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Wednesday, 3 June 1970


Mr IRWIN (Mitchell) - The Bill before the House conforms with a promise made in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). This promise was not challenged by the Opposition during the election campaign. The Prime Minister staled in his policy speech there would be capita] assistance of $2 for each $t towards the cost of building institutions which give training to various types of handicapped children. As a member of the Government Members Social Services Committee, J have been on tours of inspection of and have obtained information about the many wonderful institutions set up by religious and other organisations to assist these children. I was appalled to learn that in this modern scientific era, with a population of only 12 million, there are in Australia 50,000 children handicapped in various ways and at different stages. The States are primarily responsible for the care and training of such children. However, this does not prevent or preclude the Commonwealth from assisting to the maximum the institutions carrying on such services. At this stage 1 think I express the sentiments of all honourable members in this House when 1 offer our appreciation and gratitude to those people who render such dedicated and self-sacrificing service to handicapped children.

This Bill is most estimable and will make a worthwhile contribution to the erection of schools and premises for the children. I would like it to go much further; of course, all honourable members would. In those areas where schools. and buildings are now provided I would like the Government to subsidise the . payment of staff and equipment of such schools, As I toured the various institutions, how I wished I had much more time to devote to each and every one. This, of course, is not available. However, one can do much in many ways to assist.

I have been attracted to the profoundly deaf who, along with the spastic children, offer the greatest' potential in training and achievement. Please do not misunderstand me. All handicapped children require our attention, consideration and understanding. The impact' of profound congenital hearing loss on the processes of communication is difficult to overestimate, because language is the indispensable tool of learning which is acquired with very little effort by the hearing child but acquired in a minimal degree by the deaf child only after great effort and determination. It has been estimated that deafness is the most profound handicap a child may have. It is complex and expensive and calls for a range of educational and other efforts that are equally complex. Because of this it is necessary that anyone who has ' the responsibility or authority for establishing a programme for the deaf should be mindful of the complex problems involved and the educational facilities that they can provide. Deaf children in Australia have shared the treatment meted out to handicapped children generally. They have in times past been hidden behind the walls of . protective custody. We have preferred to think that they did not exist. We are now reaping the fruits of a long standing neglect. I trust and I am sure that society has now awakened to the position and will do much better in the future.

The Commonwealth Department of Education and Science has in its files the recent Babbage report. This was . a report by a national advisory committee on the education of the deaf in the United States of America. Our Commonwealth Department also has the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf Committee report to the board of directors on the interim guidelines of educational progress for deaf chil dren. The answer to the basic question: What do we have to do to ensure adequate provision for our deaf children?' is, as I have stated, both complex and pervasive. However, some of the more central issues readily suggest themselves. Of prime importance is a programme of early attention to the deaf child. This includes early detection and parent guidance and a strong attack on a comprehensive pre-school programme of instruction in language and speech. Without such early attention it is doubtful whether a child who is born deaf will ever acquire his native language. Improved education of the deaf is unlikely without a new research effort. It is doubtful if even 1% of the cost of educating deaf children is spent on research. Improvements in the deplorably low academic achievement of the deaf will hardly come about without vigorous attention to teacher training. In some state schools for the deaf many teachers are not specially trained or equipped at all for this work.

A very real contribution to the field of the handicapped could be made by the Commonwealth by setting up a national training college for teachers of handicapped children. Present State efforts in this field are limited and inadequate. Such a college could serve as a model for further training programmes. Because the deaf are already victimised on a changing occupational outlook attention to a secondary school programme for the deaf is essential. A satisfactory system for the education of the deaf requires the availability of many medical, audiological and psychological social services and other diagnostic services not ordinarily associated with education. Such services are, however, essential to the field of special education of which education of the deaf is but a part. There is urgent need to raise the level of hopes in the field of education of the deaf. We cannot continue to offer these children the crumbs and dregs and say in effect: 'This is good enough for you because you are deaf.'

Deaf and dumb children are dumb merely because they cannot hear. Their vocal chords and their voices are as good as yours and mine. I suppose most people, as I did until a few years ago, look on the deaf with pity and sympathy, not realising that they have been rewarded by nature with a power of concentration to compensate for their affliction. I suppose most people thought, as I did: Well, they are deaf and dumb. We will do for them what we can in the way of a menial job. But when one comes into contact with such dedicated people as Brother McGrath and Miss Walters, of whom I have spoken in this House before, who are at the State school at North Rocks, one realises what can be clone for these children. In many cases they have a very high 1Q. At St Louis in the United States of America many children have been taught to speak and have attained secondary diplomas and 12 have gone on to tertiary education. When I see these children at North Rocks and at Castle Hill bubbling over with enthusiasm and brightness, I wish that we could have more people like Brother McGrath and Miss Walters who are specially trained to impart to these children the knowledge of how to use their vocal chords so that within a few short years they are able to speak as do you and I.

