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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2950

Senator GUILFOYLE (Victoria) -Mr Deputy President,may I suggest that this Bill, the Delivered Meals Subsidy Bill 1974 and the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Bill 1974 be debated cognately as they are related measures.

Senator Wriedt - The Government does not oppose the suggestion.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Is it the wish of the Senate to have a cognate debate on the 3 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.

Senator GUILFOYLE - The Opposition welcomes the measures provided for in the 3 Bills to which I have referred. The measures which have been introduced in these areas of social need are commendable and will be of assistance to the community. I will deal firstly with the Delivered Meals Subsidy Bill 1974 and simply comment that the increase from 20c to 25c in the rate of subsidy for each meal delivered will be of assistance. The fact that the subsidy will be increased to 30c if the meal includes a vitamin C supplement is also welcomed by the Opposition. These increases in the rates of subsidy will be of assistance to those voluntary and local government services which provide meals to elderly citizens in their own homes. It is always noteworthy to comment, at the time of talking about subsidies, that the service which has been developed in Australia is an enrichment of the lives of those elderly people who are often isolated without social contact. The daily contact which is made through the provision of this service is of assistance to them from the point of view that it not only provides a meal but also provides social communication. We therefore welcome any Government initiative which supports the continued development of this scheme. Indeed, I would like to think that we could provide for an extension of the existing system of subsidising delivered meals. It is in most communities a service which is able to be provided only on week days. Very often it is discontinued throughout the normal holiday period that occurs in the early summer months at the end of a year partly because so much of the service is provided on a voluntary basis and people have other preoccupations at that time which prevent them from working in the voluntary community organisations. If this type of service could be extended to give a greater coverage in each year I believe that it would be of obvious additional benefit to those who use it.

It is also of note that in some municipalities it is impossible at the present time to offer even a daily service on a week day basis. I am aware of some areas in which it has been necessary to curtail this practice and to provide a service on alternate days. I believe that the support that is provided by the Government in the measures with which we are dealing will be of assistance because undoubtedly the cost of providing meals due to the inflation which we are experiencing, particularly in food costs, is becoming an increasing burden upon those who seek to provide such a service. For that reason we are delighted to give our support to the benefits which are contained in these measures and wish them a speedy passage.

I wish to refer now to the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Bill 1974. Again I welcome the increase in the government support in this instance for a program of assistance to non-profit organisations and local government bodies for the cost of providing homes for aged persons. This assistance was- first provided in 1954. The support for it has increased progressively from government to government. The present provision is one which seeks to increase the rate of subsidy from $2 for every $1, which represented government support of approximately 66 per cent, to $4 for every $1, which represents a government support of 80 per cent, in relation to the provision of homes for aged persons. I believe that this assistance is timely because there is an urgent need for an increase in the amount of accommodation available for elderly persons in this country. Anything which can accelerate the program for the development of the various types of homes which are needed is something which is welcomed by us.

It was of interest to me to learn that the Government has decided to extend the provisions of this legislation to include handicapped adults. Persons in this category were previously excluded from the benefits provided by this legislation. The extension of the provisions of the legislation to include them is a measure which is commendable, lt will be of assistance not only to the handicapped adults themselves but also to the quite elderly parents who have cared for a handicapped child until he has reached adulthood and is still in need of personal care. The access to the types of homes about which we are talking will be of assistance to a number of people in this category.

The Bill also provides for an increase in the personal care service for the aged from $12 to $15 a week. That is appropriate when related to the increasing costs. The hostels which provide care for the elderly people who are no longer able to care for themselves in independent homes but who do not need the nursing home type of medical care will be assisted by the increase which has been provided for. I hope that the personal care rate will continue to be reviewed from time to time. Undoubtedly the increases in recurring costs which are being experienced not only by institutions but also by individuals due to the high rate of inflation highlight the need for a review of the rate from time to time. I am hopeful that a review will be undertaken at quite frequent intervals in conjunction with a review of other costs in the community.

