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Wednesday, 3 June 1970

Sir JOHN CRAMER (Bennelong) - This is a very important measure wilh which we are dealing at present. I must congratulate the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) on his speech. It was a well thought out contribution and he dealt wilh a very important subject concerning the people of Australia. The honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt) also gave an interesting speech dealing particularly with, and giving as an example, an institution with which he is familiar. I must say I did not follow too much of what the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) said. We are dealing with the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill which provides - I state this merely for the record - assistance for capital works and equipment of $2 for every Si that is provided by authorised organisations. These organisations include religious bodies, voluntary citizens' organisations, RSL groups, and, I am pleased to see, local government in its own right. The Bill provides for children up to 21 years of age, and persons over 21 years of age if they have already commenced training :n an institution. This clause dealing with assistance to those up to 21 years of age is better than the comparable provision of most of the States. I do not know whether the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) realises that it is more liberal in relation to the age factor. To extend the assistance given to handicapped children to those 21 years of age is an excellent scheme. It can be extended beyond that age in certain cases.

This is legislation that was promised by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) in the October election and is just another new break-through by this Government. This is one of several completely new breakthroughs for which this Government is responsible in the field of social security. I think we are very fortunate to have a Prime Minister who is dedicated to this kind of thing and to have the Department represented by my colleague, the Minister for Social Services. I do not think anyone in Australia would challenge that the Minister's heart is in assisting the people. He has a sympathetic heart and one needs that when administering legislation of this character. I know he will do his very best on behalf of the people who so much need that help. This Government will go down in history not only for this measure but for the social security it has brought to the people of Australia. One has only to refer, for instance, to the rehabilitation assistance that has been given and the recent assistance to sheltered workshops. They are growing tip and the contribution they are making at the present time to production in this country was unthought of many years ago.

Even in the fields of social services and repatriation innovations have been introduced by way of legislation. We are breaking through in a new way to meet the needs of people who require our assistance. We have before us now, but not yet completed, medical and hospital benefits legislation which is again new legislation. This a breakthrough for the permanent social security of the people of this country. In other fields, such as education, we have done immense things. We have provided assistance to private schools, which has been a magnificent thing, and in the home ownership fields we have done a great deal. I do not want to expand on that. One can remember the initiation by this Government of assistance to aged citizens, enabling them to acquire a home. I mentioned these things to justify my statement that this Government will go down in history for its forward moves in social security. This Bill is just another example of what it is doing.

Help for handicapped children is one of the outstanding social problems of our age. I believe it has been largely neglected by all governments in our past history and, indeed, one can go beyond that and say that it has been neglected by most countries until recent years. At the present time there is not only in this country but in many countries throughout the world an upsurge of understanding of the problem. This is very good to see. In this country I know there are many things to be done but there is certainly an upsurge of interest. We would like to know the extent of the problem and whilst we have learnt many ways in which to deal with it we still do nol know all the answers to the problem. At the same time, great results have been achieved, particularly with the sheltered workshops. What has happened in the past in problems of this kind?

When I speak of handicapped children i include mentally and physically handicapped children, those who are partially handicapped or partially retarded, those who are chronically affected in various ways and those who are temporarily affected but who can permanently overcome their disabilities. Then, of course, we have those with permanent disabilities. There is such a variety in this field of handicap both in adults and in children throughout the country. I heard the figures which I think the honourable member for Oxley quoted of some investigation that took place, lt is quite true that over 20% of the population of this country is affected by some handicap or another, physical or mental. One would hardly realise this but it is quite true. One wonders what happened to those people in past ages. We know that the problem and the responsibility have rested upon the families of people who have been handicapped.

