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Tuesday, 6 December 1960


Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- I support the amendment that has been proposed by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) and the point that was made by the honorable member for Shortland (Mr. Griffiths). I do not know whether this position obtains with honorable members on the Government side, but every Opposition member seems to have had correspondence with the Public Service Board relating to physically handicapped people. Some considerable time ago I directed the attention of the Parliament to the need to provide employment for the visually handicapped.

I then informed the House that the United Kingdom Government and private employers in the United Kingdom are obliged by law to employ a percentage of physically handicapped persons. Not only the Government, but also every member of the Parliament should support any proposal to assist the physically handicapped because, apart from any other consideration, we have a responsibility to help those people who, because of their infirmity, find difficulty in competing for employment with their physically fitter brothers and sisters.

I am particularly concerned at the treatment which is being meted out to women. They join the service with no great expectation of remaining in employment until retirement at the age of 60 years, and consequently questions relating to long service leave, superannuation and so on seldom arise. This is a matter of such importance that the Parliament should give immediate attention to it. I ask the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies), who is at the table, to regard this matter in a humane way. In most cases it has been found abroad, as it would be found in Australia, that the physically handicapped are capable of doing a firstclass job of work. The fact that they are physically handicapped should not disqualify them for permanent employment, particularly when frequently they are capable of rendering equal if not superior service to those people who are blessed with good health.

I am particularly appalled that women who have enlisted in the Public Service are being disqualified from permanent employment. On recent occasions I have written two letters to the Public Service Board seeking sympathetic consideration for two brilliant young women who have suffered from asthma. Apparently if a person has suffered from asthma he or she is disqualified permanently from employment in the Public Service. To my mind, that is a shocking state of affairs which should not be tolerated. I have before me a letter which was written to me by a mother on behalf of her daughter - a brilliant young lady who had passed her leaving certificate examination with distinction, gaining two A's and an honours pass. This young lady applied for employment in the Public Service. After six months she was told that she could not receive permanent appoint ment. Portion of the letter from the young lady's mother is in these terms, -

L- was again medically examined by the

Commonwealth doctor- of Lithgow in

September, 1960, and apparently was passed as fit and acceptable for permanent employment in the Commonwealth Public Service, but the Public Service Board has evidently overruled their own doctor because of her history of asthma as a child.

I am sure her attendance records since being in the service would convince any one she is noi affected by asthma.

The mere fact that this girl had asthma as a child apparently is sufficient to disqualify her from permanent appointment in the Commonwealth Public Service. Her case is on lines similar to those of another which I took up with the Public Service Board, and the reply in that instance was in the same vein. The Board considered that her superannuation, long service leave, &c, were the deciding factors. This matter should excite the sympathetic consideration of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). Action should be taken to adjust it as it is of outstanding importance. As I have pointed out, the number of women who join the Commonwealth Public Service is very great, but the number of women who stay in the service until retirement is very small. Why should we penalize women who wish to enter the permanent service because of circumstances such as these?

The broad question of the physically handicapped deserves special consideration, but we find that in the case of persons who have suffered from asthma the mere mention of the word is a disqualification. That attitude should not be accepted by the Government and the Parliament. Healthy employees in the Public Service take their leave from time to time and are entitled to take sick leave, when necessary; but when a person has had asthma the mere fact thai he or she takes a few days off with a cold is a disqualification. The young lady whose case I have mentioned here this afternoon had no days off from work at all. She attended work during the whole of her probationary period, but the fact that asthma appeared in her medical record was sufficient to disqualify her from permanent employment. I have with me the case histories of the two young ladies I have mentioned and I think it is a most unhappy state of affairs that these people, who have had a good education and have distinguished themselves in their scholastic careers, should be told that permanent appointment is denied them because at some time in their lives they have had asthma.

From the medical point of view, when persons have had asthma in their youth they very often grow out of it and become healthy, robust people. The problem is entirely different when an adult becomes asthmatic in later years. Then the condition invariably persists. I repeat that a person who contracts asthma during his or her youth very often throws it off. With proper therapy young sufferers from asthma can grow into healthy people, and they should be given full opportunity to serve in the permanent Public Service of this country. The physically handicapped deserve the sympathetic consideration of this House, and the fact that a person is physically handicapped should not deny him the opportunity to serve this nation. The Government ought at least to adopt the principles which are in operation in the United Kingdom and opportunity should be made available for the physically handicapped in this country to serve it to the best of their talents. This labour force should be employed and justice ought to be done to those who constitute it. Humanitarian considerations demand that the Prime Minister and the Government give sympathetic consideration to this matter.







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