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Wednesday, 3 June 1970

Mr MARTIN (Banks) - Firstly I want to commend the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wen I worth) for bringing down a Bill of this nature and for his interest in handicapped children, lt is very pleasing to me to find, possibly for the first time since I have been following the affairs of this Parliament, a Minister who has displayed interest in this field. I commend him for his interest. Insufficient attention has been given in the past to handicapped children. I agree with the Minister when he said in his second reading speech: lt is clear enough that there is still much to be done. There arc, wc estimate, some 50,000 handicapped children under 16 years of age in Australia, including both those who have some physical handicap and tho-e who are menially retarded.

Probably under half of these are adequately catered for by special facilities.

I draw attention to the word 'probably'. If the Minister had the facilities available to ascertain the degree of inadequate catering in this field and if he knew the number of children involved | think he would be surprised.

The deficiency of this Bill, as I see it, is that the benefits are restricted to capital assistance for the training - and training alone - of various types of handicapped children. A handicapped child is defined in the Bill as a person suffering from a physical or mental disability. Training, as defined in the Bill, means vocational or other training and includes general education. I ask the Minister to explain how the word training' is to be interpreted in app s ing the provisions of this Bill. Does it cater for the severely mentally retarded chi d? Will organisations which look after severely mentally retarded children benefit from this legislation? What is the position in regard to mongoloid children who are incapable of receiving vocational and educational training? Are organisations which took after these severely handicapped children to be denied the benefits of this Bill?

I consider that the definition of 'training' is too narrow. It is capable of restricted interpretation at the administrative level. Clause 5 of the Bill states:

The Director-General has, subject to any directions of the Minister, the general administration of this Act. lt refers to the Director-General of Social Services. I ask the Minister to give some lead to this House or to the DirectorGeneral as to how this clause is to be interpreted. 1 have a reason for that request. 1 think there are deficiencies in the National Health Act. One of those deficiencies which 1 think is applicable lo handicapped children is too restrictive an interpretation at the administrative level. I recognise that the National Health Act is administered by the Commonwealth Department of Health and that this Bi'l is to be administered by the Director-General of Social Services. The point I make is this: Under the National Health Act there is paid what is known as a supplementary benefit. Approved nursing homes, including nursing homes which look after handicapped children, are paid $2 a day in respect of each patient. There is an additional SUPplementary benefit of $3 a day paid where ti.e child receives what is known as intensive care. At the administrative level of the Commonwealth Director-General of Health intensive care has been interpreted to mean intensive medical care. I had a case relating to this from the Intellectually and Physically Handicapped Childrens Association of New South Wales. I led a deputation concerning the interpretation placed on the phrase 'intensive care'. I was told by the authorities in Sydney that it was interpreted to mean 'medical care' and not 'custodial care'.

I wish to give an example of this to illustrate the point. Mongoloid children, particularly the severely affected mongoloid child, not only need to be looked after on a custodial basis but also to be cared for with a lot more patience and a good deal more tolerance than. the child who is physically handicapped. It has been held administratively that, unless a child is ill - physically ill - it is denied the benefit of $3 per day on the basis that it is not receiving intensive care. I feel that this is a restrictive interpretation. I would not like to think that, when this Bill now before the House is finally passed, too restrictive an interpretation would be given by the DirectorGeneral of Social Services on that point. That is my reason for raising it.

I wish to pay tribute to the organisations that have played a large part up to date, unassisted in New South Wales by any State Government grants, and which for the first time will1 be assisted partially in their work by a grant from the Commonwealth Government. I refer particularly to the Intellectually and Physically Handicapped Children's Association of New South Wales which has done a magnificent job in this field. This Association started in 1960. It commenced when a few people who had severely mentally retarded and physically retarded children got together and decided that they would have to do something about the problem because the facilities did not exist. Facilities were not provided by the Commonwealth or the State and the task was left to them. I commend these people for starting this Association. I commend them for the work that they have done since 1960. At the present time, only 50 people are members of this Association. They have raised some hundreds of thousands of dollars to perform a vital, important and necessary task in the community, that is, caring for severely mentally retarded and severely physically retarded children.

This Association is the only association in New South Wales which looks after and cares for the multiple hand:capped child. That is the child who is both crippled and mentally retarded. The Association has set out to equip itself to take the worst type - I do not use 'worst' in a derogatory sense. Perhaps 1 should refer to the worst affected metally and physically retarded children. The main object pf the Association is to take the worst first. They have set up 2 centres in the Sydney area; one is at Revesby called the Amour Park Centre and the other is at Liverpool and is known, as the Hoxton Park Centre. This Association started these centres in 1962 to cater for these types of affected children. It started off in a small way, erecting and equipping a building at Revesby at a cost of some $14,000. In 1964, due to its efforts, the Association extended the building at a cost of some $100,000. Between 1964 and the present time it has continued to extend its facilities. Renovations and extensions to the building to bring it to a stage where it is now a 80-bed hospital have cost an additional amount of $35,000. That amount is additional to what was spent on the original project.

The purpose of the Amour Park centre is to look after the child who is not capable of being educated. To cater for the child who is capable of being educated, the Intellectually and Physically Handicapped Children's Associationon of New South Wales started in 1964 to erect a building - this is now known as the Hoxton Park Centre - at a cost of $52,000. That school for physically and mentally retarded children at the present time has an enrolment of 91. It is running as a full time school each day without cost to the State and without cost to the Commonwealth.

