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Wednesday, 3 June 1970


Mr HUNT (Gwydir) - In supporting this Bill I wish to acknowledge the dedicated efforts of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) in trying to help the underprivileged and handicapped children and adults in our community. His sincerity of purpose should be an inspiration to us all. In speaking to the amendment moved by the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) I would like to say that he has shown his own lack of knowledge of the extent to which the Government and various organisations associated with handicapped people have been conducting an inquiry throughout Australia. 1 have in my hand a document entitled 'Demography of Disability' produced by the New South Wales Department of Public Health and the New South Wales Council of Social Services. In the preface to this book the New South Wales Minister for Health states:

I would like to congratulate the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics for the penetrating study of these matters relating to the chronically ill and handicapped children which will be of great importance in evaluating our programmes for the care of almost one-quarter of our population who are affected.

The people who are most experienced in the field of caring for the mentally handicapped are very grateful to the Minister for Social Services and to the Government for what is being done under the provisions of this Bill. I want to read to the House for incorporation in Hansard a letter received by the Minister from the New South Wales Council for the Mentally Handicapped, lt reads:

It is the desire of the Executive of the NSW Council to convey to you, on behalf of 65 NSW organisations we represent in the mentally handicapped field, our sincere thanks for formulating and presenting this Bill to the Federal Parliament.

The benefits that will stern from this measure are virtually incalculable and cannot fail to give new heart to all groups, who have striven for so long to give handicapped children a chance to live as well as they cao.

We do not intend to go into any detail or stress any special point. Our wish is that the Bill will be accepted in its entirety and implemented without delay.

Our thoughts will be with you at the third reading and may success attend your effort.

Another letter received by the Minister from the Chairman of the Aid Retarded Persons New South Wales states: lt affords me considerable pleasure to advise you that at a meeting of the Society's Executive Committee held recently, it was unanimously resolved that, on behalf of Aid Retarded Persons NSW, I extend to your good self our felicitations and hearty commendation on the enlightened prospective legislation (the Handicapped Childrens' Assistance Bill) now before the Federal Parliament.

As a society, we have good cause to be thankful for the financial assistance we have received from your Government by way of grants to help cover our workshops and equipment. Although it is unlikely that the provisions of this Bill will affect our Society, we recognise its worth to other bodies in an area hitherto largely unassisted.

Please accept deepest thanks from myself, fellow members of the Society's Board of Honour.ary Directors and members of Aid Retarded Persons NSW for your efforts and, if we may add, your humanitarian and national outlook.

The best informed people, those who are really doing the work of caring for handicapped people, recognise that this Government and the Minister are carrying out the necessary surveys, are undertaking the inquiries which are necessary and are bringing to this Parliament the legislation required to try to improve the lot of our handicapped people. This Bill will be of tremendous benefit to voluntary organisations and the States in giving assistance to our handicapped children. It is essential that those handicapped physically or mentally are helped early in life to reach a level of independence and become self-respecting adults able to play a productive role in the community. In the past, too little has been done in the field of care and these children have grown into fully dependent adults unable to live any sort of normal life and later have become great burdens upon the State, imposing strains upon the governments and private institutions. This, of course, results in great personal tragedy to the people concerned and to their families.

Hitherto, child welfare has always been regarded as the responsibility of the States and the voluntary organisations, although the Commonwealth has been paying $1.50 per day as a subsidy towards the accommodation of certain handicapped children who are living away from home. But the States and voluntary organisations have had to bear the bulk of the costs and responsibility of looking after the handicapped children. This legislation, although it does not provide direct assistance to State governments, does assist the local governing bodies and voluntary organisations, and this in turn will give to the State governments the indirect benefits they have been looking for. This capital assistance to the States may not help the State of New South Wales as much as it will other States. The New South Wales Government has involved itself in a direct manner in assisting handicapped children, caring for State wards and providing school facilities and of course it will not be eligible to receive direct assistance. The point is that other voluntary organisations in New South Wales will be helped directly. We hope that this Bill will give a broad interpretation to the term 'handicapped children' so that it will include those mentally disabled because they are emotionally and socially maladjusted children. Many of them, if helped, will become adjusted members of our community. It is desirable that every effort be made to provide special schooling and other forms of care and training for emotionally disturbed children who may not need inpatient care in psychiatric hospitals but who will become serious problems to all concerned if they are not given special assistance at an early age.

