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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2586


Senator SHEIL(11.55) —I support this piecemeal attack in the legislation to help disabled people. Disabled people may be young or old. They may be psychiatrically or mentally disabled or physically disabled, or combinations of both. It may be a temporary or permanent condition. A small number of these people are savable and can pass from the permanent to the temporary category, or even to the cured category. The Disability Services Bill 1986 and the Disability Services (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 1986 specifically exclude mentally disabled people and therefore exclude people both mentally and physically disabled. If people have both conditions they are not included in the target group under the legislation. So it is a piecemeal attack. There is no mention at all about income maintenance for these people. That has been left bubbling along on the back burner under whatever circumstances exist today. It is, at best, a piecemeal attack and is causing some concern to us because of the exclusion of the mentally disabled.

The purposes, objectives and principles are all laid out in pretty high flying rhetoric which seems to me to have been taken from some of the international covenants. Very few of them are possible of implementation. I notice the Government is introducing new requirements for accountability of the people who supply the services. It is introducing a new orientation of consumer outcomes which, of course, fits in very well with this Government's philosophy. It applies this philosophy to education. It wants people who come out of educational institutions to come out with equal outcomes. Presumably it is applying that philosophy to the disabled. It wants them to have the same outcome regardless of equality of access.

Historically, I suppose, care of the disabled really started with parents who were inflicted with having to look after disabled children. Eventually they would have formed groups and got some medical, nursing and therapy people interested in the groups. This would have stimulated much of the research that went into the various areas. Admittedly, 50 years ago not much was known about this sort of thing. Those people deserved a lot of credit for the advances that have occurred. Undoubtedly, as they progressed they would have realised that they needed more money and help. Unfortunately, they went to government for it and got it. Governments have been funding these sorts of things ever since. I suppose that it is because of that that we went down the institutional road to start with and put these people away. Now we have learnt that they can be much better looked after in the community. That is also due to advances in medical science that have made many of the disabilities less permanent and made many people a lot easier to put up with. It has given people a chance to fight off their disabilities. A lot depends on the amount of fight in the patient as to how much disability he or she has. The saying is that it is not the size of the dog in the fight that counts; it is the size of the fight in the dog. I saw a film the other day of a chap in the United States of America with no legs who was playing football. There is no limit to what can be done if one can play football without feet! This legislation is a move away from institutional care back to the community. Despite all the high flying rhetoric in the principles and objective, the Government is selling off the large institutions. This is causing disruption. We have heard what it is doing in the community at the moment. The Government is not providing any alternatives while these large institutions are sold. The Government should explain its position very carefully and be very particular about how it expands the regional services.

We can see the dangers of the States being funded as though they are institutions. Those dangers have been enunciated in the debate today. I suppose that the Commonwealth wants the States to be mendicants. I do not know what sorts of programs the Government expects the States to come up with when it is already closing down their institutions. I suppose that, with changing times, there will be a need for new and additional services. There are three areas of concern. The first is the complete exclusion of all mentally disabled people from the target group. I do not know the exact figures, but at least half the disabled in Australia will be excluded from the target group. Secondly, there is the business of the Government putting the States into unfair competition with other institutions when applying for Commonwealth money. Thirdly, there is the lack of provision of interim services while these large institutions are being sold over the next few months, which is already causing major disruption to the care of the disabled in the community.