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Wednesday, 3 June 1970

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) (Minister for Social Services) - in reply - I would first of all like to thank honourable members for their contributions in this debate. I will certainly take into account the constructive suggestions which have been raised by honourable members on both sides of the House. Nobody would deny, and I certainly have asserted, that there is still a great deal to be done in this field. I would have thought that the important thing now is to start somewhere and to do something. I know that there are honourable members on both sides of the House who have been personally interested in the matter of assistance to handicapped and retarded children and we have of course had the benefit of their advice. As far as I am aware this is the first occasion that a proposal has been brought forward in which the Commonwealth Government itself is interested. If I may I will answer a few of the specific questions which were raised in the debate. Firstly, I was asked whether the scheme covers autistic children. The answer is most certainly yes, it does. Secondly, I was asked by the honourable member for Perth (Mr Berinson) and also by the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin) as to whether the spastic children in all their activities would be covered and the answer is yes. There will be, in the interpretation of the words 'training and education', the maximum flexibility.

Perhaps I could read from a section of a draft leaflet prepared by my Department for circulation when this Bill is passed. It reads:

In general terms, training which is designed to teach a child the activities of daily living, or which is of a social, remedial, pre-vocational, or vocational nature, will be accepted. So will general education for which special facilities are required.

The spastic centres including the most advanced cases will, of course, be accepted. I was asked about mongoloid children and others of similar nature and the answer is yes, they will be covered. The honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) asked for some flexibility in regard to the admission of people over 21 years of age. I would not rule this out but I point out to the House that this Bill is meant to help children and it is not always in the best interests of children to have an adult stranger introduced into their environment. This is a matter where we always have to look at the individual case. The honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) asked me a question in regard to a subsidy for a building which was completed on or about the date of commencement of the Act. This is a matter of fact upon which I cannot give him an answer without knowing the facts. But again if the building was not completed before the time set down for the commencement of the Act I would say that it would be covered. However, it is a question of fact. I cannot answer without knowing the exact position about the building. The honourable member for Grey (Mr Wallis) mentioned the different positions existing in the States. I do point out to him that this is capital expenditure for new works and that those States which as yet have not developed a system of voluntary organisations will be just as eligible to share as those which already have such a system.

If I may I will turn to one other matter, the question of survey was raised by some honourable members. Perhaps they are not aware of what has already been done and what is at present being done along these lines. One honourable member referred to the 'Demography of Disability' which was published last year. It related only to New South Wales but it was based on an investigation carried out by the Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics. The Government has agreed to the setting up of an inter-departmental committee consisting of my own Department of Social Services, the Department of Health and the Department of Labour and National Service to survey this whole field. The committee is at present at work. However, I point out the difficulties in arriving at any accurate result. We cannot really rely on a census. It is difficult with a census to be certain that people describe their children correctly. We can understand that even with the best will in the world we do not get from a census a good classification. This has been the experience not only in Australia but in other countries. However, I am inclined to think that we can get a better result by an intensive sampling technique applied to fairly restricted areas with great intensity so that we can obtain an accurate result from selected areas, and then by statistical technique expand that in order to get a figure for the population. But nothing is so satisfactory as determining a result from the applications for these facilities.

It is always difficult to say, if a child is deaf or blind: Where is the dividing line? If a child is mentally retarded it is difficult to say: Where is the dividing line in this case? It is not always easy to decide, but if facilities are available the child who needs those facilities will be brought into them. I say to the House, and I think everybody will agree with this; that full facilities are not yet available and in point of fact the demand for existing facilities is greater than the supply. That is one of the reasons for this Bill. In these circumstances I do not think we will ever know accurately the numbers of people who need help until we have facilities available and until there is in these facilities a place for every child that needs help and can benefit by them. We can in the intermediate time, by sampling techniques and in other ways, find out more than we know at present. But I would not think that either in Australia or elsewhere can we get an accurate result in any other way than the one I have described.

I think several honourable members made reference to Professor Dybwad. I had the privilege of meeting him when he was out here. My Department helped to finance his visit to Australia because we recognised him as an authority who could give us useful advice. I think we have benefited from that advice. May I say that the officers of my Department on matters of fact - not of policy - are always available to committees of honourable members, such as the social services committees of both Government members and Opposition members, and I hope that Opposition members will take advantage of this because I believe that in many of these matters we can have a thoroughly bipartisan approach in this House.I gratefully acknowledge the fact that on both sides there are honourable members who have had personal contact with these matters and who can give to the House and to the Department the benefit of their personal experience.

