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Wednesday, 21 October 1964

Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) . - 1 thank the Minister for Customs and Excise (Senator Anderson) for the efforts he made to satisfy my curiosity on the points I raised. He was very helpful. But I do not think he has gone far enough on two points I raised concerning the housekeeping services. To adopt a phrase which was used by Senator Murphy, I ask: Where is the legislative power to make this payment? I want to ascertain the conditions under which payment is made so that I can understand why South Australia is not a participant in the scheme.. I am mindful of the fact that the Director-General of Social Services says that the grant is to provide assistance to State and voluntary institutions conducting housekeeping services. It would appear from the Minister's statement that Queensland is the only State in which a voluntary organisation is paid a grant and therefore it is shown in these estimates.

I am particularly interested in this matter because there is an organisation in South Australia - it originated in South Australia and it has now spread to the other States - which is known as Meals on Wheels. The organisation was started by an invalid girl named Doris Taylor. It functioned at first on public subscriptions, and it now receives a grant from the State Government. It supplies hot meals to pensioners who cannot cook a meal for themselves. There are a number of other services that the organisation is prepared to provide for pensioners, including a housekeeping service. If a pensioner has to stay in bed and has no one to keep house, this voluntary organisation, under great financial difficulty, supplies housekeeping services to that person, either free of charge or for a payment which is below the recognised wages of housekeepers. Some part of the payment is made by the pensioner, and the rest comes from the money that has been collected. I am anxious to know whether this organisation could participate in the scheme we are discussing. Where can I find the conditions that have to be complied with? I mention this matter because I have been told that in a report of the Public Accounts Committee the suggestion has been made that South Australia is now becoming interested in the scheme. I have not referred to the report, so I do not know whether or not that is correct.

I agree with what the Minister said on the question of payments to religious organisations under the Aged Persons Homes Act. It is desirable to have people housed under the conditions that this scheme provides, but I am opposed to the requirement that individuals should have to contribute without acquiring any equity. It is of no use to say that it is a matter of private arrangement. In many cases it is a matter of necessity for people to be provided with this type of accommodation. Perhaps their family has left them and they have reached an age where they cannot maintain the large family home. They have to sell the home to get the deposit of £900 for the type of accommodation that is suitable for their conditions. This happens at an age when they have a short expectation of life. Having paid £900 deposit, in a few months or a few years they could die and be carried out of their property. It would then become the property of the organisation.

Tt is not correct that the Act provides for grants only to religious organisations. While the Act provides for grants to religious, charitable, benevolent and exservicemen's organisations, it also makes provision for grants to other organisations that are approved by the Governor-General. They need have no connection with religious organisations. According to a newspaper report in the Adelaide Press, an organisation is being formed which could exploit this scheme. The organisation claims that it is being formed for the purpose of becoming an acceptable organisation, approved by the Governor-General, for the construction of aged persons homes in South Australia. It will be a non-profit organisation controlled by directors, and as such there is no apparent reason why the Governor-General should not approve it as a home construction authority.

The Minister did not answer my question on this matter. Is a guarantee extracted from these organisations that the homes shall be maintained for aged people? Assets are being accumulated and paid for by the tenants. If a person dies, is there any reason why the organisation cannot use the home other than for the purpose for which the Government paid the subsidy? The Act provides that the Government may ask for a guarantee. I am trying to find out whether, in fact, the Government does ask for a guarantee. Could the private company in South Australia to which I referred use these homes after a period for profit making purposes? After the homes have been built, there is nothing to suggest that they cannot be used for profit making purposes. Although a deposit is paid, weekly rent is charged by the organisations for the maintenance and upkeep of the homes.

I agree with the Minister that the scheme is beneficial. I make no condemnation of it, other than to say that the Act is not being applied as it was intended it should be. The Government is subsidising the organisations without any guarantee that the homes will not be used for other purposes in the future.

As I said in my earlier remarks, the position in New South Wales seems to be even worse. According to a letter that I have received from the pensioners' association, a deposit of £1 .500 is required for a home at Hammondville despite the fact that the overall Australian average is £1,800. The Government subsidises these homes on a £2 for £1 basis so the subsidy amounts to £3,000. The cost of a single unit at Hammondville is £1,000. If a spouse dies after a pensioner couple have paid £1,500 for a double unit, the survivor is moved into a single unit although the deposit that was paid entitles the survivor to continue occupying the double unit.

The Methodist Church runs an establishment at Leichhardt in which a deposit of £2,000 is required for a double unit. Many followers of the Methodist Church are advised to sell their homes and hand over the proceeds to the institution. In return they receive a unit at the establishment. The war widows association in New South Wales asks £2,000 for a unit. According to the document that I have, one woman who paid the required £2,000 was accommodated in a laundry. She took court proceedings to have her £2,000 returned. The Church of England establishment at Castle Hill demands £1,300 for a unit.

The present practice has so irritated the pensioners association that it has commenced a campaign to have the practice altered. It has criticised the practice in all States. Will the Minister tell me in what way the legislation, which was designed to provide homes for the aged and the needy, is effective when the aged and the needy cannot get homes without paying a high deposit? The Minister may tell me that there are some who do not pay a deposit but I point out to him that only a very selected few are admitted. No stranger can get in. This whole question needs investigating in view of the fact that the organisations are doing nothing to ensure that adequate housing is provided for aged people.

I refer now to Division No. 470 - Central Administration. I have mentioned in the Senate from time to time the anomaly that exists in the fact that social service benefits are not paid to eligible people who receive treatment and part-time accommodation in a mental institution. I know that the Act stipulates that payment shall not be made when a person is an inmate of a gaol or a mental institution. Senator Turnbull, who is a doctor, has been outspoken in his criticism of the Act as it relates to mental cases, but admittedly, a debate on the estimates for the Department of Social Services is not the appropriate time to question whether the Act is right or wrong. We have the position in South Australia, to which I have referred previously, in which social service benefits cease when recipients enter mental institutions for a portion of the week. They go in on Monday and come home on Friday. Over the weekend they are cared for by their parents or relatives.

When the Minister stated the provisions of the Act I protested that he was not correctly interpreting them. He claimed that he had obtained an opinion from the crown law authorities to the effect that a person is regarded as an inmate of an institution until he is finally discharged with no obligation to return. That is a ridiculous interpretation of the Act. Take the case of a person who is out of gaol on parole. Surely it is not intended that he should break and enter another home so that he may live. The whole spirit of the Act is that if a person is out of work he should receive social service benefits to enable him to maintain himself and his family.

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