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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Sir FREDERICK STEWART (Parramatta) . - The provision contained in this clause is the only blot on the measure. It is not new, but on the contrary has been continuous since the initiation of the pensions scheme. I refer to the treatment of inmates of mental hospitals. The exact text of the amendment submitted by the Government proposes merely to alter the name of these institutions from " mental asylum " to " hospital for the insane ". I wish that the amendment went further, and placed inmates of such hospitals on exactly the same basis as the inmates of other hospitals. When this legislation is adopted, inmates of general hospitals will receive their pensions in full, whilst inmates of benevolent homes and government institutions for the aged will receive a pension of 8s. 6d. a week, the balance being paid to the institution. Aborigines of the Pacific Islands will receive a full pension. Only inmates of mental hospitals will still be legislated against. Under the pensions legislation a pension is suspended immediately a pensioner enters a mental hospital, and continues in suspense until he or she leaves the institution, possibly many years hence. One of the arguments that could be, and is, advanced for perpetuating that blot is that, whereas residence in an ordinary hospital is generally of short duration, the reverse is the case in connexion with mental hospitals, the patients frequently being inmates for long periods. That is a very good argument for the payment of the pension during such long residence. The burden of maintaining an inmate of a mental institution is not shifted off the shoulders of his or her family and relatives. Indeed, the lunacy authorities are much more insistent on claiming maintenance than is the general run of hospital boards. Another argument - I believe that it was used by the Minister in favour of continuing the existing practice - is that the can; of the mentally afflicted is essentially a responsibility of State governments. So is the care of aborigines: yet the Commonwealth has accepted a share of the responsibility. So was the care of children; yet, under the Commonwealth child endowment scheme, the Commonwealth Treasury has assumed that responsibility. I hope that this trend towards assumption by the Commonwealth of responsibility for social services will continue, and that it will correct the existing unfair discrimination against the men tully afflicted. Why a pensioner with a broken skull, upon entering a hospital, should suffer no diminution of his pension, whereas one with a broken brain should have his pension suspended, is beyond my understanding. I ask the Minister to give very serious consideration to the position with a view, if the result is favorable, to having a remedy applied when the measure is being considered in the Senate.

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