I think I would adduce 3 proofs that what the Government proposes to do, although it does not cover the full field, is nevertheless useful and welcome. Firstly, I would remind honourable members of 2 letters which were read out earlier in the House which gave the opinions of the New South Wales Aid Retarded Persons organisation and the New South Wales Council for the Mentally Handicapped. These are extremely important organisations which welcome this Bill and believe that it will further their work. They are the people who are really in the field and who know most about it. Secondly, I remind the House that, although the Bill has not been passed by the Parliament, we have already something like 30 applications in the pipeline. Only today 1 received across my desk 2 provisional applications. The proposals that the Government has made are not only welcomed by those who know most about them but they will be implemented by those who are most active in the field.

The third proof I would give arises from the remarks of honourable members in this House tonight. 1 instance the remarks of the honourable members for Bendigo (Mr Kennedy), Robertson (Mr Cohen) and Gellibrand (Mr Mclvor) who described, I think with great feeling and accuracy, the difficulties of organisations in the past - difficulties which would have been ameliorated and very much lessened had this legislative been operative then. If honourable members look iri Hansard tomorrow at the remarks of these honourable members they will see exactly what I mean. The Bill before us is part of a plan to help handicapped children, lt is not a haphazard plan; it is the first thing to do. I am not going to say it is the only thing to do. However I will go further than that - and I have in mind the remarks of my friend the honourable member for Cook in this regard - and say that this is part of a scheme to help the rehabilitation of disabled people generally. Here I am doing no more than quoting one of the main social service objectives put forward by the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) which is now to be translated into action.

We have already had a- report from Mr Griffiths on the general background of the situation. I am not going to say that we know all the answers at the moment. I certainly do not. But 1 will say that we are working towards this end and the House, the Government and the country I believe will find that we will be developing not a partial plan but a complete plan. Although this plan will be carried out in parts they will not be haphazard parts. The correct thing to do is to start and not to delay or say that because we do not know everything therefore we should do nothing. The proposal we are considering is something that should be done, lt is not the whole answer but I think everybody in the House who has spoken has agreed that it is something that should be done.

I repeat that we believe in helping and subsidising the work of voluntary organisations. They account for only a small part, of course, of our total social services expenditure. I would think that probably well over 95% of our expenditure on social services goes out in other indirect ways. But this last 5% is used, or should be used, in helping and expanding the work of voluntary organisations. There has been a gap in our services here. I think the honourable member for Robertson mentioned that the excellent legislation tha; we have on the statute book with regard lo sheltered workshops does not cover this kind of case. The Bill before the House will enable that gap to be filled. Disabled children grow up and sometimes they can be entirely cured. Some of them will still be disabled and retarded even when they are grown up. There is no dividing line here for the individual and we have to have a situation where the sheltered workshop is complemented lower down the age scale by the training institution such as this Bill envisages.

I would say something finally about the relations between the Commonwealth and the Slates in this field. For the adult disabled person the Commonwealth bears nearly all the responsibility because il pays the invalid pension - the great matter so far as finance is concerned. Also, the Commonwealth subsidises the sheltered workshop system, lt does not bear the whole cost; the State sometimes comes in on the periphery, but in general you can say thai for the adult disabled person the Commonwealth bears by far the major share. Bui when you come to the child, generally speaking this is the province of the State, particularly since it is not always easy lo distinguish between the education of the partially retarded arid the education of the normal child, and education in the States is and remains a State matter at primary and secondary levels. Because of. this and because child welfare is something which requires more individual application than the granting of the adult invalid pension it is reasonable to consider that this is primarily a State function. in this area we have already done one th n£. We have provided the $1.50 a day subsidy for the maintenance of children in residential institutions. This we do because it is not normally the function of the Stale to provide boarding facilities for children, although it is normally the function of the State to provide day education for children. The principle here is, I think, fairly clear. But we can also, I think, apply some kind of capital subsidy without interfering in the administration which properly belongs to the State. If we provided a maintenance subsidy great care would have to be taken because you do not want to have the position where you have two administrations, State and Federal, engaged in controlling the day to day activities of these centres. It is better to try to keep this day to day control in a single hand. As regards children it seems to me that it is probably better for the State to do this. Under our existing constitutional and administrative arrangements this is a sphere which belongs to the State and which the Commonwealth would be very reluctant to invade. But in saying that I agree with the view put forward by honourable members on both sides that more will have to be done in this field.

As I have said, this Bill represents a start; it is not the finish. It is not based on any full research, because no full research yet exists, although research is being prosecuted. The Bill is based, however, on adequate research. It would be quite wrong to say: 'Do nothing until you have a full plan. We are getting a full plan. We think that this will fit into the full plan. We know that this is wanted and needed and we are going to do it, I hope, if the House will permit us, straight away. May I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Mr Hayden's amendment) stand part of the question.

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