care at the acute stage is only economic if further rehabilitation facilities are provided to continue the road to recovery and a useful life both at home and work. It is important for rehabilitation to start as soon as possible, both to capitalise on maximum recovery and to maintain an optimistic view of the future.

The situation that I have outlined in New South Wales is, I believe, being repeated around Australia. There is equally as much concern at the closure of large rehabilitation centres such as Glen Waverley in Victoria and the Payneham Centre in South Australia. There is equal concern at where the patients from these centres will go while waiting for the new centres to open. I very much regret the Government's decision to sell such worthwhile facilities as Mount Wilga, with the resultant dispersal of qualified and highly skilled teams. I think that is the biggest concern of all, the dispersal of the qualified and highly skilled teams. I, and the thousands of people who need to use the services at Mount Wilga and at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, call on the Government to reconsider seriously this decision. We are not dealing with economics; we are dealing with the future of disabled people. Obviously, there is a need for such services to help these people. It is very apparent that the regional services, although more numerous, will not be able to provide such quality of care. I emphasise the words `quality of care'.

Another difficulty with the closure of the larger centres is that young people may well be forced into the geriatric wards of large hospitals. This type of rehabilitative care is the very worst kind of treatment that young disabled people can have. It is not beneficial at all and very often completely disillusions them, making them unreceptive to any therapy. Places like Mount Wilga, on the other hand, provide specialist care and a range of services which simply will not and cannot be made available in smaller regional centres. I ask the Minister to look more closely at the problems I have mentioned to save the worry and concern of these people.