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Wednesday, 3 June 1970

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The care of handicapped children, long neglected in this country, will to some extent be remedied by this Bill. The world's aspiration to do something for handicapped children is best expressed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of a

Child 1959. An extract from the Declaration reads:

The child who is physically, mentally or socially handicapped shall be given the special treatment, education and care required by his particular condition.

I think it has been conceded by every honourable member who has participated in this debate that we in this country fall a long way short of that criterion. The honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) made that point, lt is significant that every honourable member who has spoken in the debate would concede that the dedicated public servants who work under the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) are concerned about the inadequacies in this field of endeavour. It is known that they have been applying themselves to this aspect for a long time.

Earlier in the debate the honourable member for Bennelong (Sir John Cramer) indicated that he was in support of our amendment but was not prepared to vote for it. He believed that more information was necessary about this subject - that surveys were needed. We all know that the officers of the Department of Social Services, dedicated as they are, have been engaging in research for some considerable time. It would be of interest to the House to know the nature of those surveys. What is the product of the surveys that have been made? I am not prepared to accept that the Minister knows as little about them as he pretends. On 19th May last, in answer to a question on notice from the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), the Minister said that he did not know even the number of people involved in this area. He said in effect that he had no idea of the number of children who could come under the heading of handicapped.

It is important for the Parliament, when considering a Bill of this nature, to know the extent to which the Department has applied itself to this work, perhaps at the request of the Minister. It is important to know the extent to which the Department's proposals and recommendations have been accepted or rejected. If the Minister is operating in the dark we can excuse him. We will accept his apology if he cares to make it, but if facts are available to him indicating that the Commonwealth has an obligation or a responsibility to assist the States which, after all. in this and so many other areas today are mere spending agencies for the Commonwealth, a great deal of explanation is needed. Like most honourable members, 1 am involved in my local area with departmental officers and 1 know that a lot of work is being done, but I do not think the Minister is being frank with us. I think he knows a lot more about the deficiencies in this area than he has been prepared to concede. If he has an opportunity to reply at some stage in the debate I would ask him to indicate whether his Department is investigating the grey areas about which on 19th May last he told the honourable member for Oxley he knows so little. Are his officers trying to elucidate the facts and fill in the blanks or does he require them to be oblivious to what is happening? If he feels that he can operate effectively and efficiently as a Minister with th~ information at his disposal, what is the extent of that information and to what extent has a consideration of that information been denied in the preparation of this Bill? 1 have mentioned the world's aspirations wilh regard to handicapped children. I have said, as have other honourable members, that Australia has fallen short of those standards. I suppose Australia, being an affluent country, has a greater responsibility in this area than have countries with lower levels of income or countries which suffer misfortunes of the kind we have read about in South America today. Our degree of affluence, places a bigger responsibility on us.. In many areas of social service Australia once led ' the world, but our record has slipped. It is difficult to get authoritative statistics on this subject, but I would not be surprised if Australia held a relatively lowly position, compared with other countries, in the care of mentally and physically handicapped children.

Mr Cohen - This has happened since 1949.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think there probably is a political connotation; but I do not think we need enter the political arena as far as this Bil! is concerned because it deals with benevolence. It deals with underprivileged people - underprivileged in the sense that they have been afflicted by a handicap. We have a long way to go to measure up to the standard set not only by the world but by the Public Instruction Act of New South Wales, which makes the State responsible for the provision of education services for all children on a free and compulsory basis.

What is the incidence of afflicted people, in the community? 1 was interested to read a paper delivered by Professor J. A. Richardson in a forum known as the 'New Frontier and headed The Provision of an Adequate Education, for the Handicapped Child'. Professor Richardson is Professor of Education at Flinders University. Among other things he set out to establish the extent of the problem. He said:

As you know, handicapped children form t by-no-nu-ans .small minority of the school-age population. Conservative estimates of incidence, pui lbc proportion - between 4% and 6% - that is of children who deviate sio markedly from normal growth and development in some significant respect - intellectually, physically, socially or emotionally - thai the regular school programmeis inadequate for their needs; who require therefore special educational provisions - a special school or class or supplementary instruction and services within the regular class.