Allow me to point out some of the costs which have been borne by this Association and by the parents of these children at the Amour Park Centre. The cost per child is S50 per week to which at the present, time the Commonwealth contributes the ordinary' benefit, as it is called through the Commonwealth Department of Health of S2 per day. Provided a child is entitled to receive a supplementary benefit-this has been given a very restrictive application at the administrative level - a further $3 per day is paid. That leaves $15 per day for the parents of each child to find, lt is in this regard that 1 feel the Bill falls down.

This Bill covers only the training of the child and the cost of cap' lal improvements. lt does not do anything to assist the parents. I commend to the Minister for Social Services this suggestion which he may bring forward before the Government when the next Budget is being formulated. Does he not think that the stage has been reached when we must consider not only the child but also the parents? I feel that consideration should be given to paying to (he parents of these severely mentally retarded and physically handicapped children some type of financial assistance simitar to the invalid pension, lt should be a figure which is capable of assist-ng the parents in the every day running costs of keeping such a child at a home such as those that I have mentioned and assisting them also to meet the incidental costs that crop up but about which nobody knows.

I feel that the parents of these children are bearing a big enough burden, lt is a mental burden to them when a child is born to them who, unfortunately, is physically or mentally retarded. This burden is big enough without having to face a financial burden as well. I request the Minister to give consideration to this proposal when the Budget is under consideration and to see whether or not some assistance could be given to parents of these children. In conclusion 1 wish to commend again the Minister for Social Services for his attention to these matters. I am certain that the matters that I have mentioned will receive his sympathetic consideration.

Mr WALLIS (Grey) 1.1 1.201-1 do nol intend to occupy the time of the House for very long. In reference to this Bill I was approached by the Mentally Retarded Children's Society of South Australia. Whilst this organisation considers that the Bill is an advance for handicapped children, it has its reservations on. 2 matters. The first matter with which it is concerned is the differentiation being made in . the Bill between the States which provide free education for all children and those where education is provided by subsidised voluntary organisations. To explain this more fully, the Society has sent to me a copy of a letter forwarded to the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) from the Australian Council for the Mentally Retarded. That letter reads:

In regard to the new Bill, may we request you to give further consideration to one aspect of ils provisions which, we feel, may not be as equitable as you would wish. We refer to the exclusion of Slate education departments from the benefits of the Act as defined in section 6 of Pail 1.

The Commonweatlh Government has heretofore declined to grant assistance in this direction on the grounds that education is the responsibility of the State governments. The various Stale governments have afforded assistance in a variety of forms. In South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania the education departments have accepted the responsibility to provide free education for all children. The other States have provided financial assistance to enable parents and health departments lo co-operate in providing 'training centres' and more recently, to enable parents to provide schools staffed by education department teachers. This assistance is belter than nothing at all, but falls far short of the standard set by the first named stales which provide properly established schools stalled by departmentally trained teachers for all children, handicapped or nol.

In these circumstances, exclusion of the State education departments from the benefits envisaged by the Act would have the result:

(I)   That those States which have left to voluntary organisations the bulk of the responsibility to provide training facilities for their handicapped children are now lo be relieved of a very substantial proportion of their existing contribution, and, (2) those Stales which have accepted full responsibility to provide appropriate professional education facilities are specifically excluded from the Commonwealth assistance available under the provisions of this Bill. Even more serious is the fact that the provision of Commonwealth money on the basis envisaged, that is, to voluntary organisations and excluding. State education departments may possibly lead to the abandonment of State schools for the disabled in those states presently providing them, lt will certainly mean the end of any possibility of a unified nation-wide system of free education for the handicapped.

The second point that was raised with mc is the concern of the Society that the Bill, whilst providing for a subsidy on capital expenditure, makes no provision for maintenance of the assets thereafter. Maintenance and running costs are very often the more substantial part of the work, as honourable members would probably agree. It is thought that many organisations may feel that their work could be inhibited if they have to be looking over their shoulder because of the added worry of maintenance and running costs. I recently had contact with a Save the Children Fund Committee in Port Lincoln and that Committee asked me for assistance in obtaining Commonwealth finance to aid the running of a preschool kindergarten for Aboriginal children in that town. I know that they are not handicapped children in the sense that the term is used in the Bill; they are handicapped in a different way. I wrote to the Minister who informed me that the Commonwealth had already made a considerable contribution towards the purchase of a building. But what was worrying the Port Lincoln Committee was the fact that a small dedicated committee, in this case, had the considerable job of raising a further $8,000 or more to cover running costs. Many organisations working for handicapped children will find themselves in a similar position.

There is an organisation in my home town which was formed approximately 2 years ago to cater for retarded children. This organisation consists mostly of the parents of the children themselves. They received donations from numerous town organisations, enough to get themselves going, but they found that by combining with Whyalla which is 47 miles away they could give a better service to the unfortunate children. They have now had to equip themselves with a vehicle for transport, and this was another financial hurdle. The 2 organisations are the type that would find maintenance and running costs a further burden. The 2 towns concerned are comparatively small country cities, and the raising of the necessary, finance is a big problem. I therefore suggest to the Minister that he give consideration to the points I have raised and extend the provisions of the Bill to cover these 2 matters.

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