Another aspect of the Bill and the program itself which is of interest is the fact that local government authorities will have the opportunity of a vailing themselves of the subsidy for homes built for aged persons with loan moneys. It is naturally a program which has our support in principle. It is also a program which has not been used extensively by local government bodies in the past. They have had access to support in the construction of homes for elderly persons but, due to the fact that they have had other local government responsibilities and somewhat limited financial support, have not introduced this form of service to any great extent into the communities which they cover. However, it will be interesting to see whether they will use the access that they will now have to loan funds for this purpose. If it can provide an extension of service, we will welcome it. I wish to refer to aged persons housing in general and perhaps to seek from the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) in his response some indication of whether the report of the committee of inquiry that was set up about 12 months ago by the Social Welfare Commission is now available, because the Minister said a few weeks ago that he expected the report to be available during this session. I would like to know when the report would be available, what recommendations were made and what provision, if any, was made by the Government for financial appropriation for any of the recommendations that it anticipates.

On 3 1 October the Minister stated that ceilings would be reviewed annually in the Budget context without hindering ad hoc reviews in times of rapidly increasing building costs. These ceilings of course relate to the program of support for the construction of the housing that we are discussing in these amendments. It would be quite clear to honourable senators that a ceiling that is the basis of the support that can be given would need to be reviewed in view of rising building costs. If the ceiling is unduly low and not improved, the fact that the Government improves the subsidy does not necessarily mean that local government or voluntary organisations would have access to the programs that the Government is attempting to encourage, because if there is to be too large a gap between the ceiling and the actual building cost, there are difficulties which may not be overcome despite the increasing subsidy that the Government has announced. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) said that the Government would subsidise program cost adjustments due to rise and fall clauses in building contracts for work carried ou; since 1 April. I think it is of interest to know that the Government has acknowledged that there are increases for buildings in the course of construction and in the course of contract arrangements, and to have the amendments made retrospective to 1 April is of assistance. For this reason also we welcome the provision.

There has been noteworthy support from voluntary charitable organisations in the care of persons. I think voluntary organisations have played a very important role in the program of care in this country. It is timely to suggest, with the increases in capital costs of buildings that are needed and with the increases in recurrent expenditure that are experienced, that voluntary organisations are experiencing grave difficulties in continuing the services that they have given for so long in this community. I regret that these difficulties are experienced. I would not wish to think that we are entering a stage in which the whole of social welfare needed to be undertaken by government. 1 think we would be removing from Australian society that capacity for compassion and community support that is a desirable feature. I am not drawing attention to the difficulties of the voluntary charitable organisations and laying that at the feet of government. I am simply acknowledging that we are experiencing difficulties in which perhaps we should all be sharing. I just draw attention to that matter, and I am sure that those in the Department of Social Security who are closest to the welfare programs would understand my reference to the difficulties that so many voluntary organisations are experiencing at present.

The other Bill to which we are referring is the Aged Persons Hostels Bill. Here again we welcome the amendments because there is an immediate and urgent need for hostel type accommodation for Australian elderly people. I have seen figures that estimate that there are approximately 50,000 persons who urgently require accommodation of this type. That accommodation is not at present available. This legislation is complementary to the Aged or Disabled Persons Persons Homes Act and there is a relationship between the 2 types of accommodation for those at this stage of their life. Entitlements are available for eligible institutions on the basis of 2 beds for every unsubsidised bed that they currently operate. That means that if one is operating a certain number of beds one could add to them double that number. This program was introduced in 1972. 1 can recall announcing the particular program of the McMahon Government at that time as a program to accelerate the development of hostel type accommodation in this country. We welcome the recent announcement that acknowledges that program as worth while. I simply regret that it has been impossible to accelerate the program to the extent that we had hoped that it would be accelerated.

The 1972 program that I talked about was a 3-year program. We know of the entitlement under that program; there were a certain number of existing beds and double that number could be added by support from the Government, lt is of interest and concern to note that some 12,000 beds- the entitlement of existing organisations at this time- have not yet been built under the program. That is why the Opposition will be introducing an amendment to this Bill to suggest that the 3-year program that was introduced in 1972 could be extended for a further 2 years to allow this original entitlement of beds to be developed and built with support from the program. It would be understood by the Minister that at this time there is less than one year of the program to be fulfilled. To suggest that approximately 12,000 beds could be built, arranged and completed in one year perhaps is unrealistic. For this reason I will be introducing the amendment that was introduced by our spokesman in the other place, Mr Don Chipp, when this Bill was being discussed.