This Bill will give further impetus to the drive to cater far a greater number of handicapped children. There are an estimated 40,000 handicapped children in Australia. Yet, I gather from the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) that we cater for approximately only half of that number. Obviously this is not good enough but at least progress is being made. The terms of the Bill will free the States from some of the capital subventions to voluntary organisations and allow the States to assist handicapped children in other ways. Whilst the provision of capital grants for buildings for schooling and residential accommodation is vitally important the staffing of these institutions is of even greater importance. In this regard I am sure that the Director-General of Social Services will examine carefully every case for special assistance in the building of residential accommodation. This is necessary to ensure that the organisations applying for the subsidy have the necessary trained staff to cater for the children and, what is more, the capacity to pay the staff.

At the same time, it is necessary to ensure that regional development continues rather than see the growth of undesirable large centralised residential complexes in the major capital cities. In this respect the New South Wales Government has established a consultative council on the intellectually handicapped with representatives from the major voluntary organisations, the State Departments of Social Services and Labour and National Service, employers and trade unions. The council advises on the development of a balanced programme of services for the intellectually handicapped in New South Wales. The prime objective has been to encourage regional development of social services throughout the State so that services for handicapped children are located where the children's families are living or to assist within the immediate region so that family involvement can be maintained with the needs of the children. There are 11 such regional advisory committees in New South Wales consisting of representatives of education and public health bodies and child and social welfare officers, to help guide and advise the New South Wales Government and local workers for the cause. These committees investigate all applications for subsidy and are able to achieve some rationalisation of service and the avoidance of wastage of resources or unnecessary developments. Use should be made of the expertise built up by the States and there should be a strengthening of local participation with a view to each proposed development being examined on its merits and to suggestions being made so that the best possible schemes are encouraged and a balanced development occurs.

I would like to refer to the Westhaven complex in the city of Dubbo in my electorate. I think that Westhaven undoubtedly is one of the biggest complexes off its type throughout Australia in a country area. It is an example of what can be achieved by a regional approach with local participation. It is providing first class care for our intellectually handicapped at all age levels. It is in this regard that I want to pay a tribute in the national Parliament to the great work being performed by Dr Brian Dickens and the Board of Directors of the Westhaven Association, to the staff of Westhaven - Mr Tom McCann, who is the Superintendent, Mrs Amitzbol and Mrs Wrigley - to the teachers Mrs Honfi, Mrs Wilson, Mrs Austin and Mrs Blakemore, and to the Matron Mrs Donnelly. I mention these people by name in this national Parliament because 1 think that their names should be recorded because of the great work they are doing in this centre. 1 would also like to refer to the splendid work that is being done by the men and women of the whole district in supporting this great complex in the city of Dubbo. In 1955 Westhaven was established 1 believe in a small way in the Scouts Hall. As the demand grew, the facilities had to be expanded and this in turn created greater demand from handicapped people of all ages from a wide area. Today Westhaven, as 1 said earlier, is a very large regional complex able to cater for a great number of children and adults, both male and female, who are either physically or mentally handicapped. The growth of these services is due to the dedicated workers for Westhaven - the outstanding local public support, the support from service clubs and other allied groups in Dubbo and throughout the Central West and the support that the Slate and Commonwealth governments have given this establishment over recent years. 1 would like to give some statistics concerning Westhaven. This centre has a sheltered workshop employing 25 people, a farm hostel for 55 intellectually handicapped males, a day attendance centre for 14 children and a school hostel catering for 14 children. In addition, as an example of the co-operation that has been developed in New South Wales between the statutory and voluntary agencies, the Department of Education has established an OF school for 48 moderately handicapped children, some of whom are accommodated in the Westhaven children's hostel. Since 1964 the Association has received $28,728 from the New South Wales Government by way of capital subsidy towards the establishment of its hostel and extension of the school while the Commonwealth Government, through the Department of Social Services, has provided $41,877 towards its farm project and $18,674 for equipment used in its sheltered work programme. At present application has been made to the Federal authorities for further capital assistance, including $15,500 for extensions to the hostel and for certain equipment and $18,000 towards the extension of the sheltered workshop. Just recently the Association has entered into an arrangement with the Department of the Interior to buy land adjoining the hostel.

One of the objectives of the Westhaven Association in moving to extend the accommodation at the hostel is to qualify for the application of the Commonwealth handicapped children's benefit. Last year the association made representations, through myself, to the Commonwealth Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) about the restrictive criteria under which the Commonwealth Government's benefit for handicapped children was granted. Tn reply to these representations the Minister stated that the requirements for the application of this benefit had been eased and as a result the Westhaven Association is now confident that when the additions to the hostel are completed it will be eligible for the Commonwealth handicapped children's benefit of $1.50 per day per child in residence at the hostel. I would like to thank the Minister for Social Services, who is at the table, very much for his own efforts in this regard. Within the last year the New South Wales State Government has made available a further 25 acres of land for the sheltered farm and this has been used to increase vegetable production. In recent weeks, as a result, the roadside stall which is stocked from the farm has cleared $800 per month and this is helping considerably to finance the project at least in part. I repeat that $800 per month has been raised.

