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Tuesday, 4 December 1973
Page: 4251

Mr LLOYD (Murray) - I wish to comment on two or three points arising from the Bill which is, from the point of view of the Minister for Social Security Mr Hayden) basically a tidying up measure. First, I refer to the handicapped children's benefit. To put this into perspective, I will quote the following reference from the relative section of the Budget Speech:

The handicapped children's benefit is payable to charitable and religious organisations conducting approved homes accommodating and caring for both physically and mentally handicapped children under 16 years of age. As announced in the Budget Speech, it is proposed to double the rate of benefit to $3 a day for each child at an estimated cost of $0.2m in 1973-74 and $0.5m in a full year.

I congratulate the Government upon doubling this benefit. The point I want to make relates to the contradiction that parents of handicapped children face. If they send their child to be accommodated in an approved home, the organisation running that home will receive $3 a day towards the cost of caring for the child. However, if the parent is unable to have the child accommodated the benefit is not paid, and he is deprived of it. In my area, there are some parents in this position because, as they live in the country, they are some distance from where these homes are located. Perhaps it is just as difficult for those living in metropolitan areas to obtain accommodation at a home for their children because of the shortage of beds and facilities. In addition, parents may believe that it is their responsibility to care for a child at home, believing that that is where the best care can be provided for the child. In such cases, the child goes to a special day school of some type. Such parents already carry a heavy financial and emotional burden in having handicapped children.

I do not criticise this Government any more than I criticise the previous Government, because this anomaly - I will call it that - existed during the term of office of the previous Government. I believe that it is an anomaly that a parent of a handicapped child under 16 years of age should receive no assistance at all. Together with the anomaly relating to the single male parent, I think these are 2 basic weaknesses in our present social welfare cover. I believe a special benefit should be introduced that could be an extension of the invalid pension arrangement which, at present, begins only when the person concerned reaches the age of 16 years. Alternatively, there could be an extension of the domiciliary care arrangement for those over a certain age who are adjudged to be acceptable under particular provisions. An extension of either of those 2 existing schemes or some other scheme that I am sure the Minister and this Government - or any Government - could dream up could be appropriate to cover this anomaly and weakness with regard to the important matter of handicapped children.

The other point with which I wish to deal concerns amendments relating to the pensioner medical service to update the payments. In the last 2 paragraphs of his second reading speech, the Minister referred to the updating procedures for the pensioner medical scheme and said that if the scheme was updated any further there would be a problem with regard to people on low incomes who were required to take out health insurance coverage. Great complications could arise in this connection. I believe that it is a great pity that in this Bill the Government did not take the opportunity to cover not only the abolition of the $10 charge for hearing aids - which I certainly support - and the other matters, such as the transfer of certain responsibilities to the Department of Social Security, but also to include the necessary amendments to update the present national health scheme and overcome its accepted weaknesses. This could have been done in the present Bill, without all the complication and turmoil of the Government's other Bills and without the confusion that will be created if those proposals of the Government are accepted.

The problem with regard to low income earners and pensioners to which the Minister referred could have been solved by the necessary amendments being included in this Bill. By this one simple Bill, our National Health Act could have been updated and could have continued so that people could understand and be confident about the sort of health care they would receive. I repeat that this could have been achieved without all the turmoil and uncertainty that will eventuate if the whole range of the Government's Bills on the national health scheme comes forward.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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