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Wednesday, 3 June 1970


Mr DOBIE (Cook) - It is not my intention to take, much of the time of the House on this important Bill. I have spoken in this House on many occasions on matters relating to rehabilitation, and it is in this light that I would like to take the House's time. I am particularly pleased to speak in support of it because I believe the legislation brings the Commonwealth into an area of rehabilitation which it has not properly supported previously and reinforces my strong belief that the Commonwealth Government should undertake supportive measures in the field of rehabilitation rather than operate direct services to the handicapped. As the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) has said in his second reading speech, this Bill does give effect to another of the Government's policies announced last October by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). I am pleased to see that the Bill has the support of members from both sides of the House, though it may have been only partial support with some of the speakers.

There are 2 points I would like to bring up. One is that I do not agree with the Opposition's contention that all the matters relating to the care of handicapped children should be under the responsibility of the Commonwealth. I believe that we have to be very careful that we do not take away the responsibility of local interest and local concern. We have seen the success in the aged persons home scheme in ensuring that local communities are concerned and work for the care of the aged in their district. We have to be very careful as a Federal Government that we do not allow the care of the Handicapped children to become the sole care of some remote unpersonalised bureaucracy sitting here in Canberra. The honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson), has mentioned the Handicapped Children's Centre of New South Wales. I would like to acknowledge the work he has done in this organisation. As he would be well aware, I too have had associations with this organisation. The both of us would be concerned with the future development of this important group.

It has, sadly, functioned only too well without Commonwealth support to date. 1 would plead with the Minister for Social Services that the buildings which have been completed for the handicapped children's centre - and the actual completion date must be very close to the date he mentioned in his second reading speech - be considered for inclusion within this scheme. The raising of money, as the honourable member for Hughes has said, has indeed been a very difficult task, lt has not been easy influencing service organisations and other interested people into supporting this very important and vital work in our community. To those of us who have been associated with this work, it is a heart-breaking thing to see the children and their parents living under the difficulties they have had. So I hope that this particular organisation will qualify under this scheme. If it does, I venture to say that many of the facilities that have been mentioned by the honourable member for Hughes will be within the reach of this organisation.

But I believe that in looking at this legislation we should not bc merely sitting back and saying: 'It is a good thing', and leaving it at that. 1 do nor support the Opposition's amendment that we should have a limited inquiry into the handicapped children involving Commonwealth and State governments, local authorities and private agencies. 1 have in this House made a constant request - and it is in the record of Hansard and the Minister is fully aware of it - that a committee of inquiry be established, if it can be arranged through the auspices of. the Australian Council for Rehabilitation of the Disabled, to have a total investigation of all rehabilitation activities in this country to determine just what the role is of the Commonwealth Government, of the State governments, of the local governments and of the voluntary organisations. To assume, as one speaker on the Opposition side has said, that this should be within the care of the Commonwealth alone is, 1 believe, far too restrictive and far too cruel for such a matter as the handicapped children. If we cannot organise a scheme that demands local interest and local consideration then we might as well give the game away. One of the. things we have to appreciate in this whole field of rehabilitation is noi what the Commonwealth ha;, not done. This is past news. We are dealing tonight with legislation the Commonwealth has brought in. Let us forget the past 20 years. Let us forget what the Commonwealth has achieved in the past 20 years and. by golly, it has achieved at lor.

Let us for a moment consider what the voluntary organisations have achieved. I listened with great interest to the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) and I support him in his remarks - that one of the great problems in this field is the provision of running expenses. I would hope that the next .stage will be that some scheme will evolve whereby the running expenses of these institutions will be assisted and met whether it be by Commonwealth or State or local government. But lel us not overlook how most of these handicapped childrens centres originated and how they started. They did not start because some grand idea was formulated within the Commonwealth Department of Social Services or a State Department of Social Welfare. Every single one of the voluntary organisations - no-one can challenge this - started because the people involved had children involved with that disability.


Mr Kennedy - Yes, but no government would-


Mr DOBIE - .fust a moment. The point to be taken here is that we cannot over'00 what volunteers do. Volunteers go into new areas far more quickly than any government department or government bureaucrat will do. The honourable member for Perth referred to the spastics organisation in Perth, and I know something of the spastics organisation in Sydney. If the honourable member for Bendigo does not know this he should learn about it. Both of these organisations were created by parents of spastic children. When there was no organisation around, when no Commonwealth, no Stale, no Liberal Party and no Labor Party had considered the matter it was the parents of the children involved who supported it. The Handicapped Children's Centre of New South Wales, which is now in Kirrawee, was started by the same process. So was the Slow Learners Association. Let us not overlook that, if 20 years ago we had been relying only upon Government support I venture to say that we would not have those institutions today. Let us not then allow this to happen in the future processes of handicapped children's centres. Let us nol, when we are considering rehabilitation in its total form, overlook the need to encourage the parents, those interested in particular disabilities.

It is very hard to organise a district to be interested in autistic children if there is nal a body of people in the district, who are closely associated with autistic children. No amount of representation to any government, whether it is Liberal or Socialist, will bring this about if we do not have a voluntary organisation pushing, this particular interest. Let us. not be too noble about saying the Federal Government should be doing this and the Federal Government should not be doing that. I support the principle that we should today be having a total investigation of all spheres of rehabilitation, including the rehabilitation of the physically and mentally handicapped of all ages, whether they be under 21, whether they have an IQ of 30, whether they be aged 80 or whether they have an IQ of who knows what.

The important thing is that we must have some form of investigation into what role the Commonwealth, the State and, I repeat, local government authorities and the voluntary organisations are to play in this matter. Most of us who are associated with the field of rehabilitation are very much aware that a Mr Griffiths from Perth has been conducting an investigation on behalf of the Department. I would hope that as a result of his preliminary inquiries - and I accept that his report has been to the Department alone - which report I am led to believe has gone forward to the Department already, it would not be long before the Minister for Social Services is able to announce that a committee of inquiry, professionally established and not politically constituted, is formed so that we can get some guide lines for the future direction of rehabilitation in this country.

I agree with many of the criticisms that have been levelled at the Commonwealth Government. I am not being easy in saying this because, as the Minister is aware, I have made these criticisms since my maiden speech in this House 4 years ago. It is my own personal view that the Commonwealth role in rehabilitation has to be supportive.

I believe that any system of rehabilitation of the disabled has to be concentrated on district hospitals. It has to be related to their medical conditions; it has to be related to their medical treatment; it has to be related as closely as possible to the point of their disability. I frankly do not believe that the Commonwealth Government is in a position to exercise this immediacy of treatment and development of services. I believe that we as a Federal Government have to support State governments financially. I believe that we have to give them the lead within all these fields - and we have done it. We have done it in the field of sheltered workshops and we have done it tonight in the field of handicapped children.

This Bill, as speakers from both sides of the House have said, despite some uninformed interjections, is beyond politics. It is something which must exercise the minds of us all. Those of us who over a period of years have attended to and shown interest in the problems of rehabilitation in all fields will be very conscious that the interest shown by members in this House has certainly gone beyond party loyalty. So, Mr Deputy Speaker, I say to you tonight that I support the Government in this legislation before the House. It shows a forward move. As members have said before me this Government has been lax in this field of handicapped children. No-one on this side who knows anything about it would deny these allegations. But the important fact that is to be realised tonight is that we have done something about it. For this I am very pleased and I am certain that the thousands of families who are involved in this important and what has seemed frustrating situation will be very pleased too. I support the Bill.







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