Professor Richardson went on to refer to the extent to which some countries have identified this problem and' have accommodated the people concerned. He said:

In the Netherlands about 5% of the 7 to 15 agc group are accommodated in special schools/ most of I hem built since 1945, with facilities and' equipment which would make the majority of teachers in our special education services very" envious. Denmark equals the Netherlands . . ' E\en .Communist Czechoslovakia was. planning in 1965 to double the facilities it then had for 2% of the si bool age population.

That would bring Czechoslovakia's involvement up to 4% of the school population. The Professor continued:

And the position in Australia? I can speak wilh any certainly only of New South Wales. In 1966. I estimated on the basis of the mast recently published figures that special classes and schools provided for considerably less than 1% of the school age population between 7 and 15.

So we can start to see, in terms of themeasurement of the eminent Professor Richardson of Hinders University, that Australia is well behind in this particular' matter - on the one hand 4% to 6% in the countries to which I have referred and in Australia down to 1%. Professor Richardson went on to say:

Special educational provision in New South Wales is woefully inadequate. 1 suspect the same is true of our own State.

Of course the State to which he was referring there was Victoria. One would probably not be rash in contending that in other States the position would not be much better. So in Australia we are catering for a much smaller percentage though the likelihood is that we would have the same incidence of casualties, if we can so term it. Surely this must underline for the Minister, and for every honourable member in this House, the apparent need to find out the facts of this situation. Tonight we have heard from honourable members in their enthusiasm and their devotion to these problems their willingness to eulogise the organisations which devoting themselves to these efforts. Vet we are aware that in many areas, because of the lack of spontaneity, there are children who have never been accommodated effectively either by State or by spontaneous benevolently inspired facilities. So those children languish. Obviously this kind of ad hoc approach is inadequate and insufficient. It certainly is for the. families and people concerned.

In many parts of Australia children scoring less than a 30 IQ are not eligible to participate in our free and compulsory education system. Instead they are relegated to the generous and benevolent efforts of charitable organisations. The parents, through necessity, have to seek placement of their children in independent charity schools if they happen to have them in their area. If they do not have them, they have to form them, to start a school from scratch and then spend much of their lives raising funds for buildings, equipment, staff wages and running costs. I suppose all of us have associated with people of this kind. They become completely subjugated to the obligations they have. I know of one establishment where, if the parents of children do not turn up to a. sufficient number of meetings in a year, they are threatened with their children's expulsion from that school. Such is the tenuous financial situation which prevails, and the fact is that parents have to work at the lucky numbers and all sorts of illegal contrivances to get the funds to sustain the establishments. If they have the misfortune to have a handicapped child by birth or as a result of some subsequent development their lives have to be devoted to the raising of funds. Any measure, therefore, to alleviate these burdens will be welcomed by the families concerned.

My own emphasis - I think it is the emphasis of members on this side of the House, and I am pleased to acknowledge that it also is the emphasis of several speakers from the other side - is to transfer these personal obligations to the public at large through the exchequer of the Commonwealth, through public resources. There is only one fair and equitable way to finance matters of this kind. It is the same way that we finance the education of healthy, wholesome, robust Australian children, and that is by way of uniform taxation so that everybody contributes according to his capacity to pay. Why, therefore, do we deviate from this established . principle - the principle that finances social services, age and widows pensions, hospitals, defence and even the conduct of the police force? When it comes to the care of physically and mentally handicapped children how can we justify departing from that fundamental principle?

I have sat here tonight and listened to the debate on this Bill. It has been a debate similar in many respects to the debate on the Bill related to sheltered workshops and to many other Bills. The Minister and the Government hide behind their eulogies of and their dependence upon the charitable area - their utilisation of the service clubs and people of good intent, good faith and good achievements. They depend on Rotary, Apex and the Lions Clubs and many other groups which are filling a vacuum because the Government has not faced up to its responsibility and is unfortunately relegating its obligations to charity. For my part, rather than this ad hoc fragmentary approach to this great problem I would rather see the preparation and tabling of a blueprint designed to illustrate and timetable the phasing out of dependence on charity. I am not prepared to stand here and say that the Minister has failed totally in his obligations and that he should bring down a Bill now to cover, in a blanket sort of way, all the deficiencies we have experienced over the years, but he should, out of his sense of responsibility, require his Department to work forthrightly and objectively towards identification of the problem and he should be prepared to say that over a period of years we are going to relieve these unfortunate families of this depressing and pressing obligation to which they have been subjected.

