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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2621

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(3.56) —I have no argument with anything Senator Peter Baume said. I apologise for the remark I made during the Estimates Committee hearing. That is one of the problems when we are talking conversationally and prospectively, but I note that I did not mention the Julia Farr Centre. I was not in fact implying that the Julia Farr Centre was the equivalent of what we were doing. I said during the Estimates Committee hearing, and I say again now, that we are not going to leave vacuums. Where there is no replacement of a service we will maintain that service either by providing for a lease-back arrangement in the sale or by ensuring that the patients get that service through alternative service providers, by brokerage or any other means. I emphasise that with the exception of Mount Wilga-I will come to the case Senator Brownhill talked about in a minute-we do not have any unique services. Most of the services are available elsewhere. Some will have to be developed to cope with the volume.

I am sure that if one reads the Hansard and listens to Senator Baume, one could assume that we have already closed down services. We have not done that and we are not doing that. We are aware of the need for the head injury services that Senator Baume talks about in relation to Payneham. The South Australian Government, and the South Australian Minister in particular, are proceeding to and want to develop the long term rehabilitation medical aspects of services for people with head injuries and other disabilities. I have talked to the Minister about this. Negotiations are going on at the moment with the South Australian Government for it progressively, over three years, to take over from the head injury unit. We will not walk out and have them walk in. Part of the negotiations is for the South Australian Government to lease part of the facilities from the purchaser at Payneham that are useful to it, if that is possible, or for us to assist it financially to improve the facilities. In fact there has been some interest from the South Australian Government in purchasing Payneham for this purpose.

So we are not just suddenly putting down the shutters and walking out and leaving people without adequate services. I do not know about the individual case Senator Brownhill talked about. That is something that has happened recently. If someone, I assume he meant from Mount Wilga, has been transferred to a geriatric residential centre-I think that was the expression used-that is not our responsibility. I am sure that Mount Wilga's facilities are not full at the moment. It must have been a decision of the medical practitioner who is looking after him. We have not closed down Mount Wilga or the Queen Elizabeth II centre. They are still there and we are not withdrawing from those services until we have ensured that alternative services are in place. The South Australian head injury unit is a very good example of that. We and the South Australian authorities are concerned that the facilities provided there are good facilities and that they are adequate and continuous facilities. It seems eminently sensible to me for those specialist facilities to be provided by the State authority if that is what it wants-and it does-rather than having people going backwards and forwards from one stage of their treatment to the other, from Commonwealth to State facilities. I can do no more than make the assurances that I have made. I can do no more than say that we are proceeding with the sale of these centres in an orderly way. I can say that we have had our three-year programs for the Commonwealth rehabilitation service now for a long time. We have had discussions about them and we have included trade unions in those discussions, despite the misunderstanding of the presidents and officials of them. We also have had the Australian Medical Association involved. I believe there has been ample discussion about this. I can understand people being concerned if we were going to march out and leave a great big vacuum. The simple fact of the matter is that we are not. In the specific case mentioned by Senator Peter Baume, it is a three-year project for the transfer of the facilities from the Federal to the State authorities. I do not know that we can give a better guarantee than that-that we are doing it gradually over three years. It is more sensible to do it that way than to have a physical facility put up, side by side with the existing one, and on day one have people march out of one into the other. I do not think that is a very practical way to go about it. The gradual way we are going about it is in fact the sensible way.