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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1679

Mr MCVEIGH (Darling Downs) - The Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill 1973 and the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill 1973 are both laudable pieces of legislation and have the support of the Country Party. As always legislation to help the unfortunates, the afflicted and the handicapped is in line with our policies and philosophies although at all times we reserve our right and responsibility to draw to the attention of the House certain anomalies and criticisms of not enough emphasis in some instances. It is true that in modern times there has been a rethinking of assistance to the handicapped. In fact it can be truly said that the radiant light of the actions of the Deputy Leader of the Country Party (Mr Sinclair) who, as long ago as 1966 when he was in charge of social security legislation initiated measures designed to alleviate some of these problems has helped to a remarkable degree to banish sadness and darkness from the lives of many people. The ready helping hand has assisted in easing strains through which others are passing.

One area that causes concern is that the subsidy will be extended to money borrowed by local government bodies, but does not include money borrowed by voluntary and charitable organisations. Some of these organisations have been in existence for many years, and have considerable assets and are recognised as good financial security risks. In order to promote these necessary establishments in as many areas as possible - and let us not deny that there are many areas both in the cities and in the country where there is a crying and urgent need for their extension - impetus and encouragement should have been given to as many organisations as possible to participate. Local authorities often have great difficulty in finding money for purposes such as this and widening the scope of the legislation could have had a twofold object - relieving the pressures on local authorities and more importantly, getting the job done. It would have been appreciated, too, if the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) had shown some initiative in the matter of meeting or subsidising the interest on the loans.

It is an unfortunate fact of economic life that costs seem always to be increasing. Building costs are no exception. Interest is a factor in costs and this added burden could have been eased by a generous gesture from the Commonwealth.

I am informed that at present there is a waiting list of handicapped children seeking admission as boarders and students at these special establishments in some States. On admission to a boarding home the Commonwealth helps in the upkeep of such children with an amount of $3 a day. We pay tribute to this Government for increasing the allowance from the existing $1.50 per day. Additionally, there is an isolated children's allowance, where applicable, administered by the Department of Education. With the $2 for $1 subsidy for buildings, extensions and equipment, the scheme is able to function.

We are concerned with the plight of children who cannot gain admission because of inaccessibility or lack of facilities and who are cared for at home. No allowance either financial or domestic is available for parents or friends who care for subnormal children, spastic children or mentally retarded children in their own homes. This, we submit, is a a flat spot in our social security legislation and must be corrected. I do hope that the Minister for Social Security can inform the House that he at least is aware of this fact and, if so, that he intends to make positive moves to alleviate this area of great concern.

People who, for a variety of reasons, have to keep these children at home deserve the commendation and encouragement of the nation. True it is that we do not live by bread alone; but it is the staff of life and is a necessary ingredient in our existence. Some help must be extended to these people. Social psychologists have quite often expressed some agreement that these children are better in the close family environment. But special attention and equipment are needed in some circumstances. I therefore appeal to the Minister to consider some extension of or modification to the present domiciliary nursing benefit so that these people, who, through circumstances, are forced to care for these afflicted children in their own homes may receive that benefit.

Handicapped children become eligible for an invalid pension on reaching the age of 16 years provided that they are at least 85 per cent incapacitated. It has come to my knowledge that there is often a delay in having these payments made. The date when payment is eventually made does cause some distress. It appears, therefore, eminently just to make these payments, when granted, retrospective to the 16th birthday.

People who teach in schools for handicapped children do not have their salaries subsidised by the Commonwealth Government although the States do assist. As this matter is currently under discussion it is opportunte to remind the Minister of the hardship that can be caused. With the increasing trend for the Commonwealth to enter the education field it is pertinent to point out anomalies. The salary of a matron at a boarding accommodation centre for sheltered workshop people is subsidised on a dollar for dollar basis while the salary of a matron at a handicapped children's residential is not. Why does this anomaly exist? Why is there this arbitrary decision to provide a subsidy in one instance but not in another?

Why is it that the Commonwealth pays a subsidy of $2 for each $1 in one case and not in the other? They are both charitable organisations. Matrons at these places have special responsibilties but surely in similar places of residence the responsibilitties undertaken and the skills needed are the same. Why is there this distinction and difference? Similarly, I would have thought that the Commonwealth would have subsidised expenditure on movable furniture such as chairs, lounge suites, television sets and wireless sets. The education of these people and moves to improve their quality of life and to widen their horizons demand that these things be regarded not as luxuries tout as necessities. It is good that people should be encouraged to develop facilities such as these, but there is no help by way of Commonwealth subsidy in these instances because furniture and television sets are not recognised as being set-in fixtures.

There are 2 further comments that I would like to make. Firstly, is the need for an earnest endeavour to ease the burden on these institutions and, secondly, the importance of extending the facilities to as many areas as possible. Sheltered workshops are required to operate on piecework rates and there is the further stipulation that the majority of people employed in them must be capable of earning not less than $4 a week. Institutions receive a subsidy of $500 a person when the person who has been trained by them is found employment and stays in that employment for a period of 12 months. Whilst it is true that the legislation allows a $1 for $1 subsidy where there are special supervisory duties, an increase in the base sum of $500 would help to overcome the high rate of inflation which now is assessed to be running at a rate variously estimated to be in excess of 13 per cent or more per annum.

