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Tuesday, 23 September 1958

Mr LESLIE (Moore) .- I am rather sorry to introduce a different note into the debate which, at times, has developed into a free-for-all. No doubt after I have sat down, as the honorable, member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) promised, the next Labour speaker will produce the latest platform of the Australian Labour party. But I have a cause to espouse and I do not propose to make it a party political affair. There is too much at issue. I could talk about the type of discussions we have had in connexion with the subject-matter of this bill and how it relates to human lives and all that is at stake, but I will leave that alone because I do not propose to make this national health plan a political football.

I begin by referring to clause 9, the purpose of which is to repeal secton 66 of the principal act and insert in its stead a new interpretation section. Section 66 of the principal act dealt with pre-existing ailments of contributors to the health scheme who were under the age of 65. I do not propose to deal with those persons over the age of 65 because it has been conceded on all sides that this legislation extends the benefit of the health scheme to them. This bill will be welcomed throughout the country on that account. It will confer great benefits on people over 65 years of age, of whom there are a large number. . But there are some in this group who will not receive this benefit and I wish that they could. This bill will bestow many benefits on a great number of people under 65 years of age who have pre-existing ailments. It will also benefit a large section of the people in whom, for the purpose of this debate, I am particularly interested.

However a feature which I regret and to which I draw the attention of the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) is that it will not confer benefits on one group of people that we had hoped it would. At the latter end of August, it was my privilege to attend, as a delegate, a conference of the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association held in Adelaide. This is an entirely voluntary organization which operates to help those afflicted with cerebral palsy, who are commonly known as spastics. It has centres in all the States. Each year the organization holds a conference to which delegates from all parts of the Commonwealth come to discuss its problems and also exchange information on research in the various medical and educational fields into cerebral palsy. In addition business matters are considered.

The announcement at the last conference that this bill was coming forward was received with very great pleasure. This news was to the delegates some small salve to the disappointment they felt because a request to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) for some help to the various contres had not met with success. It gave us new hope that this bill would achieve something for these people.

Mr Curtin - That is a shocking indictment.

Mr LESLIE - I know that the Minister is sympathetic to my case because I had the privilege of attending with him, as a guest speaker, the annual conference of the association in Sydney. The Minister also attended a conference held in Queensland two years ago and he is aware of some of the discussions which took place on the association's problems. Honorable members can understand, therefore that when a brief announcement was made that this measure would be brought down, hopes were high that the association would benefit.

It provides a measure of relief to quite a number of people but unfortunately there is nothing for the spastic people, the sufferers from cerebral palsy. I might point out that I am not speaking on behalf of a small group. The only work which is being done for them is carried out by voluntary organizations throughout Australia. This is a comparatively new work carried on by a young organization but it is seeking to care for an estimated minimum number of 15,000 and possibly 20,000 of all ages. The responsibility for their treatment and care has been accepted by voluntary welfare organizations only and it is a fact that their financial and physical resources are entirely inadequate for the task.

Within the number I have mentioned it is estimated that about 8,000 are under sixteen years of age and it is this group of children on whose behalf I am speaking. The number who have received treatment in Australia in all spastic centres since they were established in the post-war period is 3,904. Last year the actual number treated was 1,368. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith keeps interjecting. I wish he would remain silent. The actual operational expenditure, not including capital expenditure, incurred at all these centres in Australia last year was £391,082. With the exception of Queensland, where the Government does provide assistance on a £1 for £1 basis for spastic centres, this money came entirely from voluntary subscriptions, with no government help of any kind.

The honorable member for KingsfordSmith has constantly repeated that this is a shocking indictment. I am not sure on whom he places the indictment. I would say that it is a shocking indictment of the people of this country that this section of the community has been ignored for so long. The honorable member for KingsfordSmith perhaps, is entirely unaware and unconcerned that it is only within the last five years that anything on a Commonwealthwide scale has been done to espouse this cause and provide treatment and facilities for these unfortunate people. Certainly it was some years before that that the first spastic centres, as such, were provided, but it is only in recent times that Commonwealthwide aid has been provided. This was not due to any particular government having been in office. It was due to the fact that there were people who, unlike the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, had a spark of human sympathy and fellow feeling in their souls. These people undertook the job which they felt they owed to their fellow men, instead of appealing to a government or to somebody else to carry the burden of responsibility.

Mr Curtin - I rise to order. I would like that statement by the honorable member for Moore to be withdrawn.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Was it a direct reference to the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith?

Mr Curtin - Yes. It was a direct reference to me. He said that the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith had intimated that he knew nothing about the matter.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - That is no point of order. If the honorable member feels aggrieved he should make a personal explanation.