Permanently handicapped children of past days were hidden in the back room and not brought out to the light of day, as though it was some blemish upon their character or something to be ashamed of for a child to be deformed or affected in some way. This was the approach in many years past where the child was left in a back room, so to speak, not to be seen by people and not. to bp. recognised or known. There they lived their lives until they passed away. They were loved no doubt by their parents and those closely associated with them, but nothing was done for them. When those who were perhaps slightly mentally retarded - and this country is full of such people today - went to school, because of some mental disability they were put down as dunces and placed at the bottom of the class. They were never recognised, as they lived their adult life, as people with ability to do things. It affected their make-up psychologically to the extent that they have not had a fair go in life. These things have happened. One has only to reflect - and I was Minister for the Army for 8 years - on the enormously high percentage of young men in this country who cannot pass an examination that a normal child of 10 could pass. We have tens of thousands of these people in this country. 1 mention these matters to place emphasis upon the range of the problem of people who suffer from some handicap. I do not believe that the public at large or, indeed, governments reflect sufficiently on this or are even aware of the extent of the problem. It is not properly understood by the people of Australia or of most countries. We know of the physically handicapped, those with deformed limbs and bodies, those with ear, nose and throat affections - I have one myself now - and those who are partly or perhaps acutely affected, and wc know of the abnormalities that are created at birth. We see the number of people injured in accidents becoming greater and greater. We read the papers and see the numbers that are affected by accidents throughout this country every year. These people are left in most cases with some disabilities or disfiguration, which has a vast effect upon their psychological outlook on life. Then there are the mentally handicapped. This disability is frequently linked with a physical handicap. There is an enormous range of disabilities in this regard. I do not propose to mention all of them, but if honourable members study this subject they will find that there is an enormous number of disabilities ranging from the incurable through those who are wholly or partially disabled to those who are affected in a slight way.

I have mentioned before in this Parliament the problem of the dyslectic child. These children are intelligent - some are highly intelligent- but they are unable to learn to read. They are unable to play certain games properly because there is just some little twist or blockage which affects them. As I have said, these children in the past were put at the bottom of the class and were looked down upon. Great things can be done for these children to help them to lead normal (ives and contribute to the affairs of this country. I believe that this in itself is a tremendous problem. There is no doubt that in the past parents of these children have suffered tremendously and have borne the brunt without help of any kind from governments or anywhere else. Parents have to give a great deal of time to assist the children in learning to read and speak. I believe that there is an awakening of the public in relation to these problems. People are beginning to realise that this is not only the responsibility of parents but is a community responsibility that we all must bear. The people of Australia must bear it both through their Government and as individuals. It is not something that should be made a subject of political propaganda. This is a case where the Government and Opposition ought to join hands because it is a problem which affects so many people and is of such proportion throughout the world.

The benefits that are to be derived from this action are not only the human understanding and help for our fellow man, but also the economic and the national good that can be achieved for this country. We could achieve this by spending money, but we do not need only to spend money. We need to awaken the people to their community responsibility. In the past there has been an enormous economic waste, but a great benefit could accrue to this country. In the past no effort has been made to create for these human beings a better way of life. If this is done now they will be able to achieve more and to produce more in an economic sense. Many handicapped people can be educated and trained to contribute tremendously to our production if they are given the guidance and the opportunity to do so. They have never been given this opportunity in the past. As I have said, the Government has already given great help in providing sheltered workshops, but much more has to be done.

There are new organisations arising in all States. In my own State there is the Subnormal Children's Welfare Organisation and the Wheelchair and Disabled Association of Australia. In my own electorate, as in the electorate of the honourable member for Gwydir (Mr Hunt), we have some excellent organisations such as the Sunshine Homes at Gore Hill, which are very old and well known. The Crowle House at

Ryde is a very well known organisation which has done magnificent work in the past. Another one of which 1 am patron has been established at Epping, ft is called Karonga and it was started only a few years ago. Unlike some of the other organisations, this organisation places no restriction whatever on the type of disability. It has grown to such proportions that it is almost impossible to keep pace with it. The Karonga House Special School for Handicapped Children has not been able to keep pace with requirements, but there has been enormous assistance from Rotary clubs. Lions clubs, local bowling clubs and sporting bodies in its maintenance. These bodies hold functions and they have created an enormous local public impression. The State Government also helps up to a point. The legislation with which we are dealing is a godsend to these people because it means that they will be able to increase enormously the number of children maintained in that home. It is a very well and efficiently run home. Notwithstanding that, there are many tens of thousands of children who are waiting to find a place to which they can go. There is indeed an urgent need for us to have full information in this respect. I do not think that there is any need for the amendment that was moved by the honourable member, because 1 believe that the Department has this matter well in hand now.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - What is the Government doing about it?

