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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2953

Senator SHEIL (Queensland) -I rise to lend my Party's support for these 3 Bills. I wish to say a few words about them and will take the Bills in turn following the order used by Senator Guilfoyle. I support the remarks she made about the Delivered Meals Subsidy Bill. I support the increase of 5c in the subsidy to bring it to 30c but I point out that this is still only a small amount of money and would not provide a very big meal. It is only a partial help and the Meals and Wheels organisation provides the rest. The meals are delivered only once a day and never on a Sunday and the facilities in nearly all centres are booked out at the moment. There is plenty of room for improvement in this field of operation. In his second reading speech on the Delivered Meals Subsidy Bill the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon) indicated his intention to extend the services further and to provide such things as housekeeping, shopping, sitting, linen and handyman services. He said that the States have made progress in supplying these areas but that he is far from satisfied with their growth. I point out that these services are of an intimate nature to the local areas and this really is not a matter in which the Australian Government can come in and help all that much. This is really a State or local government affair, or even a private enterprise affair, and those people can answer for the type of services they provide. I think that the food guide put out by the Department of Social Security for the Meals on Wheels organisation is more a matter for the Department of Health. It gives people an indication of the type of food wanted for home delivered meals.

I refer now to the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Bill. The subsidy in this instance is given to the homes. It is being increased from $2 for $ 1 to $4 for $ 1 . That is not really double although it sounds like it. In this instance I think it would be better to pay the subsidy to the patients rather than to the homes as it is now known that the religious and charitable institutions are in favour of deficit financing. I do not think that is a very good scheme because it will mean that they will lose their autonomy and wind up under government control. It would be a bad thing to have a huge Federal bureaucracy running these homes in the cities. The Minister said that organisations have been delaying commencement of their building projects. He cited various reasons for their doing this, such as that they do not have the economies of scale or that they might not have the necessary expertise. I suggest that Government interference has been the reason for the delay and that there is a feeling of uncertainty for the future as to their method of financing, particularly in regard to the amount of the subsidy.

Through all these Bills the Government, I am sure not through any ulterior or bad motives, is promising care for all people. I do not think the Commonwealth Government can possibly do that. I believe it should rely on the help of other agencies such as the State and local governments and private enterprise. The Commonwealth is stepping into a huge area. I feel it will run into difficulties in combining aged and disabled people because they are 2 separate areas. A huge rehabilitation aspect is involved in the care of disabled people. Many disabled people are younger and will not be happy if housed with old people. The rehabilitation section of such institutions requires different staff, different equipment, different facilities and a different design altogether for the buildings. The people to whom the subsidy applies in these homes receive a very good subsidy if they are pensioner patients, but the Bill does not provide for non-pensioner patients. I think that non-pensioner patients could quite easily be included under such a scheme as, say, the special account in the medical insurance funds. I notice that the legislation provides for at least one staff member to be on duty all the time, but the Minister did not mention whether he was to be a trained staff member. If you are dealing with aged or disabled people I think that you should have a trained staff member on duty all the time. This is only a minor point but I think that it is worth mentioning.

The Minister mentioned that local government bodies would appear to be well situated to enter the aged persons' homes field. I draw the attention of the Minister to the Commonwealth Statistician's report on nursing homes and convalescent homes which shows quite conclusively that private enterprise institutions can look after these people at a vastly cheaper rate than the Commonwealth Government does. It is an area in which private enterprise could well come to the rescue of the Government and take an awful load off its shoulders. The provision of such services as taking people for a drive, doing special shopping for them or taking them to theatres or sporting functions and things of that nature cannot be managed by a huge government department.

I note also that the Aged Persons Hostels Bill and the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Bill, as well as being companion Bills, are also related to the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act. This may be a good thing from a co-ordination point of view. I point out again that these matters fall into entirely separate areas. They encroach into the whole field of health and would be better off administered by the Department of Health rather than by the Department of Social Security. Further on in his second reading speech the Minister mentions that the co-ordination of the whole of this hostels and homes policy is awaiting the report of the committee of inquiry into aged persons' housing. This matter again falls into an area entirely separate from social security.

As far as the Aged Persons' Hostels Bill is concerned, I would mention again that it has been shown quite clearly that private enterprise can manage these hostels much more cheaply than can the Government. I was not in the chamber to hear whether a change was proposed in the amount of the subsidy, but a subsidy of $13,000 a bed to cover the whole of the capital cost of putting up these structures would not be nearly enough. I think in his second reading speech the Minister mentioned that the subsidy is to be increased to $9,000 a bed, but that is far too small an amount and it does not take into account the provision of the land on which the buildings are constructed.

Once again the Minister has noted that there has been a delay in organisations using the funds made available. I would point out that that delay is brought about by a feeling of insecurity about the future, by the Government's interference and by the fear of government control. Once again I urge the Government not to allow the religious and charitable institutions to press on with their scheme for deficit financing. It cannot be successful. I think that the Government could be well advised to include in these hostels the provision of day care facilities for people who need looking after just during the day or who need rehabilitation, physiotherapy and other help to make them better. Such patients can be dropped off by their relatives and picked up after work. There are many young disabled people now who could well take advantage of this kind of service, but they would need medical supervision and appraisal from time to time to see whether the facility suited them. I am pleased to join with Senator Guilfoyle in supporting these Bills because they are intended to provide help in an area which needs a lot of assistance. However, I would warn the Government against trying to bite off more than it can chew.

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