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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1696

Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - Earlier in this debate this evening the honourable member for Hotham (Mr Chipp) put forward a point of view concerning the business of the House. He said that, if there were no objection to this measure from the Opposition, honourable members ought to have their speeches simply recorded in Hansard so that we could move on to matters of national concern. I am sure that the honourable gentleman did not mean that concern and care for the handicapped in our community is not a matter of national concern, because by any yardstick it is a matter of concern for all of us in this community. The honourable member for Hotham is a small '1' Liberal. I use that term in its true sense. His views are well known. But he ignores the ultra-conservative views of his colleagues, the plough followers who sit on the corner benches of this House.

The honourable gentleman also made a point about trade unions. He seemed to me to be saying that the trade unions would raise, did raise or are raising some objection to the employment of the handicapped. With the greatest of respect to the honourable gentleman and to his well-known liberal views, I do not think that there is any trade union in this country that would be happy to know that one of its members, after having been injured in an accident, was sitting at home receiving a pittance as a payment in the form of workers compensation when he was able to and would perform certain tasks but for the fact that industry - by that I mean those who employ - would not employ a disabled worker. Medical practitioners are prone to giving medical certificates to the effect that a worker is capable of performing light duties. Nobody knows what light duties are. In industry and in commerce generally all those who employ demand full physical and mental faculties of those whom they employ. Of course, there are exceptions, but these exceptions only go to prove the rule.

Tonight we are dealing with the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill. The purpose of this Bill is to enable subsidy to be paid on money borrowed for the establishment of what are known in our community as sheltered workshops. As the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) said in his contribution to this debate, the Bill does not go to the fundamentals of the human problems of those among us who are for a variety of reasons unable to live what we fondly call a normal life. Our whole society is based on 2 premises - to work, whether manually or intellectually, and to receive reward for that labour. I realise that this simple analysis ignores the parasites who batten on workers and live off the returns from their ownership of capital. But the edict, that those who labour shall receive sustenance, ignores a very large section of our community - those who have been born with a physical, intellectual or mental handicap and those who have been injured or afflicted during their lives.

We display a humanitarian attitude by collectively making sustenance available for these people but money, no matter in what quantity, can never provide or restore the human dignity that comes with being wanted and being able to make a worthwhile contribution to the community of which we are a part. Because of the profit motive of the society in which we live, the profit motive that is built into our so-called free enterprise system, employers are generally more kindly disposed towards those prospective employees who are in top physical or intellectual condition, or both. Therefore, those who suffer from disabilities are, as I have said, generally looked upon with little favour by prospective employers.

The Australian Government Public Service, as presently structured, is perhaps the worst offender in this area. That organisation requires, before it employs somebody, an actual physical examination of that person and requires a written test to be fulfilled satisfactorily before employment is even contemplated. Many private employers exercise the same degree of discernment when selecting employees. What we come up against is this archaic attitude of employers, that those whom they employ should be capable of earning not only their own keep but in fact should be earning a little bit more - or if possible a big bit more - for those who own capital. Any person who is not completely physically and/ or intellectually and mentally fit is in no position to earn his own keep, let alone provide the extra values for the benefits of the parasites. My own concept is that every person, irrespective of accident of birth or tragedy of life, is entitled to dignity.

The encouragement of the sheltered workshop concept is a very worthy one. In this environment men, women, boys and girls can be engaged in worthwhile activities which satisfy their dignity as human beings by providing the opportunity to engage actively in manufacturing or processing and thus making a contribution to society. This contribution is made away from the highly competitive area of ordinary or, should I say, accepted manufacturing procedure. Many workshops exist in Australia now but there are not nearly enough. To establish a sheltered workshop is not easy.

The State member for Broadmeadows in Victoria, Mr John Wilton, MLA, is at present seeking to establish a workshop in the Broadmeadows area to serve the handicapped people of Broadmeadows and the surrounding area. This project was originally started by the mothers of the children who attend the special school in Broadmeadows. They were concerned as to what would happen to their young people when they reached the ripe old age cif 16 years, when they would then be asked to leave the school. It seemed to the mothers of these children, and I think our society generally would agree, that it is a great waste for these young men and young women who have a handicap, whether physical or intellectual, at the age of 16 to have to leave the school which they have been attending in familiar surroundings and under the care and the guidance of the teachers of that school. There is no future for them, there is nowhere for them to go. Local industry is not very interested in employing them. They cannot remain at the private school and so they stay at home with their parents.

This state of affairs is a great tragedy in our community. Recognising this vacuum, the mothers of these young people decided that there should be a sheltered workshop in that area. They started by baking cakes in their kitchens and selling them in the streets on Saturday. It has to be recognised that the concept they foresaw would cost $250,000, which they would have to raise. There is no way known that $250,000 can be raised by people baking cakes in their kitchen and selling them in the streets on a Saturday. Yet these women are so concerned about the future of their children that they did try. Mr Wilton and his band of workers have now raised a considerable amount of money, not by baking cakes but by going about it in a systematic way. They have had to cadge from the community to raise the funds that they need. I am not suggesting that this Bill will go all the way, and neither does the Minister, towards solving this problem. But now that the project in Broadmeadows is under way, with the introduction and the passage of this Bill, Mr Wilton and his workers will be in a much better position to attract a subsidy towards their project.

Land on which to build was made available to them by the Housing Commission of Victoria on a reduced payment basis. It was sold to them at a lower cost than that at which it would have been sold to a private developer. Nonetheless it was sold. The Government of Victoria did not even come to the party and give to this group of people land which they could have used. Still the profit motive exists even with governments and especially with Liberal governments.

But this very real problem of finding employment and employment dignity for these people exists. Industry, as I have said, because of its highly competitive nature is loath to place these people on its payroll. It is unfair to say that that applies to all industries. Some industries are very good in this respect; others are very bad. To provide these people with the dignity that the rest of us endeavour to achieve through our labours it is necessary to have an area in which they can be protected from the extreme competitiveness of industry. So the sheltered workshop concept fits the bill. As well as those people who were born with afflictions there are the workers who have suffered injury during the course of their employment. They receive a very meagre payment of workers compensation on which to survive week by week, and through the whole concept of sheltered workshop's surely there is an avenue for the Government to be more deeply involved, because to me it is a very fine and productive way in which we can rehabilitate and perhaps bring back into the work force those who, through no fault of their own, have been injured and removed from it. So these workshops perform quite an important function in our community. They deserve full support. They deserve more support than they are now getting. I am quite sure that it is in the mind of the Government that in future they shall receive more support.

It is all very well for those who now sit in Opposition to say that they have no objection to this measure. They had plenty of time to introduce it. They never did. So they should not be raising objection to it now. They ought to be adopting the course they are adopting and suggesting that it is such an important and such a humanitarian effort that the measure ought to go through unchallenged. The points that I wanted to make I have made. I will recapitulate the main points. I compliment the Government on introducing the measure. It will provide a degree of assistance for those who at the moment badly need assistance. It will foster and I trust encourage even further the development of sheltered workshops so that that very large group of people in our community - the statistics would probably astound us, but it is a very large group, because there is one handicapped person for about every 40 members of the work force - can be made to feel that they are being welcomed into society, that they are worthwhile, that they have dignity, and that they are making a contribution. To me they are the elements of humanity, and if we can come to this stage quickly it can only be for the benefit of our whole community. I commend the measure to the House. I trust that it has a speedy passage through this place and also through the Senate.

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