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Wednesday, 3 June 1970

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I suggest to the honourable member for Boothby that he address his remarks to the Chair.

Mr McLEAY - I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but I did feel that it was important for me to make this point. It is untrue to say that this is not helping the States. If the Commonwealth makes available capital grants this leaves the State governments free to use their money for other purposes, and I include the purposes referred to by the honourable. .member for Gellibrand. I would like to place on record my very strong support for this Bill. I am pleased to see, even though it is reluctant support, the support . of the Opposition for this measure, which relates to one of the matters promised last year in the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton). I think the fact that this legislation has the support of the Opposition is an indication by the whole of the Parliament and therefore the whole of the Australian community that the community has an obligation to assist children who unfortunately are afflicted with this form of disability. It is recognised that this is an obligation upon the whole of the community and not just a few - not just the States or not just volunteers. Traditionally this work has been the responsibility of the parents and of voluntary organisations. I agree with the honourable member for Gellibrand that mostly these organisations are conducted by parents with some help from the State governments. Although State governments have responsibility for education and health they have been unable to expand these services to keep pace with the demand and in a sense this legislation is an extension of existing Commonwealth social service legislation whereby the Commonwealth is assisting in the area of the adult handicapped. We are extending this assistance to the area of handicapped children.

From my observations of the work of organisations in South Australia which cater for mentally handicapped children, there is no doubt in my mind that few children, if any, are ineducable. Honourable members will remember the panel on mental retardation set up by President Kennedy in 1961. In its report this panel of experts saw mental retardation as a national health, social and economic problem affecting in that country 51 million adults and children and involving from 15 million to 20 million family members. For some years I was privileged to serve on the board of Minda Home in South Australia. We have always referred to this place as a home and never as an institution. It is a home for mentally handicapped and epileptic children. The home is a good example of the type of organisation which will benefit as a result of this legislation. I understand that Minda will shortly be making an application for assistance if this legislation is passed, as I hope it will be without alteration. I repeat that I believe there are 30. or 40 organisations which have already made inquiries, in the expectation that this legislation will go through.

Mr Wentworth - The number is about 30.

Mr McLEAY - The Minister says that it is about 30. I believe that 'minda' is an Aboriginal word meaning place of refuge. Minda Home was established towards the end of the last century by public subscription and has expanded, through the enthusiastic efforts of dedicated people, into what is now a magnificent organisation catering for over 600 boys and girls.

In recent times Minda has received financial help from the Government of South Australia. But as these grants have amounted to less than 20% of its gross income the success of The Home has been due mainly to the efforts of voluntary helpers and a generous public. In the '1950s when I was associated with the organisation tin; cost of maintaining a handicapped person in the home was SIO a week. Today it is $26 a week and there is always a waiting list for admission. I imagine that this situation is the same all round the Commonwealth. The decision by the Commonwealth Government :o enter the field of capital assistance to places such as Minda gives tremendous relief not only to those conducting the homes but especially to parents and others who understand the value of early guidance and education for these children. Succeeding governments in South Australia have shown a continuing awareness of the problem and a first rate school operated by the Education Departmen. in South Australia- has been conducted at Minda for several years. The enrolment of this school is now 350 pupils. These arc mentally handicapped children. I hop: in the n;ar future that the Minister fo- Social Services will be able io visit Minda Home, to meet the staff who look after these children in the Home and in the school and at the same time to see for himself she work of its separately operated farm which provides useful work for the senior hoys and a significant amount of the Home's produce requirements. That is the way that the Home has functioned' over lnc years. lt possesses a farm which produces meat, vegetables, eggs and many other commodities for the consumption of th; children and s aft" at the Home.

Th : success attained in educating these handicapped children at Minda Home - I have no i:ie., ot the sim. lion in other places - h.ii been spectacular Ten years ago, when I was on the board, education was considered almost unnecessary - almost unkind. It was unfair to weary handicapped children with attempts at serious education. I am informed that today the Home not only operates a sheltered workshop for its more retarded school leavers but that last year it placed 29 of its young people in the work force in the community. Of the 29, 18 actually live outside the Home. Such achievements were considered impossible a few years ago and they give weight to the suggestion that mentally retarded people are closer to being normal than normal people are prepared to admit. The result of these successes - and these are only the beginning - is that more people will be able to make a contribution to the work force whereas otherwise they would have been a direct charge on the community. I believe that this Bill is not only morally desirable but is economically justifiable.

I remind the Minister again of the particular category of handicapped persons which I discussed with him earlier in the week and which I understand will be regarded with a degree of flexibility in future interpretations of what is a 'handicapped child'. In clause 4 of the Bill the definition of a handicapped child covers children under 21 years of age in an institution 3S well as children over 21 years of agc who enter the institution before they reach that age. The flexibility which I urge the Minister to consider concerns the child who has remained with his parents and sickness or death makes it impossible for the child to remain at home. Changing attitudes by people such as those conducting Minda Home may make it possible in the future for such persons to enter these homes rather than to face the probability of having nowhere else to go than a mental hospital. This in fact is what hits happened in South Australia for years. Upon the death of the parents there is nowhere for such a person to go but to a mental institution. Minda Home has been accepting very large numbers of children in this category for the Christmas vacation and this experiment is appreciated by the children and by the parents who, of course, are able to have a rest.

Such persons are excluded from the definition of handicapped child. I put it to the Minister that ' a mongoloid person, for example, whatever his or her age, is correctly defined as a handicapped child. I would like to hear his comment on this aspect when he replies to the debate. In Minda Home we have had mongoloids who have reached the age of 70 years but are still called boys and girls. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have normal children can scarcely imagine the feelings of parents when- they take a decision regarding the future of their handicapped child. They must decide whether to rear the child at home or place him in an institution. None of us would care to influence a parent in this decision. There are many, such as the tireless workers for the Mentally Retarded Childrens Society of South Australia, who opt for keeping them at home. I make the point that all of us will have to do some rethinking and to examine our own attitudes in the light of the success of modern education methods such as those being perfected today at Minda. The importance placed on early training and specialised education, and the Home's success, in actually placing former mentally handicapped children in full employment, has meant that many children ultimately will be able to lead a normal life.

By supporting such institutions and their dedicated staff in the practical way outlined in this Bill the Commonwealth is making a very great contribution. It seems to me that the key word for families who have to make the decision I have mentioned is hope'. When there is even a possibility of eventual success the decision regarding the future of a handicapped child is perhaps slightly less difficult to make. Apart from the effect on the lives of the other members in the family it seems absolutely certain that the secret of success is the commencement of the skilled training and education as a child. I commend the Bill, which seeks to make this possible, and I congratulate the Government not only on its initiative but also on its compassion.

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