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Thursday, 18 October 1956

Mr WILSON (Sturt) .- It is indeed a treat to rise to speak in support of a bill that has received the unanimous support of all parties in the House. May I add my congratulations to those extended to the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) for the valuable part he has played in the preparation and presentation of this bill. The measure truly typifies Liberal principles. The basis of the bill, is that government will help the people to help themselves. We, as Liberals, do not believe in laisser-faire. We do not believe that government should do nothing in respect of humanitarian problems; nor do we believe in socialism and that government should do everything for the people. This bill represents a partnership between government and people - a partnership under which the Government says to the people, " We shall help those of you who are doing the humanitarian work of caring for the sick, those of you who are providing bush and district nursing services, to expand your activities ".

We recognize the valuable work that is being done, and has been done, by the district nursing organization, and we desire to help that organization to expand its activities. We shall do that for humanitarian reasons but at the same time we are not unmindful of the valuable aid that this measure will give to the various governments in Australia. The Minister for Health has said that at present the average capital cost of a hospital bed is £7,000, and that the average cost of maintaining a patient in hospital is £3 a day. lt is perfectly obvious that it is most uneconomical, most wasteful, to send people to hospital on occasions when they can be better cared for in their own homes; so the policy of the Government is to give every aid in the provision of nursing services in people's homes. The Minister has pointed out that threequarters of the persons attended to by district and bush nurses are of pensionable age. Within that class in Australia there are at present 1,000,000 people of pensionable age. Inevitably one must expect a considerable amount of sickness when one' reaches advanced age. It does not help the old person, or for that matter the State or the Commonwealth, to put him in hospital if he can be treated better and more economically in his own home. The plan embodied in this bill is humanitarian, in that it allows aged people to receive adequate treatment in their own homes, and it is economical in that it allows them to receive treatment in a place other than a hospital.

Those of us who have carefully studied the problem of age realize that the aged can be classified in four main groups. First, there are those of pensionable age who are able to look after themselves in all respects, and whose main needs are adequate finance and housing. The second class consists of those who are able to look after themselves in certain respects but cannot, for example, cook or do other essential things. Thirdly, there are those who are not hospital cases but need a certain amount of nursing. Fourthly, there are those for whom only hospital treatment is possible. When we look at those four groups we find that this Government has done something to meet the particular requirements of each. Those who are able to look after themselves are provided for by not only the pensions legislation but also the very valuable Aged Persons Homes Act which was passed last year to provide subsidies for churches and charitable organizations willing to build homes for the aged. In pursuance of that legislation Aged Cottage Homes Incorporated, a charitable organization of which I have the honour to be chairman, has, in my electorate, raised money for this purpose and received a subsidy. The organization is providing, at a cost of £500 for each aged person, accommodation of which any honorable member might be proud. The actual cost of a group of homes for three aged couples, or six aged persons, is £6,000. Of this the organization raises, with the aid of a charitable and generous public, £3,000. The Commonwealth provides the remaining £3,000. This means that every person who subscribes £500 is, in effect, providing accommodation for one aged person. The organization proposes to go on and build homes for married couples, for widows, and for aged single persons, until the whole problem of housing the aged is solved. The nursing service will be of tremendous value to this organization because the district nurses will be able to visit the aged in their own homes if they become sick.

Members of the next group that I have mentioned are able partly to look after themselves, but cannot cook or otherwise provide for all their needs. They are being cared for, under the Aged Persons Homes Act, mainly by religious institutions. In my own district there are the Church of Christ Christian home, the Salvation Army home, the Eventide home, the Felixstowe Methodist home and the Illoura home, which is conducted by the Baptist Church. In another area there is the Church of England St. Laurence home for the aged. Since the passing of the Aged Persons' Homes Act these organizations have been able to build additional wings in these magnificent homes so that more of the aged can be given full board and accommodation. Here again the district nurses will be invaluable. The sick will be able to receive treatment without having to go to a public hospital.

The next class, those who are sick, are now being cared for in infirmaries. A number of hones which I have mentioned, for example, Felixstowe Methodist old folks home and St. Laurence's Church of England home have, since the passing of the act, either erected, or intend to erect, infirmaries for old people who are able to walk about, but suffer intermittent sickness which would ordinarily necessitate hospital treatment.

We can see how this Government, since it has been in office, has quickly filled the gaps in the methods of meeting the needs of the aged. Although the operation of this bill is not, as the Minister has stated, in any way limited to the aged, at least threequarters of those who will be attended by the district nurses will be in that category. Therefore, I believe that the bill is a challenge to the people of Australia. It virtually says to them, " Are you prepared to solve this problem of medical and nursing care for the aged? If you are, go to it. Raise money in your own districts and the Government will assist by the means provided in the Aged Persons' Homes Act and the Home Nursing Subsidy Bill." This is a challenge to every member of Parliament, who should ask himself what he is doing to solve the problem in his own district. Is his district nursing society standing still, or is it prepared to go forward and expand its activities, and receive the subsidy that the bill offers, to enable it to provide additional nurses? This is a challenge to every mayor, who should ask himself whether in his district there is a problem of the aged, and, if so, whether he is availing himself of the facilities that the Government has to offer. Every mayor should ask himself whether he is encouraging people to give money to the charitable organizations and the religious organizations which are providing homes and nursing services for aged people. This is a challenge to the people of Australia, to municipalities and to members of Parliament. It is up to us to solve the problem.

It has been said repeatedly in this House that, no . finer measure was presented to the Parliament than what is now the Aged Persons' Homes Act. It has worked wonders in the short time that it has been in operation, but I should like the people of Australia to know that although this Government has appropriated £1.500.000 for the purposes of the act in each of the last two years, not all of the money has been used. In 1954-55, only £783,979 was used. In that year, almost £800,000 of government money available to churches and charitable organizations was not taken up. In 1955-56, the amount paid out was £699,000, so again nearly £800,000 of the money appropriated was unspent. In this year, because the demand is not there, only £700,000 has been appropriated.

There is no doubt that we have a problem of the aged in Australia, lt is up to us, as citizens, to solve that problem. We will not solve it by saying that the care of the aged is the responsibility of the States or of the Commonwealth. It is our responsibility. We owe to the aged people everything that we have in the country. Every house, factory, street and park is the fruit of their labour and their savings. We have inherited all of those things. Are we prepared to say that somebody else should do something for the aged? It is up to us to tackle the job and see that homes for the aged are built and that nursing services for them are provided. We should throw the whole of our weight behind the district and bush nursing societies to ensure that in every district the societies will have sufficient backing and financial help to enable them to collect subsidies from the Government. There should be a nurse in every district.

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