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Thursday, 8 November 1973

Senator WEBSTER (Victoria) - I connect my Party, the Australian Country Party, with these 2 Bills. They are minor Bills but they are two of five Bills with which the Senate is dealing this afternoon which are directed towards providing assistance to those less fortunate in our community. The 2 Bills are the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill 1973 and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill 1973. The additional assistance provided this year will cost the Government $200,000 under the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill and $100,000 under the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill. Both Bills are aimed at encouraging the provision of aid by municipalities and other bodies which may find reason to give assistance in the 2 areas covered by the Bills.

The comments that are made about the standard of living in our community could well be applied to these 2 measures because they are important. Physically handicapped people are able to enter sheltered workshops and thereby assist not only their own mental and physical state but also, in a genuine way, production in the community. This certainly adds to the benefits derived from the output by the Australian community. I certainly support the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill. A great deal needs to be said about that Bill, but I wish to concentrate my remarks on the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill because we all have a heartfelt desire to assist those handicapped children in our community. The Bill seeks to widen the scope of the Act so that local government bodies are able to contribute to the welfare of handicapped people. The Bill is designed to serve the same purpose as was served previously. Money contributed by local government bodies will attract a Commonwealth subsidy, provided that the money is used by eligible organisations towards meeting the capital cost of sheltered workshops and residential accommodation. This Bill extends the provisions so that this money can be used towards meeting the capital cost of training centres, training equipment and residential units for handicapped children.

The Australian community can be reasonably proud of its past record in providing assistance to certain areas of handicapped children. Not all areas have received the traditional assistance. For instance, we find that today mentally handicapped children fall into the category which receives assistance from the Government. It is perhaps only in the last five or ten years that anything progressive has been done in this direction. Generally the lead has been taken not by government but by private people and private bodies wishing to assist in this area. A great deal needs to be done, particularly for the mentally handicapped children in the community. I suggest to the Government that assistance will need to be given to those who could be considered to be the socially deprived and who represent a growing area. I refer to people living in the densely populated cities and to the encouragement that is given to women or to mothers in our community to go out to work. This is against my own particular thoughts of wisdom.

We are finding that in many areas of large cities children are becoming socially deprived not because of the income that is coming into the family but because of the fact that parents are becoming particularly busy in their own workaday world and children are being left to fend very much for themselves. This is a greater problem than many people realise at the present time. I suggest to the Government that this is an area which certainly needs watching. Perhaps we will have to find some way to turn the wheel back so that the main responsibility of the mother is to mother and look after her children. Instead of this we are finding that both mother and father are working from 9 o'clock in the morning to 5 o'clock in the afternoon because the mother feels that she must, of necessity, work. So, early in the day and late in the afternoon the children must fend for themselves or else be brought up by the other children in the family. An investigation is needed into this matter and funds will have to be provided in this area.

Since 1954 I have been connected with the board of management of the Victorian School for Deaf Children, which is the largest school for deaf children in Victoria. Over the years it has developed from what was originally known as the Deaf and Dumb Institution. Perhaps the name by which it is known today indicates the progress that has been made in the community. At one time the community did not consider that those who were deprived of their hearing at birth or through some accident early in life needed special community attention. The Australian people should be proud that over many years the Commonwealth has paid close attention to the deprivation that has occurred in these areas. For instance, since 1945 free hearing aids have been available to children who lost their hearing either at birth or were found to be deaf in their early school life. Over a period of years assistance has been extended and now such a child is able to obtain 2 free hearing aids from the appropriate department.

We have progressed in these areas over recent years. Firstly, a contribution of $1.50 a day was paid by the Department of Health to the people who were accommodated in these institutions. That assistance was introduced by the Gorton Government with encouragement from the then Minister for Social Services, Mr Wentworth. The assistance has been extended so that the Commonwealth now pays a subsidy of $2 for $1 towards the cost of capital works of such institutions. Today the institutions to which I have referred are receiving a Commonwealth education grant on a per capita basis. This is providing the very basis for improving the conditions in the institutions and assisting those in the community who can be referred to as handicapped children. I am delighted that Labor has followed the traditions set down previously. These 2 Bills will have no great impact on the public purse. The Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill provides an expenditure of only $100,000 and the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill provides an expenditure of approximately $200,000, but the contributions will be of enormous importance to those in the community who are covered by the provisions of the Bills. I heartily support the Bills.

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