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Thursday, 20 November 1986
Page: 2594


Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(12.48) —Senator Harradine has raised the very real difficulty that we have all had in this area. The reason we have not heard a definition of `psychiatrically disabled' from either of the people who have proposed the motion, or any of those who support such a proposal, is that it is probably impossible to do so. Here is legislation which provides for the care of people with physical, sensory or intellectual disability. What the Opposition parties want to do, and I do not think the legislation by any means will fall apart from the change, is add the term `psychiatric'. `Psychiatric' means pertaining to mental illness. I suppose it is just as reasonable to get up and say `gastroenterological' disability, or `respiratory' disability, or all these other things. What is being introduced here is a medical term in addition to these other terms-a specific medical term.

My concern, apart from the historical reason that this is traditionally, whether it is right or wrong, a State matter, is that the expectations of people with long term but recurrent and episodic psychiatric illness will be raised, that we are going to pick them up under the disability legislation. My concern is that we do not give people that impression, because if we did, it would cost more than the $2m that Senator Powell says, it would cost many times that, and we would have to get more funds, or we would have to distribute the funds we have got now over a very small group of people.

I said before that we have provided vocational and supportive rehabilitation services for people with psychiatric overlays to their intellectual, physical or sensory disabilities. We will continue to do that. We will always do that. We do provide services for people whose psychiatric disability is stable, and who can benefit from the programs; and we will continue to do that. But what Senator Powell, and to some extent Senator Peter Baume, want to do, is uphold what they see as a principle of equity and put in the term `psychiatric' without being very clear about who it covers.

Senator Powell said: `It will not cover many people, it might cost another $2m'. The reason it costs only $2m now is that we have restricted the entry of these people in the past.


Senator Peter Baume —It will not cost anything extra, will it?


Senator GRIMES —The way I administer the legislation, in fact, it will not cost anything at all. Let us face it, and I am not being unkind about this, Senator Macklin put his finger right on it when he got up and asked whose amendment is to go first and who is to take the political credit for this. It is, and I accept that it is, partly a political thing. Senator Powell remarked: `I said it at the Australian Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled and ACROD then said how great we were and then those nasty Liberals put out the same thing a day later'. It is partly political.

I accept that, and I am not going to lie down and cry. I certainly will not divide the Committee over this, but I think it is upholding a principle which has not been defined. It is putting a statement into the legislation which is not defined; it is asking the Government and future governments to incorporate a group of people in this legislation, and we are not sure which group we are talking about, and I do not think anyone knows that. Therefore, it comes under the labelling of an amendment which upholds a principle and makes us feel good.

I am not opposed to that. I think that people should feel good, and I do not think I am being uncharitable about that; but Senator Harradine's point that we may be labelling people with psychiatric illnesses as `permanent' I do not think really holds, because the bit about permanency occurs later and is separated from the disabilities themselves. Certainly people who are running sheltered workshops need not be concerned. People with psychiatric disorders who are in those sheltered workshops are there because they can benefit from the services those sheltered workshops provide. This demonstrates, although it is not of great import, that we can all get worked up about what we see as a principle of equity, but unless we are quite clear on what that principle is, unless we are quite clear about the people we are including in that definition, this whole thing becomes pretty meaningless. As Senator Peter Baume says, it is not going to add a whole lot to the cost of this legislation because quite simply, and I make no bones about it, I will continue to administer the legislation the way we have administered the program in the past.