Mr Curtin - That is what I wanted to do.

Mr LESLIE - If I have upset the susceptibilities of the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, I humbly apologize. In connexion with this cause, I am prepared to accept any abuse, injury, or even personal violence. I think that the cause is worth it. So, to the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith I make the humblest and most abject apology it is possible for a human being to make, in the hope that I will have at least one supporter.

Mr Curtin - I rise to order.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith will sit down.

Mr Curtin - I rise to order.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Sit down. There is no point of order.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - How do you know until he puts it?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member for Moore simply apologized for what he said before.

Mr Curtin - My point of order is that I said that it was a shocking indictment of this Government that provision was not made-

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! The honorable member will sit down or I will name him. [Quorum formed.]

Mr LESLIE - I thank the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) for calling a quorum. I should like to think that he acted with sincerity in order to assist the cause that I am supporting. However, I leave that to his conscience. The bill provides that benefits which have not been available to these children previously will now be available to them. It has been possible for these cerebral palsied children to be insured in a medical benefit scheme and to obtain medical and hospital benefits as contributors for all illnesses which had no connexion with their disability. As I understand the bill, it will enable them now to obtain surgical and, perhaps, ancilliary treatment under this special account scheme in an approved hospital for all the disabilities from which they suffer. Under the system which now operates the treatment which is available to these children, normally, is given to them voluntarily, and at no charge. However, the parents are expected to contribute, according to their means, to the various associations which provide treatment. All those organizations employ doctors and other doctors give voluntary service to them. They also have various other professional people such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and dentists. This service is made available to these spastic children, as I have said, entirely free of charge because one cannot expect the parents to bear the costs.

The present bill is somewhat disappointing to those who are associated with these organizations in that, it will not, in any way, relieve the burden on the parents or the voluntary organizations in the provision of treatment which is absolutely necessary for these children. The Minister might correct me if I am wrong, but the position as I see it is that if all our voluntary organizations closed down and if the afflicted children were to go to private consultants and pay for the service which they got from them, it would cost each parent a tremendous sum of money; it would also cost the Government a lot of money because, under this bill, the parents would be entitled to participate as contributors to an insurance scheme.

If the Government looks at it from the that angle it will see that if that were to happen the facilities available for these children would be totally inadequate. Possibly, many of them would not receive the necessary treatment. Consequently, the Government could well say, " We are prepared to provide in this legislation that treatment afforded to these children will be paid for by per capita contributions to the various associations which are providing these facilities ".

I say right now, and I do not say it to this Government but to the people of Australia, and I say it so that I may alarm them, that we are faced with the possibility that some of these centres will close down because of the inadequacy of the facilities available to them. I mention the fact that the total cost of providing treatment last year, throughout Australia, was £391,000, which was raised by voluntary contribution. I pay a very great tribute, as does every one associated with these centres, and as does every parent and every child, to those who have assisted in this very great work. But voluntary contributions have proved insufficient. Whether we can wring more money from the people by appeals I do not know. We feel that we have just about reached the limit of voluntary contributions and that we must find some other means of obtaining financial assistance. Let me suggest that the means is to be found in this medical benefits scheme.

The parents of afflicted children are prepared to carry a reasonable proportion of the financial burden. Let me suggest that provision should be made for a pre-existing disability to be treated at an authorized establishment, such as a spastic centre, if that establishment is conducted under medical supervision and the treatment is given under medical supervision, just as in a hospital. Let me point out that a spastic child or a child suffering from cerebral palsy is not a sick child and does not require hospitalization unless surgical treatment is necessary. Nor are these children mentally retarded children who can be placed in a mental institution. They are normal children, suffering only from some affection of the motor part of the brain which limits their control over their movements. We have spastics who would appear to be incapable of doing almost anything and who have taken Bachelor of Arts degree. There are others who are attending the Conservatorium of Music. Others are doing good jobs in civil life.

If I cannot do anything on purely humanitarian grounds, then let me advance an argument on purely economic grounds - although I hate to put forward this kind of argument. If these spastic centres were obliged to close down, the extra cost to the Government resulting from the extension of benefits under this act would be very great. There would be a great added cost to the parents as well. But the great tragedy, of course, would lie in the fact that hundreds and thousands of children would be denied the opportunity of receiving the specialized treatment available to them in the centres. If they sought private treatment, part of the cost of that treatment would have to be borne by the Government. Let members of the Government consider that aspect of the matter and reflect that a portion at least of the money that the Government would have to spend in that direction might be spent in the direction that I previously suggested. It could be made available to these various organizations to enable them to continue their operations.