Sir JOHN CRAMER - It is doing much at the present time, but there is still a great need to find out exactly the extent of the problem, not only of handicapped children about whom we are talking in this Bill but also of handicapped people in all aspects and in all grades throughout Australia. There is need for a survey to be made in this regard. 1 believe that there is an enormous need for co-operation with the States which from a constitutional point of view are responsible. 1 do not think that we should foist the responsibility upon their shoulders. At the same time, we must have complete co-operation between the Commonwealth and Stales on this matter. I know the extent to which the Department is making a survey at the present time, but 1 also think that this might be extended in the manner I have mentioned, because there are no reliable or complete statistics in any State, or in the Commonwealth itself on the needs and extent of this matter. I believe that this is essential and I believe that it is urgent. I would suggest to the Minister for Social Services - I know he will do this - that he might start on that sort of basis. 1 know that much is already being done in the Scandinavian countries and in -the United States of America. 1 have here a very interesting book. 1 do noi know if any honourable members have read it. I am just about to hand it back to the Library, so it will be available for honourable members to have a look at it. lt is called 'Guidelines for State Plan Programmes for Education of Handicapped Children'. The United States has set up special organisations to get co-operation of (he States and so forth. It is very interesting to see what they are doing in relation to this. This sort of thing should be encouraged. In New South Wales we have the Specific Learning Difficulties Association, which is known as SPELD, dealing with the dyslexic child that I mentioned earlier in my speech. This organisation is particularly for dyslectic children and it is doing a magnificent job. I believe that it needs help not only from the public but from the Government. In March this year - to give some idea of the extent of the public interest in this matter - the organisation held a meeting with a guest speaker at the Sydney Town Hall. Over 2.500 people crushed into that meeting.

I know that all States are doing something, bin the difficulty is that in each State there is a different approach. Co-ordination is needed to bring the programmes into line. The New South Wales Government is doing splendidly. I pay a tribute to the Minister for Child Welfare and the Minister for Social Welfare, Mr Hewitt, who is a personal friend of mine. 1 also pay a tribute to his predecessor, Arthur Bridges, who unfortunately died. They really gol to work and started doing things in New South Wales. But it is the lack of co-ordination between the different States and the Commonwealth that needs tightening up. I hope that the States, because of the relief they will get in their capital expenditure, do not reduce the amount that they spend already - a possibility that the Minister mentioned in his second reading speech. This amount could very well go to assistance in maintenance. But the States will be the best judges of that. Above all 1 believe that there is a great need for national co-operation.

The Bill has been brought forward by the Department of Social Services, but I think honourable members may gather from what I have said that the problem of handicapped children is not one for only the Department of Social Services. It is a problem throughout Australia which should call for the attention and co-ordination, not only of the States and the Commonwealth, but of the Department of Social Services, the Department of Health, the Department of Education and Science and the Treasury. It is not a problem that affects only one department. Therefore the departments should get together on it. Overall I congratulate the Minister and the Government on a magnificent forward move into a field that is of enormous importance to the people of Australia. I am glad to see that the Government is awakening. This is one matter we do not want to make into a political football and a matter on which we do not want to criticise each other. It is one in relation to which we want to offer a hand of help, advice and suggestions. Therefore let us face up to the problem as a national Parliament because I believe it is not only a human problem but a problem of tremendous economic importance to Australia.

Sitting suspended from 5.54 to 8 p.m.

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