If there were to be such a blueprint it should provide for a number of things. First, it should provide for the establishment of a handicapped children's education and health authority which has the responsibility landed on its table. In my view it should be a Commonwealth authority and it certainly should liaise effectively with the States, lt is not impossible to expect this kind of liaison.- lt exists in other federal systems. In the United States of America they contrive such arrangements and they integrate with the State organisations. Their intervention and involvement are enthusiastically received, as would be the case in Australia. If we said to the States: 'We are going to help to alleviate the burdens with which you have -been confronted for a long time and which you have not been able to resolve satisfactorily', Sir Henry Bolte, Mr Dunstan, Mr Askin or any other State Premier would willingly accept Commonwealth involvement. 1 believe such an authority is necessary in the first instance. Then the authority should programme progressive acceptance of the total financial burden by the Commonwealth. Thirdly, it should plan provision of centres on a regional basis in each State. Instead we expect, in a miraculous sort of way, the spontaneity of charitable organisations to meet the needs of regions, and this is absurd. In fact, our expectation has been the subject of disappointment. lt has not been realised. In many regions where there is an incidence of mentally and physically handicapped children there are no such, centres and children have 10 travel long distances in attending places where there are residential facilities. lt is not enough to leave it to this ad hoc sort of expectation. We should plan it in a sensible way. Then, of course, such a blueprint should undertake the training of a specialised professional teaching force and other personnel. Indeed, it should facilitate the payment of adequate salaries to people engaged in this very useful profession. I am afraid that my pleasure with this Bill, though considerable, is tarnished by some of its glaring inadequacies, some of which I have referred to already. But there are other inadequacies. The Bill excludes buildings provided before 27th October 1969. Why should it exclude them? I know of people engaged in this field who have got together and acquired buildings before 27th October 1969, and these buildings are subjected to heavy mortgages. The people have been working hard to reduce those mortgages. Why should they not receive assistance under this legislation?

The running costs are not reduced by the provisions of this Bill, but they are the great shackle around the organisations and prevent them from attracting subsidies. The Bill does nothing to meet the cost of staff wages or the capital, the running and the maintenance costs of vehicles. I think most honourable members are aware that where vehicles are used they are deployed into areas covering many miles and this is done at great expense. As far as 1 can ascertain these Considerations are not covered by this legislation. Then the voluntary groups arc left with the enormous and crushing burden of raising the capital to attract a subsidy while the running costs are draining the day to day income away. How can they attract a subsidy with such crushing burdens? In addition, the Bill excludes people over 21 years of age if they were not receiving treatment before attaining the age of 21. They are some of the anomalies. There arc others which I may have a chance to refer to later on.

I want to pay tribute to the voluntary groups which, in the face of Government indifference, have worked tirelessly to fill the vacuum by the provision of handicapped children's centres. .In my own electorate there is such a centre at Kirrawee called the Handicapped Children's Centre of New South Wales. I have had the privilege of enjoying a close association wilh- this centre since ils inception 23 years' ago. I helped to found it and have been a member of the board of management. This centre prides itself on being the first centre in New South Wales to cater for both intellectual1))' and physically handicapped children. Recently a new centre was built at North Sutherland. It is to be opened by the Governor on 20th June and was built at a cost of SI 40.000. Some S56.000 of the $140,000 was provided by the centre and this has absorbed the reserves accumulated by that organisation over the last 23 years. Over 100 children attend this day centre. It is like many others in Australia. Another 26 children have been accommodated at a country residential centre at Kurrajong which is now to be replaced.

The cost 'of maintaining this centre at Sutherland and the day centre is $100,000 in round figures every year. I want the Minister to grasp the several1 figures I am about to give. This is how the money has been derived: Government subsidies provided $25,000. and school and boarding fees $40,000. the. rest.. $35,000, has had to be found through donations and public subscriptions. I have sat around a table many nights trying to plan how we can get this $35,000 per annum, which is roughly about $700 per week. How many honourable members have had this experience of sitting clown with a group of 6 or 8 people and planning how they are going to find $700 a week to care for the region's physically and mentally handicapped children? We need 'lucky numbers', '200 clubs', beauty parades and everything that is illegal. That is what they have to do. They have to find $35,000 every year to keep this centre going in the St George-Sutherland region. It can be seen that that kind of burden is going to prevent the centre from gathering the . capital necessary to attract subsidies. It has aspired to greater things in the new building. It has had to curtail a number of things it needs, lt wanted a workshop; it cannot be there, lt wanted a domestic science block: it cannot be there. lt wanted a new residential centre at Sutherland. The estimated cost of this was $200,000 and the Centre would have to. find a third of it, which is $66,000 in the rough. How can it possibly raise that kind of money?