Let me remind the Government, too, that unless they receive this specialized treatment every one of these children will become a charge, after reaching the age of sixteen years on the financial resources of the country. They will become invalid pensioners and eligible to receive the appropriate social service benefits. I suggest, therefore, that on purely economic grounds the Government would find it worthwhile to assist these organizations.

Let me say, though, that our centres do not exist for purely economic purposes. Behind the movement is only one intention, to assist these children and give them the opportunities to which they are entitled. They must be treated at an early age. The earlier they are treated, the more chance there is of achieving successful results. Once a child gets to the age of thirteen or fourteen it is almost impossible to achieve success. I say, therefore, that we want to give them every possible opportunity. We can do them no greater injury than to deny them these opportunities. We want to give them a sense of their own dignity, to let them feel that they are, to a large extent, independent, and do not have to rely on charity and government assistance all their lives. They will then become independent and productive members of the community, and, most important of all, they will be selfrespecting.

I hope, therefore, that the Minister and the Government will have another look at this legislation. I believe that assistance can be given, by means of regulations under the act, to these children, their parents and the spastic centres. I am appealing to the Government to do something along these lines. I do not suggest that the Government should remedy an injustice that exists, because this method of assisting spastics is comparatively new, not only in Australia but also in other countries. The spastic movement throughout the world is in its infancy. We believe that the work carried out in our institutions, and the exchange of knowledge between the various countries, will help to remove what could well be a great scourge, which could be as disastrous as tuberculosis and poliomyelitis unless it is tackled in the way in which we urge it should be tackled. Unfortunately, it is the most serious affliction from which our children are suffering to-day, but because the spastic movement is on a purely voluntary basis we are unable to obtain the statistics that are so necessary to enable us to see just what is happening with regard to this terrible affliction. The evidence before us, however, indicates that the number of afflicted persons is increasing.

This is a problem which must be tackled, and tackled early. It is being tackled in other countries on a more satisfactory basis than in Australia. I do not condemn any government in connexion wim mis matter, because it is a new problem. 1 do, though, deplore the fact that the people of the world, and not only of this country, have allowed these unfortunately afflicted persons to be shut up in rooms, hidden away in their houses or in backyards and never brought to public attention, simply because the people have not understood the problems of these children, who have minds, who can see and act and understand in the same way as normal persons, and who have an extra sensitiveness arising from the fact that they suffer from this physical disability. The way in which some of these people have been held hack in years past has been tragic. Our centres provide them with, if nothing else, at least social centres where they can mix with their own kind, and can feel that they are not very much different from those who are completely fit.

I do not regret having intruded this serious note into the debate which was proceeding, and which honorable members may continue after I conclude. I have introduced this serious note because the problem is terrifically important. We cannot afford to ignore it. The work cannot be left to those very few people who have undertaken the tremendous task of raising the money necessary for the centres. To give some idea of the amounts of money required, let me inform honorable members that the centre in Western Australia costs nearly £2,000 a week to run. We get no money from any government, nor have we ever got any money from any government. In very few countries has the spastic movement got any money from governments. I am trying to arouse the sympathy of every honorable member in this House. I do not suggest that an honorable member should ask himself what a certain government has done about the matter. I suggest that he himself has a personal responsibility to help solve this problem, and that he should use his best endeavours to see that the plight of these unfortunately handicapped people is alleviated, and that they are afforded the opportunities that we suggest should be made available to them. That effort can best be made, Sir, not by howling about what the other fellow has not done, but by searching our consciences and asking in our own hearts, "What have I done about this problem as a responsible individual in this community? I owe a rent for the space that I occupy in this world, and how do I pay that rent to my fellow men? Do I howl for the other fellow to do something, or do I do something myself? " These are things that we should ask ourselves. I am satisfied that if we do this, Sir, and everybody accepts his responsibility, we shall find that there is no better country than Australia to live in. We must not continually try to pass our responsibility on to the other fellow, because the other fellow does not exist, in this sense, and each of us is the other fellow to every one else.

My plea goes even beyond a request to the Government to amend this bill. I urge the people to ask the Government, not just to amend this measure, but to provide in it something that will meet the needs of the case that I have submitted. I suggest that the people, if they like, write to their local members, whoever they may be, and ask them to support their local spastic centres. I suggest to the people that they should put their requests to the local authorities, to the Federal and State governments, and even to the World Health Organization, which is dealing with this problem. We all should get behind a world movement to tackle something which, I warn this House, may well be one of the most serious problems that our children will have to face in the future.

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