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Tuesday, 10 December 1974
Page: 3331

Senator GUILFOYLE (Victoria) -Mr Deputy President,I suggest that the Nursing Homes Assistance Bill and the Homeless Persons Assistance Bill should be debated together.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Webster)- Is that approved by the Minister for Repatriation and Compensation?

Senator Wheeldon - The Government has no objection to that, Mr Deputy President.

Senator GUILFOYLE - The Opposition supports the measures provided for in both Bills. The Nursing Homes Assistance Bill seeks to authorise the Government to enter into agreements with charitable and other non-profit organisations conducting nursing homes. It introduces a new procedure in support of the nursing homes, that is, the establishment of a deficit financing system. The Opposition has some reservations about the introduction of this deficit funding assistance, but it has been led to understand from the terms of the Bill that it will be in the hands of the nursing homes themselves to elect whether they will take part in the new scheme which has been outlined. The scheme for deficit funding which has been arranged by the Government is one in which the proprietor of a nursing home will submit a budget, which will be examined by the Government. The Government will then make advances for support to the nursing home during the year and then at the end of the year a final annual deficit payment will be made.

We were interested to see that the arrangements will now provide for most patients to contribute $32 a week. When that is related to the pension of a single pensioner it means that some $4 a week will be left in his hands for personal expenses. We were delighted to see that this position has been again achieved. I recall that just prior to the Opposition parties going out of government the Minister for Health at that time, Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, was able to come to an arrangement such as this for nursing homes assistance in relation to pensioner patients. We are delighted to see that this small measure of independence will be left to a pensioner patient in a nursing home for private expenditure. We suggest that perhaps it would have been preferable to have arranged for the contributions from patients to be a percentage or a proportion of the single pension entitlement, instead of the amount which has been stated in this instance, simply for the administrative reason that if a proportion of 95 per cent or something close to that were the amount which was required to be paid it would mean that there would be a variation according to the changes in pension entitlements. This was a suggestion that was made by the Opposition spokesman for social security in another place. We were interested to see that this new program will take effect from 1 January next year. We are hopeful that the system which has been outlined for deficit financing will enable the voluntary bodies which conduct nursing homes to achieve a better relationship between costs and support from government than has been the case in the most recent past.

There is one concern which I have in regard to this arrangement. I refer to a matter which has been raised by one of the States, namely that the Commonwealth is ignoring the views of State Ministers which were expressed at the Health

Ministers' conference. These views were to the effect that the States were the bodies which should be funded in the deficit financing arrangements and that they in turn would negotiate with the voluntary bodies concerned. This Bill provides, however, that all the work will be done at the Commonwealth level on a direct relationship with voluntary bodies. This was a contrary view to that which was expressed at the Health Ministers conference earlier this year.

We believe that if the nursing homes do elect to become part of the deficit financing arrangement they will be placing in the hands of the Commonwealth Government their administrative decision-making. This is a matter which they may choose to do in vast numbers and perhaps that remains to be. seen, because if they do not elect to become part of the deficit financing arrangements they will then be able to continue with the present arrangements for support from the government on a subsidy basis. With those remarks I simply say that we welcome the new measures of assistance to voluntary nursing homes because they are a vital part of our community service for those people who need this sort of assistance. I hope that the direct relationship which the Federal Government will have with the voluntary nursing homes will be a workable one and one that in retrospect we will be able to say has been achieved in the bypassing of the States, which is obviously an interpretation of the Bill.

The other measure which is related to the Department of Social Security provides for assistance to homeless persons. We are delighted to see that the Government has introduced this new proposal which will provide assistance which has not previously been available. Grants totalling some $2.2 m are now paid to organisations which will be caring for homeless men and women throughout the community. These are the first funds to be allocated under the new program, which it is anticipated will be spread over 3 years, will provide for rental of premises to be covered and for subsidies towards salaries of social workers and other qualified people who assist in this field, and will in general, we believe, provide a very much needed service in the community. We welcome the opportunity to express our appreciation that assistance will be given to people who for various social reasons have found that they are homeless. The Bill fills a gap in the services which are provided in this area. For these reasons we give our support to both of the Bills which have been introduced. We desire to see that they have a speedy passage to enable this assistance to reach those in the community who need it.

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