I ask the Minister to exercise the same initiative and energy that he is displaying in certain other public debates in an endeavour to publicise the proposition of pilot schemes whereby in order to test out in certain remote areas the establishment of these facilities the Commonwealth subsidises suitable premises by means of assistance with rent for a period of 2 years.

Mr Katter - Hear, hear! A splendid suggestion.

Mr McVEIGH - I thank the honourable member for Kennedy for his comment that this is a splendid suggestion. I share his wish that sheltered workshops, accommodation and education facilities for handicapped children shall be available all over the Commonwealth. They should be available not just in the cities and the metropolitan areas but also in areas such as Charleville in the electorate of the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Corbett) and areas like Mount Isa which is so ably and well represented in this Parliament by the honourable member for Kennedy (Mr Katter). I congratulate him for the great fighting spirit that he has displayed on many occasions in this forum to ensure that people who live in isolated areas of this Commonwealth become entitled to exactly the same quality of living as those who live in large metropolitan areas which in many instances are served by a Minister of the Crown and cover only 2 square miles. Compare the work in such an electorate with the magnificent job that is done by the honourable member for Kennedy and the honourable member for Maranoa with their tremendously large electorates. The quality of service that they give is of paramount importance.

In Toowoomba there are 2 welfare organisations - the Spastic Centre and the Endeavour Workshop, the latter incorporating Endeavour Farm and Endeavour Manufacturing which are engaged in the training or employment of handicapped people. The former, as its name implies, deals basically with spastics and the latter, with sub-normals. The Spastic Centre is controlled by a committee of management and an appeals committee is very active in community circles in an endeavour to keep this centre viable. Incidentally, their main method of raising finance is to be part and parcel of the Miss Australia quest. In this regard we applaud their great efforts conducted through charity organisations.

In the Spastic Centre at Toowoomba there are 14 adults, and there are 15 children in the kindergarten section. The Queensland Subnormal Children's Welfare Association, Darling Downs Branch, controls the Hamewith Day and Boarding School and the Endeavour Farm and Endeavour workshop. It is a truly remarkable organisation and its sphere of influence and activity appears to have no bounds and is not limited by any horizon. It operates facilities at such outside centres as Roma, Kingaroy and Gatton and is controlled by branch managements which are answerable to the State committee. The Darling Downs area cares for 252 mentally retarded children and, in addition, provides 91 beds for residential purposes. The Association commenced operations in Toowoomba in 1954 with 5 children in a rented Army hut in Newtown Park, and it has grown and obtained assets through community involvement. It costs a lot of money to maintain these services for a year. There are 72 permanent employees engaged in teaching, in administration, at the workshop and as residential staff, plus 15 part time employees. It is estimated that $150,000 must be raised each year from the public by appeals.

However, the biggest problem is in the school area - an area where a child's basic disposition and motivation are formed. Apart from the subsidy, the cost of maintaining this is $70,000 a year. The subsidy in this area amounts to a mere 18c in each $1 that is received. Following a run of losses, if no relief is readily forthcoming - and it must be realised that a community's ability to help can reach saturation point - either services will have to be restricted or parents already labouring under great difficulties and personal distress at the condition of their children, will have to be charged fees. Neither of these alternatives, I submit, must be allowed. It is the community, through the Parliament, that must come to the rescue. We await with interest what the Schools Commission will recommend in this regard. I am firmly of the view that the best possible service is given and the best outlook obtained by a marriage between government and voluntary welfare organisations. It keeps the lid on institutional care by the addition of voluntary care.

If the community is to accept its rightful place in the care of the unfortunate, the Government must also accept its responsibility - a responsibility that can best be exercised by ensuring that the community does not get ulcers worrying about where finance is to be obtained next. Extra pressure is placed on this organisation in Toowoomba because people come not only from the immediate area; they come from all over Queensland and northern New South Wales. It is pertinent to point out that the mentally handicapped group is the largest single group of disadvantaged people in the community between the ages of 16 and 30 years. Seventy-three per cent of invalid pensions paid by the Commonwealth goes to the mentally handicapped. These organisations have to maintain at their own expense a full time clinical team, a psychologist and a social worker. We know how desperately scarce social workers are. This fact has been commented upon on many occasions previously in the various debates in this House. The cost to the people associated with the Sub-normal Association in the Toowoomba-Darling Downs division is in excess of $16,000 a year.

The extension of this service is vitally necessary because of the numbers involved. It is just not possible to look after all these children and their parents. I submit that there is a very special case for the parents of handicapped children who can and often do require the assistance of trained personnel to help them cope with the extra pressures that are thrust on them following their children's illness: I hope that the Government may be able to devise a scheme whereby parents of children who suffer from autistic and other complaints can have access to medical advice so that they may be in a better position to cope with their children and with their own special problems resulting from their children's afflictions.

Much remains to be done in the area of social security. We on this side of the House readily realise that, and we are pledged to help in every possible way to overcome these specific problems. Those of use who are interested in and concerned for the people who fall into these various categories are continually plagued by our thoughts turning along this stream of human endeavour, often with the arrow-swift flight of the kingfisher. We are concerned because there is much to be done and time appears to be running out.

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