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Tuesday, 25 September 1973
Page: 1481


Mr COHEN (Robertson) - Before I speak on these Bills, I should like to pay a tribute to the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp). I think every honourable member on our side of the House has been delighted with the fair minded approach that he has taken to one measure after another that the Government has introduced. He has refused to play politics, and it is a shame that some of his colleagues on the other side do not approach such measures in the same way. In my view, there is plenty of room for disagreement in politics without seeking to attack on every single measure. The honourable member for Hotham has taken a fair minded attitude on this legislation. I compliment him, and I hope that we can find many more areas of agreement.

I doubt that the Bill on which I intend to speak - the States Grants (Home Care) Bill - will hit the headlines of the national newspapers tomorrow. I have had a particular interest in this subject over a long period of time since I was first endorsed as the Labor candidate for the electorate of Robertson, because of the unique age and makeup of the constituents of Robertson. I have said it before but for the record I say it again: There are some 72,000 constituents in the electorate. Three months ago, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) informed me that there were in excess of 21,000 people in receipt of the pension residing in my electorate and, of course, that does not include probably another 5,000 people who are over the age of 60 but who are not in receipt of a pension.

I think it is recognised that, in terms of numbers, Robertson is the No. 1 retirement area in Australia. People have come to the area to retire. Sadly, what very often happens is that one passes away very shortly after retirement. The intended bliss of retirement ends quite dramatically and is replaced by a great deal of loneliness and sadness. For those who are fortunate to enjoy a long retirement, there is a marked lack of recreational activities in the electorate of Robertson and there is a very real reason for this. This is a developing area; it is one of the growth centres of Australia. I am not saying that in any parochial sense. The area has been designated as such by the State Government and the Australian Government. It will have a population of some 500,000 people. For those members who are not familiar with the area, it is between Sydney and Newcastle.

The councils must concentrate on the basic infrastructure that is necessary to accommodate that projected growth. A great deal of their resources are taken up in providing basic water, sewerage, roads, electricity and other amenities. In the past, they have not had the finance or the resources to indulge in the luxury of building many of the senior citizens centres that exist in other parts of the State or, for that matter, many of the other recreational complexes that are available in other communities. I do not absolve the local councils of all the blame, particularly since legislation was introduced in 1969 providing for a onethird Commonwealth capital grant. The change we now are proposing will bring the Commonwealth grant up to two-thirds of the total outlay.

I do not want to sound conceited about this but I think it is well known in the community that in my role as the Federal member for Robertson I have called numerous public and private meetings and have appealed in hundreds of letters, yet we have not been able to achieve the completion of one senior citizens centre. However, there has been a very heartening increase in activity in the past 12 months, particularly in the weeks since the

Budget was announced. We have 4 projects under way - one in the Long Jetty area, one at Toukley, one which is proposed in the Ettalong area and one at Gosford. Unfortunately, an appalling confidence trick was played upon the people of New South Wales by the Premier of that State, Sir Robert Askin, just prior to the last State election. The Act required a State contribution and an acceptance of the Commonwealth's offer by the State. We tried to convince the previous sitting Liberal member in the area, who was defeated at that election, that there was an urgent need for the Liberal Party to accept this Act. Just prior to the election, in his policy speech Sir Robert Askin said: 'Yes, we will accept it'. We thought that our worries were over. After the election we broached the subject of his acceptance of the Act and he said: 'Yes, we have accepted it but we are not going to give any money'. If that is not a play on words and a confidence trick, I do not know what it is. This is one of the reasons for the failure to get what was proposed as the State contribution to these centres. If the Premier wanted to argue that the Commonwealth should not make grants of this nature dependent on a State Act he should have said so and should not have tried to trick people into supporting his candidates and then disappointing them afterwards.

I should like to refer to another matter which has been mentioned in my area. In fact, last night I spent quite some time writing a letter to one of the organisations in my electorate where it is proposed to construct one of these centres - I refer to the Budgewoi Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association - because of some confusion as to who is a senior citizen. The term grew up for a number of reasons. For many years there was simply one organisation - the Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association. It represented people who were in receipt of a pension. Of course, its numbers have varied from year to year. As the tapered means test was introduced its numbers grew considerably, and with the phasing out of the means test everyone over a certain age will be a pensioner.

In the early days there was unfortunately what I may describe as class distinction between persons on a pension and those not on a pension. The Old Age and Invalid Pensioners Association was primarily a political - I would not say a Party political - organisation. It was political in the sense that it represented the interests of the pensioners and tried to gain political benefits but, naturally, iti restricted its membership to people who were in receipt of a pension and left out a large group of people who were not on a pension. As a result, the senior citizens clubs, as they were defined, were set up to cater for that group. Unfortunately and rather tragically there was some dissension between the old age and invalid pensioners organisations and the senior citizens centres. The previous Government, however, in defining its Act of 1969 made it clear that it was not saying that the grant was available only to senior citizen organisations. It defined 'senior citizens' in the Act as all people over a certain age. I have had to explain this over and over again at various meetings, and still there is in the minds of people a distinction between these 2 organisations. Fortunately, with the abolition of the means test within 2 years there will be no distinction because all people will be pensioners, senior citizens or whatever one likes to call them.

