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Tuesday, 3 December 1974
Page: 3074

Senator GUILFOYLE (Victoria) - I indicate on behalf of the Opposition that it supports the Handicapped Persons Assistance Bill 1974. We of the Opposition were interested to note that this Bill, which repeals the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act, consolidates and extends the Australian Government's programs of assistance to voluntary organisations that have assumed responsibility for the welfare of handicapped people. We are interested in some of the provisions of the Bill. I have one question with regard to the repeal of the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act to which I would like a response from the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation (Senator Wheeldon). In clause 35 of the Bill with which we are dealing tonight there is provision for repeal of the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act. I would like to have some clarification on whether the entire provisions of that Act will be reenacted in the present Bill and whether the benefits which are available under that Act will now be transferred to the new legislation. The original Act for the care of handicapped children gave a great deal of help to that sector of the community.

Senator Wheeldon - About which Act was the honourable senator asking?

Senator GUILFOYLE - The Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act, which has been repealed. We are interested in the educational programs that were able to be developed and that were related to the needs of handicapped children. The fact that we have made progress in the various States of Australia in the facilities and opportunities provided is noteworthy as a matter of government concern. It is simply to ask for an assurance with regard to the previous arrangements which were available that I have posed this question.

With regard to sheltered employment assistance, we are interested to see that the subsidy for the establishing of sheltered workshops for handicapped adults and training centres for handicapped children in hostels for both children and adults will now be $4 for every $1 which is raised by the voluntary organisations.

We believe that this will be of assistance in relation to the new projects which need to be undertaken to extend the services which have already been developed. I was also pleased to see the rate of benefit increased from $3 to $3.50 a day and the provision will now be made to enable short absences to be undertaken from institutions, such as a weekend break at home, without the discontinuance of the benefit for those short periods.

Another feature of the Bill which is commendable is the salary subsidy of 50 per cent for approved staff. This provision applied previously only in relation to sheltered employment. It will now apply to the whole range of prescribed services. A subsidy of 100 per cent where new ventures are being introduced will enable the staff to become established and to develop the additional services more quickly. The provision of sheltered workshops has been of increasing benefit to those members of the community who have physical, mental or social handicaps. The development of an understanding of the assistance that this provides is something to which we give our complete support. It was in the time of our Government that much of the sheltered employment assistance was developed. We are pleased to see that there are many centres throughout the various States of Australia that do provide opportunities for employment for those people, particularly those who have physical handicaps. A Bill that extends through the voluntary organisations assistance in both capital subsidy and assistance to staff has the support of the Opposition.

I can recall that when the honourable W. C. Wentworth was the Minister for Social Services he expressed the personal view that he would like to think that those people who were able to undertake employment in sheltered workshops would not do so with a feeling of insecurity about the continuity of any pension entitlements that they may have had. It was not something that he was able to develop as fully as he would like to have done in a personal sense, but he had the view that there should be nothing to impede people who have handicaps feeling that they ought to be productive and gainfully employed members of the community. Sometimes the feeling of insecurity that seeking employment may give to a person who has been in receipt of an invalid pension could be a deterrent to their seeking a complete expression of themselves to the extent of their capacities.

For all the reasons that were mentioned by the shadow Minister for Social Security in the other place when he responded on behalf of the Opposition, I indicate that we give our support to the measures that have been introduced. We are pleased to see that the Government recognises the role that voluntary organisations play in our community service and recognise that this style of service is best suited to those who have handicaps. I believe the personal attention, compassion and interest that are given to the people who use those services are best achieved through a strong volunteer system throughout our community. It is of interest to note that this Bill deals specifically with voluntary institutions and organisations and expresses Government recognition of the role that they play. We have pleasure in giving a speedy passage to this Bill, and we look forward to further extensions of both sheltered workshop employment opportunities and facilities for the training of handicapped children.

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