I hope the time is coming when knowledge of. this system will be disseminated throughout Australia and these wonderful children with a high IQ will be able to take their places in society and render a service to the community. Unfortunately their potential ability is not able to be brought out at the present lime because they are unable to speak. I was sorry to hear the remark of the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) that this Government wanted to opt out. Of course we do not want to opt out. We are coming in in a big way and will do more and more as time goes on. Unfortunately the honourable member sarcastically referred to charities and charity workers, lt will be a sorry day for Australia, even an affluent Australia, when charity goes. Charity will always be a great blessing and a great attribute irrespective of the affluence of .our society.

Mr ARMITAGE(Chifley) 1 10.5 1]- I will nol speak at any great length tonight. I think most members know that there is a long night ahead. A lol has already been said about this Bill, but there are a few. aspects I should like to raise. I would like to make it clear for a start that the Opposition welcomes this Bill as far as it goes, lt is a Bill which will assist those organisations which in turn are assisting handicapped children by way of capital assistance for land and buildings and equipment. Of course this is only a part of the very great problem which has to be handled. The honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Irwin) referred to what the honourable member for Robertson (Mr Cohen) had said a few minutes ago. He mentioned that the honourable member for Robertson had said that the Government is opting out. The honourable member for Mitchell said that the Government is coming in in a big way. I say this in all sincerity: 1 think the Government is coming in. I would nol go so far as to say at this point of time that it is coming in in a big way because there is still so very much more to be done in this field. ' . .

On the contrary, 1 believe that this Bill involves an issue which has been dealt wilhin this chamber so many times, which has' been dealt with in the Press and which has been dealt with by the various university, groups and the like. This is one of the most important sections of those who are disadvantaged in our community today.' These are the people who have to be assisted. I believe that this Bill is a hap-: hazard attempt to grip a social problem and to satisfy a social conscience, but it does not in fact satisfy that conscience. It is a hastily drawn up measure to satisfy a hastily conceived election promise. There, has been no research into the problem, lt is for this reason that, the Opposition has moved the following amendment to the Bill:-

That all the words after 'that' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place' thereof: 'whilst not opposing the provisions of the" Bill,

I want to make that clear - the House is of opinion that a national inquiry should be conducted to identify the nature and extent of mental and physical handicaps in' children, as a basis to the Commonwealth establishing a national policy for handicappedchildren involving Commonwealth and SuiteGovernments, local authorities and private agencies in co-operative action'.

That is why 1 say that the Bill is hastilyconceived. A committee of inquiry is needed to inquire into those aspects covered by the amendment besides very many other aspects such as research into the causes of handicapped children - there is so much' to learn yet on this - research into the treatment of handicapped children, research' into teaching methods for handicapped children and the best way to assist governments and organisations which are endeavouring to do a job in this field to assist those children.

I can recollect first coming into this field and becoming interested in it many, many years ago when a couple who had a mongoloid child approached me. The child was 2 years of age and had not turned off its back. The father approached me to try to get the child into a State home to be looked after because at that point of time his total wage- was £13 10s a week, and he was spending £6 a week having that child looked after in a private home. His life savings of £400 were steadily being whittled away. I thought I could easily get that child into a home- how innocent I was- -where it would be looked after. I found that there were very few organisations - only charitable organisations - which could do the job. There was one State organisation where the child was finally admitted. Having had 5 attacks of pneumonia the child had a sixth attack and died within a fortnight. For that reason I became very vitally interested in this problem of handicapped children.

I believe that the whole issue here is one of great human problem. Every parent who comes to me states: 'We have a responsibility. We have to look after these children. This is our child. We do not shirk that responsibility in our lifetime'. But they are all worried about that very important aspect of what will happen when they are no longer here. Some aspects of the Bill have to be looked into. It does not encourage Governments, State or Federal, to enter into this field as an entity themselves. It does assist or attempts to coerce private organisations to continue in the field and to expand their activities. But it does not have the same effect upon government instrumentalities, which should accept the responsibility for these children. It gives a certain amount of help. I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) on the two-thirds assistance that the Government gives to private organisations for land and buildings, for special equipment and so on. But it still lays a responsibility on the parents or on . those people who are prepared, to volunteer to assist these children to raise, other finance. Quite frankly, we only have to look at the type of society we live in today. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the ordinary family - group to meet its responsibilities to those children who are not physically handicapped. Here they are being called upon to meet this colossal responsibility - this great liability of the child who is handicapped.

I believe that there should be an inquiry, as I mentioned earlier. There are so many problems to be looked into. There is a necessity for assistance for training teachers and the payment of their salaries. I know that the States already assist in regard to the salaries, but the assistance only covers portion of what is required. . It does not fully cover the problem. These teachers are specialists and must be trained as such. There is a need for transport. I know that the States give assistance in this respect but still it does not cover the full problem. So many of these children need special vehicles to transport them to and from school. There is a need to alleviate this problem and to assist not only those children under 16 years of age but those over 16 years of age. Under State legislation the parents have to pay for the education, transport, etc., of a child in a school for handicapped children when that child is over 16 years of age.

This raises the old issue of what happens when the parents are no longer with us. This is the greatest problem troubling the parents of handicapped children. There is always the thought in their minds: What is going to happen to our child when we are no longer here?

Debate interrupted.







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