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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 1228

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - 1 indicate my support for this Aged

Persons Homes Bill as it processes an aspect of the Budget Speech which evokes a response in every one of us in terms of its attractiveness and also because of its extension of the Government's welfare and social service programme. In the first instance I refer to an extract from the speech of the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) in which he stated:

We will also double the present rate of subsidy to eligible organisations providing personal care services for the aged in hostel accommodation. The new rate will be $10 per week for each occupant aged 80 years or more.

The purpose of this Bill is to put this indication into effect. It will provide a much needed service for those people who are unable to fend for themselves as well as they did once.

I take up the reference which Senator Mulvihill made in passing. He said that he thought the Minister in charge of the Bill at some other stage signed so many thousands of letters in a week and that to do so would probably be physically impossible. A point of interest is that that reference indicates something of the extent to which Government departments, and Ministers in particular, are involved in the total social wellbeing of our Australian community, especially that section of the Australian community which is either aged or unwell.

In speaking in support of this measure today I draw attention to the fact that the government of the day, whatever political colour it may be, has become more and more involved in the social welfare programme of the Australian community. The Australian community is called to recognise this fact, not only for any elements of generosity which may be expressed in legislation but also through the interdependency between the Government and its departments, on the one hand, and the community on the other hand.

When the Minister was speaking in relation to this Bill, he pointed out that the doubling of the rate of personal care subsidy together with the implementation of a special 3-year crash programme would stimulate the provision of more of what we now call hostel type accommodation. He expressed the hope that this action would correct the pressing shortage of suitable accommodation for those aged persons in our community who may be described also as the frail aged.

Every time a measure relating to the welfare of our senior citizens is introduced and implemented,I think it is important to recall very briefly something of the background from which this general programme came. In 1954, when the Aged Persons Homes Act was introduced, the Commonwealth began subsidising those organisations of homes for aged persons. Most of them were non-profit community organisations and many of them were religious or church organisations. As honourable senators will recall, the original subsidy was on a$1 for$1 basis which later,I think in 1957, became a $2 for $1 basis.

A number of types of accommodation were described as being eligible to attract subsidies. Some of these were the selfcontained units in which people of senior years were able to live independent lives. Then there was also included the hostel type accommodation - a phrase whichI must confess I do not like butI have been unable to devise a better or more attractive form of words - where people had their own rooms but took part in the meals and other services which were provided within the home itself. Of course, another type of accommodation was the very necessary nursing home. The Senate would be interested to have written into the record that grants made under the Aged Persons Homes Act to date have totalled $150m. Accommodation under this scheme has been provided for not fewer than 45,000 aged persons.

Looking at these figures, I think it is important that they be divided into selfcontained units which cater for some 23,000 people, the hostel type accommodation which provides for some 17,000 people and nursing home accommodation which covers some 5,000 people. In the current year, grants have reached the record level of over $23m. The amount of accommodation exceeds all of the previous records. I think it would be true to say, and indeed it is pertinent to affirm, that this surely indicates the success of this wide-ranging and far-reaching social welfare scheme. For example, the records of the Department of Social Services show that over 500,000 or some 62 per cent of Australia's 834,000 aged pensioners own their own homes, while State housing authorities and unsubsidised hostels provide for at least a further 25,000 people. The provisions of the present Bill which springs from the background of the references I have just made in my view represent a significant step forward.

I wish to refer to those people and organisations who have established home:, for senior citizens and who, in the course of their many, varied and distinguished services, have provided what we have come to describe now as the personal care service. These organisations have been suffering from acute problems in relation to the balancing of their budgets. Increased demands have been made upon them and costs have increased in the maintenance not only of services but also of properties. These organisations have had to deal, as you are very well aware, Mr Deputy President, with a whole range of difficulties arising from increased salaries, increased wages and increased cost accounts.

It should be firmly recorded in the Senate this afternoon that these organisations have kept their standards very high. They certainly have not cut any of their services, thanks to the very many splendid people, who I suppose can all be grouped together under the description of voluntary workers. Those people who have organised nonprofit institutions or church homes, be what they may, have ensured, indeed have insisted, that the establishments in which they have been interested and for which they have provided these services have been maintained as homes. I use the word homes' advisedly and contrast it with the word 'institutions'. These establishments have been made homes and not institutions.

Let us all pay very generous praise particularly to the committees, the office bearers, the chairmen and secretaries of the various auxiliaries, and to other voluntary workers and supporters. In addition to raising money and giving personal service, these people have devoted much skill and a great deal of time. I have knowledge, and I am sure honourable senators have knowledge of many instances of personal and financial generosity in maintaining the homes, preserving goodwill for the residents and maintaining the standard and quality of life that aged persons have enjoyed in these homes.

The subsidy, which is the main purpose of (he Bill, was introduced first in 1969. It has had the effect of enabling many homes and establishments to extent their services to what have been known as personal care services. I think some 16,000 people have been receiving this service in about 360 homes which have been allotted the subsidy. Honourable senators will recall that the Bill refers specifically to those who are over 80 years of age. Of the number of people involved in this scheme some 7,000 people are over 80 years of age. From my various general inquiries I have discovered that the trend of this percentage seems to be consistent throughout the country. Estimates from Adelaide, through which I have had some discussion on the matter, indicate that rate of nearly 50 per cent of people of 80 years of age and over receiving this care seems to be reflecting the general trend.