I was pleased to receive a news statement dated 26 November from the Brotherhood of St Laurence in my State which welcomed the Government program. It is headed:

New Subsidies Mean 'Go Ahead' for Brotherhood Housing Project.

It will be known that this organisation provides a variety of social welfare services and has introduced many new concepts into this field of care. That it will now be able to go ahead with the building of a 4-storey hostel in Fitzroy because of the new assistance will be welcomed by us all. I know how much it will be welcomed and how much assistance it will give in my State. In the news statement the organisation stresses that the average cost of a single room in the suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne is now approximately $14 a week. It will be readily understood that those people who live entirely on pension incomes and pay this rate of rental would be suffering some difficulties. We believe that the organisation's program for Sumner House, as they will call the hostel, will be of assistance. The Brotherhood of St Laurence stressed that voluntary organisations which deal with accommodation for the elderly have been asking for some time for a review of Government subsidies. The new rates are realistic and at last will make rapid expansion possible. This particular project will cost $608,000. This cost will be met by funds from the Australian Government and from the voluntary service projects the Brotherhood runs to assist the work it does. The provision of more personal care accommodation will reduce the number of elderly people who now have to be hospitalised or who become permanent patients in nursing homes. That is the objective of the type of hostel that I am talking about. For this reason we welcome the opportunity to develop this program a little further.

In talking of care for elderly people I stress that Liberal Party policy for this type of concern is that assistance will be provided for home alterations so that families can accommodate elderly relatives in their own homes. The assistance my Party had in mind was aimed at members of a family who care for their elderly relatives. It would be in the form of taxation concession for building alterations needed to be made in the home, extensions or the provision of the things required for elderly slightly handicapped people such as ramps, special showers, handrails, and bathroom and other facilities. Some taxation concession should be granted to those people who are prepared to care for their elderly relatives in their own home and to make the necessary alterations to it. Our Party policy also is that we would continue the extensive development of hostels for the elderly and the chronically ill in which they could be watched over by resident staff and have communal meals if they so desire.

If adequate hostel accommodation was available and was suitably sited it would be appropriate for many people to use instead of their using nursing home beds as they are forced to do at present.

Perhaps it is apt to say at this stage that we feel we should attempt to improve the domiciliary services available to the elderly people in our community. We have talked of the Delivered Meals on Wheels scheme. We would like to think that there are other services in which the Government has a role to play. 1 am thinking of such things as laundry services which would make it possible for people to be visited by nursing and other medical services, to have meals and the other improvements to the care which they are able to provide for themselves. This would enable them to live in their own homes and to have the independence they want for as long as possible. I was interested to read a series of articles which some time ago I requested our library service to obtain from the United States about the care of elderly people in that country. Some of the articles are somewhat depressing because they tend to refer to the problems of the ageing and to the economic position of old people. In a recent account of older people one writer, Herman Brotman, observed:

It is a particularly frustrating irony that progress in man's search for a longer life should produce the 'problems of ageing'.

He pointed out that in making it possible for a large proportion of people to live to old age we have also made that old age into a stage of dependency in which the elderly person is robbed of his or her traditional role and status. Lots of articles are available. Some of them deal particularly with the problems of old people in rural communities and the lack of access to services we take for granted in suburban areas. Obviously these are questions on which we need to do a great deal of thinking and to take some prompt action.' There is an urgent necessity in our communities for our elderly people to have access to suitable comfortable accommodation at rates they can afford, lt also is desirable that people who choose to live in their own homes are able to do so with supportive services which originate either from government or receive a subsidy from government.

For the reasons I have stated the Opposition has pleasure in giving a speedy passage to the 3 Bills we are discussing. I wish to have the opportunity to move an amendment in the Committee stage of the Aged Persons Hostels Bil).

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