Let me mention some of the burdens this organisation has because it is synonymous with all the others to which honourable members have referred. Five out of 13 teachers at th:s centre attract Government salary subsidies. The salary subsidies are only $2,000 a year. That does not represent the salary that is payable, so there is a great deficiency. Why do only . 5 out of 13 attract subsidies? Because the State authorities have special requirements. The subsidy is based on a group of 10 children, but the children who are being serviced by the staff have special requirements. There is the need for toilet attention and things of this kind. 1 was there a short time ago and one group of 8 children had to have 2 teachers to care for them. One wonders why the State is so inflexible about this. I know in some of the very worthy institutions that look after the blind and deaf children the pupil-teacher ratio is 2 to 6. Yet there is this requirement which seems to be unnecessarily stringent in the case of the handicapped children's centres.

There is no subsidy for the school principal and the 3 assistants, no subsidy for the administrator and office staff. An office staff is needed to raise the $35,000 a year, to get among the service clubs and so on. There is no subsidy for the 5 salaried bus drivers. Th:s centre has 8 specially equipped buses and 5 bus mothers. They are not subsidised in any way at all. There is no subsidy for the teachers and the supervisors responsible for children over 1 6 years of age. And there will not bc any under the provisions of this Bill. The same organisation has a country residential centre. There is no subsidy there for the matron from the State authority and there is none proposed under this Bill. There is no subsidy for the 5 assistant nurses, the 4 domestic staff or the 2 trained teachers. The cost of maintaining a handicapped ch id at the residential centre in the mountains in the electorate represented by my colleague, the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti), is $7 a week over the invalid pension. Here again there is no assistance from any Government resource, either Commonwealth or State.

I did not. intend to speak for so long on this matter, lt is a matter which is common probably to every electorate but I feel we have a superficial approach to the whole problem. I suppose most of us would like the opportunity to have a crack at this in a ministerial capacity, to utilise and deploy our staff and to say: 'This is a problem about which there is no political quibble in the whole of Austrafia. Here is a matter about which we can make common cause. I am the Minister for Social Services. I have my staff and I am first of all going to say on behalf of the Parliament of this nation, because 1 know every honourable member in the Parliament would uphold me, go out and find the facts in the situation'. The honourable member for Boothby talked about what John Kennedy, the late President of the United States .of America, did when in 1961. he conducted such a national survey. I know he had a personal family affinity with this problem. First of all the authorities there analysed this. They were prepared to expose themselves in the sense of saying: 'This much we have done and this much "we have not yet done'. Everyone accepted that the admission of deficiencies was an indication that the problem would be assailed. But tonight we have this ad hoc, fragmentary, superficial approach which characterises so much of the legislation which the good-hearted and goodintending Minister for Social Services has brought down before this Parliament. It is not sufficiently' objective. It is not sufficiently targeted. It will not placate the people pf this country, lt is not good enough for the Minister to eulogise the voluntary organisations and to derive some sort of satisfaction from the> fact that they are going to be pleased. One will always be pleased in a drought if one can get a drink of water but one should resolve the whole drought problem.

I say to the Minister that we are grateful for what he has done but we are not satisfied that sufficient is done. I could continue and mention a number of matters but I am afraid time will not allow me to do it. I could offer a number of suggestions which would help to alleviate this problem still further. However; one thing is certain and that is that there should be tax relief for these families; there should be special equipment; there should be a more personalised approach. Where are the social workers? 1 happen to be the President of a regional Council of Social Services which is said to be one of the most advanced in Australia. In our region we have but one social worker to look after 150,000 people, including the physically and mentally handicapped people and their families. So in every sense we have to get down from this superficial approach into a more personalised area. We have to get domicilliary attention and aid with medical requirements. I say to the Minister: 'Well done; we congratulate you on breaking through'. The Government has been indifferent for a long time but it should not now get the feeling that the people of this country or the Parliament at large will be happy or will consider that what it has done is sufficient to resolve a problem that for a long time has reflected on the entire nation.

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