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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2955

Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation) - in reply- I thank both Senator Guilfoyle and Senator Sheil for the contributions that they have made. I know that both honourable senators have intended that their contributions should be helpful to the administration of an area in which I know that all of us, and particularly the 2 honourable senators who have spoken, are concerned. The Government appreciates the position which has been taken by the Opposition in supporting a speedy passage of the Bills.

Senator Guilfoylehas asked me whether the report of the Committee of Inquiry of the Social Welfare Commission has yet been presented. The Committee has completed its inquiry but the report has not yet been drafted by the Committee. Therefore it is not yet in the possession of the Government. Accordingly, the answer to the subsequent question which she asked and which was concerned with whether the Government had made financial provision for any of the recommendations of the Committee obviously is no, because we do not know precisely what the Committee will be recommending. In order to forestall an unduly long debate when we do come to the Committee stage, perhaps I should indicate that we would be opposed to the amendment which Senator Guilfoyle has foreshadowed primarily for the reason that we do not have the report of the Committee. We feel that we should have the report in our hands- we do not know what the Committee is likely to be recommendingbefore we try to go ahead with extending the term from 3 years to 5 years. We feel, furthermore, that it might be better to have a look at the matter in a year's time to see how we are going before we take the step of extending the period to 5 years, which is quite a long time.

Senator Guilfoylehas expressed some concern that at some stage the whole of social welfare might be taken over and administered by the Government to the detriment of the existing voluntary and private organisations which work in this area. I think that Senator Sheil has shown a similar concern. I can assure the Opposition that this is not the intention of the Government. In fact, the purpose of these Bills is primarily to give assistance to private, charitable and religious organisations which are engaged in work in these fields. We are not trying here to establish some vast government instrumentality to carry out this work. The purpose of the Bills is to assist the voluntary organisations in carrying out this work, whose value we all recognise. I think it is quite correct, as Senator Guilfoyle pointed out by quoting from the learned writer whom she mentioned, that a problem is developing in our society and in most Western societies and other industrially or technically advanced societies. The number of aged persons, who are incapable of productive work and, in many respects, are incapable of leading a very full or happy life, is growing. We are finding more and more of these people the more we advance in medical science and in other technical fields. We are being faced with the increasing burden- it is an obligation which we have- to look after these people to whom both Senator Guilfoyle and Senator Sheil have referred.

Senator Guilfoylehas suggested that perhaps there should be some increase in the taxation concessions available to those people who do take the responsibility of looking after elderly relatives. She would realise, of course, that in none of these Bills could we deal with this matter; it would be a matter to be dealt with elsewhere. I would certainly agree with her that there are some anomalies in the whole system of taxation deductions as it stands at the present time. Although there is provision for taxation deductions in certain circumstances for people who have a direct relationship of kinship to some dependent person, there is not the same provision for people who may accept this responsibility and cannot establish the same sort of relationship. An anomaly does exist but on the whole I think it would be the policy of the Government -it would certainly be my own view- that the way to handle social problems of this type is not primarily to do it by way of taxation concessions. In many respects if it is done by taxation concessions, those people who are most in need are those who receive the least benefit. Rather it should be through Bills of the kind which we are considering today that the care of the aged people should be taken rather than leaving it to the chance that there is some relative or some friend who is prepared to look after them, with or without a taxation concession.

I should like to deal specifically with one matter which Senator Sheil raised and that was the mixing of young disabled people and elderly people. I must confess that I can see advantages in this. I would have thought that at least in some countries- I think Australia is one of them- there has been a tendency towards getting away from the concept of having purely geriatric institutions and having a mixture of people of various ages within the same institution so that the old people do not feel that they have been excluded somehow from the rest of society- that they are only being left there to die and that they are not seeing people who are younger than themselves. I know that in one Catholic institution in Western Australia some years ago there was some innovation by which an orphanage and an old people's home were within the same building. The order which conducted this institution was of the opinion that it was of very great benefit for the elderly people to be in close contact with these young children.

In any event- I suppose in a way I am arguing against myself- this is not what is happening in this particular instance. The only young disabled people who will be grouped with aged people under the terms of these Bills are those young disabled people who will not be dealt with under the Handicapped Persons Assistance Act, which is the appropriate act for the generality of young disabled persons. The only disabled people who will be looked after under the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act are those young disabled people who, as a result of their disablement, are prematurely aged and are suffering from disabilities which one normally finds with aged people and which are a sort of para-geriatric condition, if that is an appropriate term. Senator Sheil will correct me if it is not. It is one I just made up. In fact, the problem which Senator Sheil has envisaged does not really occur in this instance. In concluding, I would once again like to thank the Opposition for its co-operation. I should like to repeat, so that there will not be an unduly long debate in Committee, that the amendment of which Senator Guilfoyle has given notice, will not be accepted by the Government.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

The Bill.

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