I turn now to the need for senior citizens centres. I intend not to criticise what is offering but to point out what is lacking. The present organisations meet in the community halls that are available to them for hire, but they lack the incentive to develop a more comprehensive entertainment and activity program, as unfortunately they lack the security of tenure that comes with pride of ownership. I am talking now about my own area. While it is essential that aged persons should not lose social contact with other sections of the community, it is clear that there is a desperate need for a centre that caters particularly for the needs of the people in this age group 7 days a week.

The present organisational social structure is catering partially for the needs of that small section of the aged community that has adapted to retirement and the loss of a partner. What is unseen is the many thousands who sit at home, lonely and bored and with their physical and mental health being impaired. The erection of a number of these senior citizens centres will make a considerable contribution to enabling both the presently active and the non-active to live a more vital, enjoyable and creative retirement. An abundance of social research is available from studies done elsewhere to illustrate the improvement in the mental and physical health of the aged community where such centres are created. Incidentally, a by-product of such a program will be a lessening of the strain on our present health resources.

I commend the Minister on his speech. 1 agree with him. Although he is not necessarily opposed to or critical of what is happening, he thinks there is great room for improvement. He mentioned a whole range of activities that could be added to the present senior citizens centres and the ones that will be built in the future. What is a senior citizens centre? Normally, senior citizens centres have a major hall that can cater for 400 to 500 people for special functions, meetings, dinners, concerts and so on. They usually have a kitchen, and in areas where I am associated with them we are seeking, where possible, to provide meals on wheels outside the centre and to provide a hot meal during the day. These centres normally have toilet facilities and offices. They may have such things as a library, a reading room, a television room, a card room, a billiards room, a work room and a hobbies and handicrafts or activities area for a whole range of hobbies and handicrafts that spring to mind. They may have a dining room, and I believe that they should have a dining room if possible. Very often they have laundry facilities. 1 note that the Minister suggests hairdressing and chiropody facilities, a mobile library and a number of other facilities that could be incorporated in the centres. But I believe that these centres should have more than that. I believe that they should have a clinic with facilities suitable for a doctor, nurse, psychiatrist and, as the Minister mentioned, chiropodist, so that they can function adequately. There is a very great upsurge in thinking on this matter and recent thinking is that these centres can provide a much wider range of activity. I think it is fundamental that there should be a social worker. A large number of citizens are unaware of their entitlements in our society and they often require individual case counselling. Owing to the fragmented nature of our health and welfare facilities, people needing assistance are often unable to locate the source and they wander through a bureaucratic maze of government, semigovernment and voluntary agencies, becoming more and more distressed as they fail to overcome their emotional or financial problems. An adequately trained social worker will be able to give the time to case counselling which is now unavailable to any substantial degree not only in my area on the central coast of New South Wales but probably in most areas in

Australia. Such a social worker would become an invaluable link between those in need and the sources of assistance.

I do not think many people outside those who are working in this field realise just how fragmented our society welfare structure is. The moment people get into trouble they go and see their Federal member, their State member, their local councillor or perhaps their local ombudsman. They may go to the Commonwealth Departments of Social Security, Labour, Repatriation and in some areas Aboriginal Affairs and Immigration. In New South Wales they may go to the State Department of Youth and Community Services. They may go to the chamber magistrate, to the police, to the public hospital - where various services are available - to private hospitals, nursing homes or to any one of a whole range of voluntary agencies. Of course, the position is that many of these offices are under-staffed and over-worked 'and some have personnel inadequately trained to cope with the complex problems - physical, financial and emotional - that beset people when they are in trouble.

Is it any wonder that a large number of people do not receive their just entitlements or the assistance that is available? Many often give up when they are pushed around from one agency to another. In my role as a Federal member I am constantly finding people who are in a desperate plight and who for months or years have missed out on assistance to which they were entitled. Social workers accessible to the people most likely to need their help and available to devote their time to case counselling would be an immense asset if located as part of a senior citizens complex. The new amendment to the Act also increases the Australian Government subsidy for the salary of a social worker from one-half to twothirds.

In all the centres we are planning we are hoping to have a special office for a social worker. We also are hoping to provide a special office for government departments so that all State government, local government and Australian government departments will have an office available for them to use, perhaps, only one morning a fortnight or one morning a week. We believe that a community office should be provided so that the interviews that are conducted by officers of, say, the Department of Social Security, could be conducted at that centre and this fact would become known. Next to that we would hope to have an office for the various voluntary agencies. So we would have an office for a social worker, a government department office, a voluntary agencies office and hopefully a clinic. I feel that in such centres we would accomplish a storefront operation so that people would not have to be shuffled around all over the various towns and shopping centres and from one government department or voluntary agency to another but could go to a senior citizens centre and have a social worker case counsel them and direct them to the various agencies and keep them under observation until their problems are solved.

I commend the Minister on this imaginative legislation. I hope that the various voluntary agencies throughout our society, particularly in my electorate, and local government bodies will grasp the opportunities for initiatives that the extra funds made available by the Minister have created. I commend the Minister on this enlightened and improved approach to the administration of this Act.







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