This regional development has gained much from the close links that have been forged between the Association and the Commonwealth and State departments. It is vital that this co-operation be maintained and even extended in the interests of the children concerned. There would seem to be some real value in the Director-General of Social Services making use of the suitable State administrative arrangements as they exist in New South Wales to offer consultative and advisory services and to investigate applications, as they come to the Minister's Department, for assistance under the new proposals. Such co-operation will be vital since compliance with State legislation will frequently be necessary. School facilities will be acceptable only if the schools receive certification under the Public Instruction Act, while residential facilities for children or pre-school kindergarten facilities require to be licensed under the Child Welfare Act of New South Wales. I do not know what happens in other States but this is the situa tion in New South Wales. Projects approved by the Director-General must, therefore, be constructed and staffed so as to offer programmes of care or training at an acceptable level. It will certainly be easier for a voluntary body to know that State and Commonwealth authorities are in complete agreement on its proposals.

In his second reading speech the Minister said:

The Bill will reduce the burden of the State governments as regards capital expenditure and will thus enable them ... to apply their resources more effectively towards other work in this urea.

Undoubtedly this is true. However, certain people in the New South Wales Government believe that considerable strain could d be placed on the limited resources of the States since the provision of operating costs on a continuing basis is at this stage of development in New South Wales of far greater importance than the initial capital cost, especially in relation to the operation of residential facilities. In New South Wales, where maintenance subsidies are paid to voluntary agency schools but are not available to residential facilities other than hospitals, in 1968-69 capital subsidies were less than $250,000 while recurrent grants to voluntary bodies amounted to more than $4m. So Commonwealth capital assistance without subsidies towards operating costs, especially salaries, will place a severe burden on State governments or, more often, on the voluntary bodies that have accepted the initial capital grant.

Commonwealth capital assistance is nonrecurring. Operating expenses recur year after year and are constantly increasing. If States cannot afford to provide maintenance subsidies in the long run, voluntary organisations may find themselves over-committed. This could embarrass them or lead to refusal of admission except for those persons capable of paying heavy fees. By way of illustration I come back to Westhaven in Dubbo which in 1969 had a total income from all sources of $153,953 and a total expenditure of $164,835. Allowing for some adjustments in the accounts, the actual loss on the year's operations was of the order of $7,000. Although considerable assistance is obtained from voluntary workers the undertaking has now reached such proportions that wages paid to employed staff totalled $41,207 during 1969.

Many voluntary organisations have not been able to develop the sources of income achieved at Dubbo and the loss on the operations at Westhaven, although totalling $7,000, is probably smaller than most other organisations would be able to achieve. This loss occurred despite tremendous local support and it is apparent that the need for subsidies on operating expenses is vital if progress is to be made by voluntary organisations in caring for our handicapped.

In discussions with those associated with th-j Westhaven complex I find that their greatest problem in the future will be to find sufficient funds for day to day operations because, as I have said, the complex has grown and is continuing to grow quite rapidly. I think there is a clear case for the Commonwealth and the States to get together and try to assist by some form of subsidy with the running costs of some of the larger complexes. 1 hope that this will be done in the not too distant future.

In bringing these observations to the notice of the Government I in no way detract from the soundness of the Bill or the value that will flow from it to all voluntary organisations trying to cater for our handicapped children. Undoubtedly greater contribution to non-recurring capital expenditure by the Commonwealth should relieve the States from this area of pressure and so enable a re-allocation of resources. But the high and rising costs of day to day running expenses need to be watched by Commonwealth and State governments to ensure that voluntary organisations are not too heavily overloaded in trying to carry out an essential service for the handicapped in our community. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill and, on behalf of the Westhaven Association, thank him for all the interest and assistance that he and his Department have given. What better contribution can we make to our society than to cater for those who are unable to care for themselves? I conclude by quoting from a speech made in August 1964 at the Copenhagen Conference on Mental Retardation:

The best measure of true civilisation is the standard of social care of the citizens and, perhaps above all else, the manner whereby the community cares for those who, least of all, can maintain their rights and make their claim valid - the mentally ill and deficient. This is the true measure by which a community's progress and degree of civilisation can be determined.

I believe that this Bill will contribute to that measurement.







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