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Wednesday, 14 October 1970

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) - The Bill amends the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act 1967 in 3 respects. It proposes to extend the $2 for $1 capital subsidy towards the cost of accommodation for disabled persons working in normal industry. It provides for the payment of a $500 grant in respect of persons who are placed in normal employment by a sheltered workshop organisation after a minimum period of 6 months training in a workshop, provided that the person fulfils a continuous period of 12 months in normal employment. Thirdly, the Bill proposes a subsidy of $1 for $1 for the salary of certain sheltered workshop staff.

The , Opposition does not oppose this Bill. However, on behalf of the Opposition 1 want to make some observations about it. The first and most apparent one is that this Bill is another instance of welfare service being provided by instalments. The proposal came up immediately before the last general election which was about 12 months ago and it is being fulfilled just prior to the current Senate election. I feci that this is not the way in which welfare services should be provided in the community. There should be some, rationale about the way in which they are provided. There should be a full explanation of the overall objectives of welfare service policy by the Government, not only in terms of what it has implemented and how that is evaluated in terms of service to the community but. how this meshes into a broad long-term plan proposing adequate welfare services for the benefit of the whole community and of the whole man. This has not been done so far, nor have we had a philosophical explanation of the basis upon which the Government promotes its welfare services. This, too, could be done with benefit to the community. 1 should like to raise some questions during the course of the few comments I want to make. It is desirable, although I have reservations about the way in which this is being done, that the hostels the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) has in mind should be provided in the community. I dare say that other honourable members have had experiences similar to mine where people, because of handicaps and a lack of family relations or close friends in a convenient situation, have found themselves facing a difficult problem about accommodation. Many of these unfortunate people require special attention. They require accommodation which has special architectural features to allow them, because of their disabilities, to move freely. In any case, it is not a bad idea, from what I can gather, for these people to have the company from time to time of people similarly afflicted. It is good because it reinforces their attitudes, their self-confidence and their self-esteem. On the other band, of course, there may be detrimental effects if they are exclusively in this sort of company, but the degree to which they will be in this sort of company in hostels I do not believe will be harmful, so one sees a benefit there.

I mentioned earlier that I intended to raise some questions with the Minister. First, in respect of the $2 for $1 capital subsidy - and perhaps the Minister might care to take a note of these questions because it will save delay at the Committee stages - will the hostels be obliged to cater for different handicaps? For example, if a particular voluntary agency establishes one of these hostels in an area and caters for mentally retarded persons but in that area there are some people with a spastic condition, or some other condition which is not related to mental retardation, can those people anticipate that they will have a right to obtain accommodation at that centre or will they be prevented from doing so? What I am asking the Minister is will he negotiate with agencies to try to develop these hostels so that they will, in fact, serve multi handicaps.

Mr Wentworth - I can answer that question now. The answer is yes.

Mr HAYDEN - I thank the Minister. Again, what of the cost of equipment and replacement of items covered in sections 15 and 16 of the Act? Will, in fact, the coverage there be extended to the hostels? From my reading of the Act, those sections relate only to sheltered workshop employment. Perhaps I can leave that question with the Minister and he can answer it a little later. What will happen if the hostels are not profitable? This is something that intrigues me as does the possibility that a sheltered workshop may not be profitable. What would be the procedures that the Government would adopt? I scarcely expect that the Government would allow them to collapse. If it is not prepared to allow them to collapse 1 wonder - and this is a question I will raise a little later - why the Government does not move more positively into the area of providing capital for the establishment of these workshops in the first place.

I regret - and I say this in the form of a question as much as in the form of a statement - that there is no provision for maintenance costs of these hostels to be covered in the Bill. They will be involved in a cost structure which will be much higher than a normal establishment would have to carry. In some cases special beds will have to be provided. I expect that a greater number of sick beds will be needed and some residents will require more attention. Cleaning costs undoubtedly will be greater than would be the case in a normal situation. I know that some State governments do provide various forms of assistance in these hostels. I. believe that in Queensland assistance is provided for movable furniture and fittings but it is provided on a restricted basis. Again, the way in which this sort of assistance is allocated varies between the States. This, in turn, throws up the inconsistent manner in which we develop our welfare services, not only at the Federal level but at the State level too. There is clearly need for dovetailing between the various levels of government and voluntary agencies.

The $500 incentive, if one could call it that without trying to be offensive in any way, which sheltered workshops will attract when their employees graduate to outside employment, sounds a pretty fair proposal on the face of it,- but it could be a little bit rough in practice. For instance, why limit it at 6 months? I can appreciate that there may be some reservations in the mind of government officials that if they do not have this sort of limitation, some unscrupulous people might try to stuff their sheltered workshops with people who do not really require their sort of service and push them through quickly to get the $500. I do not know whether this nasty suspicion entered the Government's mind. It seems to me to be a fairly remote probability and, at the most, it would have a minimum effect on the overall workings of the scheme. What if a person admitted to one of these sheltered workshops recovers quickly and graduates after 2, 3, 4 or even 5i months? As. things stand now there is an incentive to encourage the people who conduct these workshops to keep these people there longer than is necessary.

The next point I raise in relation to this particular aspect concerns a suggestion which has been made to me by people who are interested professionally in providing assistance for disadvantaged and disabled people. They suggest that in their opinion this proposal looks suspiciously like the Commonwealth attempting to opt out of a full commitment to rehabilitation services. At present the Commonwealth operates a rehabilitation service for certain disabled people as part of the Commonwealth's social service organisation. What has been suggested to me is that the Commonwealth Government might be looking to using sheltered workshops as a way of minimising its expenditure on this sort of rehabilitation service; that is, having rehabilitation achieved on the cheap. I am sure that the Minister will give us an assurance that this is not true. My own feeling - and I will mention at some length a little later what I believe in this respect - is that we could possibly phase out the Commonwealth rehabilitation service in any event, but not do it on the cheap.

In relation to the $1 for $1 subsidy, will this subsidy cover, for instance, people employed in the hostels, such as the manager, supervisor or nurses? As I read the Act it will not. The $1 for $1 subsidy will relate only to the sheltered workshops themselves. However I am .not too clear on that and I would appreciate an explanation from the Minister on this aspect. There is a further point which I raise with him in the hope that he might be able to give some attention to it. There is evidence to suggest that some sheltered workshops become involved in what one could term unreasonable and somewhat irrational competitiveness with other sheltered workshops with the result that the quotations they make to outside organisations for work offered are quite unrealistic and could lead to a serious financial problem for some of these organisations. A case in point relates to the tendering for the production of Christmas cards in Victoria. I believe that at one stage at least this got completely out of hand, with organisations involving themselves in cut-throat competition by reducing the prices quoted to unrealistic levels in relation to the amount of labour and capital input involved in their production.

Debate interrupted.

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