It has been pointed out to me also that this trend towards 50 per cent and over is increasing. I imagine that we are entering into a period when the number of people who are over 80 years of age will be increasing. AH of this, of course, reflects the increased and improved social welfare and medical programmes which have been initiated and sustained as part of the Government's total social welfare programme. A point of view that has been expressed to me ls that perhaps the age of 80 years might 'be reconsidered with a view to reducing the qualification to 75 years. Having said that, I know that one immediately raises a whole range of other related matters, not the least of which is the economics of the situation but, as we move and research into new ways of providing improved social welfare programmes, that proposal merits real consideration. After all, the very purpose and the core of this subsidy as contained in the Bill is the wellbeing of our senior citizens.

New researches and new methods are constantly required if our aged persons and our senior people are to live lives that are satisfying and provide for them the opportunity of maintaining their place in our total society. The Bill which is before us this afternoon will enable these homes to which I have referred, and to which other honourable senators have referred, to balance their budgets and to provide ade quate care in what I call the immediate field, that is, between the independent units on the one hand, and the nursing home style accommodation on the other. It is in this intermediate area that the personal care subsidy, which is the core of the Bill, enables nursing care and related assistance to be extended to people who need them. We should not overlook the fact that flowing from this kind of programme are various rehabilitation programmes and supportive services as well as occupational therapy. The community at large must always preserve a proper relationship towards its senior citizens; care, attention and respect are essential. But we should also always recognise that our senior citizens are people of experience, achievement and maturity and we should regard them as such.

It is easy enough to. stand in this place, as senators do, to support improvements, growth and extensions in the social welfare programme. However, we should always examine and re-examine our total approach to social welfare programmes. We must constantly re-examine our ideas, beliefs, attitudes, opinions and judgments. We must remember that the Australian community is one community within the whole range of world communities which are giving a great deal of care and expert attention to social welfare. Therefore we must constantly seek to avail ourselves of the information and knowledge which is accessible to us as we develop our own social welfare programmes. If we are to make a worthwhile contribution to social welfare we must recognise that our contribution may demand more from us as citizens of the country than perhaps we have hitherto realised. A great deal of development in social welfare has evolved over the last 20 to 30 years. In the late 1920s this definition of social welfare was given at a conference: 'Alleviating suffering arising from poverty, preventing social ills, improving social conditions and raising the standards of living.' That is an easy phrase to repeat because it has universal agreement. Nevertheless, I do not think that it is quite so easy today to define social services. Min is by nature a social creature and he is mure and more dependent on other people for the answers to his most basic needs. I nave heard social welfare described also as 'the organised social methods of meeting basic human needs for mutual support'.

In the late 1920s social welfare definitions were simpler than they are today. We are. I think, being forced to recognise that today social welfare involves much more than materia] aid for those who happen to be in need, whether in terms of age or health. Preventive and constructive assistance are inadequate ideas, if I may put it that way, because they imply in my view a kind of reaching down and raising up image which belongs to what 1 will describe as outmoded social attitudes. Today social welfare is concerned with the quality of life of all human beings but more particularly, as we discuss a particular age group today, those of senior years Therefore as we debate and agree on social welfare programmes, the kind of which we have before us today, I think we ought to pause a moment to re-examine our total outlook to them.

The size of the social welfare programme in Australia is enormous, and une does not quarrel with that. But we need to be reminded, I think, of what is contained in the first paragraph of the annual report for 1971-72 of the Department of Social Services:

The Commonwealth Department of Social Services was making direct and regular payments of $3,140,000 at 30th June of this year which was an increase of some 3 per cent on last year's total.

It may well be asserted that the social welfare programme of the 1970s is very large and that it is a highly professional industry. I am not sure that 'industry' is the most suitable word to use about a social welfare programme, but we must remember that involved in a total social welfare programme are doctors, teachers, nurses and social workers all of whom are dedicated to their own particular vocations and to the extra services which they render to mankind. Some welfare establishments such as the wide range of homes and hospitals which are referred to either directly or by inference in the Bill which is now before the Senate, are in themselves large scale industries in which a wide range and a large number of people have a particular and direct interest. Of course, I do not say that as any form of criticism, but I think we ought to recognise it as a fact. Further, as the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) puts down line by line all the new social welfare programmes we should remember that he is referring to a wide range of skilled professional people all of whom have professional competence and who make an important contribution to the total programme.

While recognising the great skills and competence which they possess we must remember that if their work is to provide the maximum benefit to the social welfare programme it must be undergirded by the involvement of the community at large - because, as I said earlier, this social welfare programme is one in which one section of a community is dependent upon another. It is easy for us to pass a Bill and to make congratulatory references this afternoon about the extra sums of money which are involved, and which the Parliament has directed should be involved, and which the taxpayers provide; but at th- same time we should remember that any constructive welfare programme must be undergirded by the interested, involved and dedicated service of the people at large. If it is not, then all the money and all the expertise which the Government and the Minister's Department have employed will not bring the maximum benefits which we think they should. With those observations I support the measure and hope that it will have a speedy passage through this House and that those who will be the beneficiaries of it will be able to extend their services in the welfare of the community.

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