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Thursday, 15 October 1970

Mr WENTWORTH (MackellarMinister for Social Services) - In concluding this debate, may I thank both honourable members who have taken part in the Committee stage and raised these points which I would regard as being raised constructively. It is quite true that some kind of subjective test has to be applied. The reason for this is that we are entering into rather unchartered waters. If we are to be generous in this respect, it is not possible to lay down, at the present moment at any rate, strict limits because strict limits thus laid down inevitably would react against the interests sometimes of very worthy organisations in ways which at the present moment cannot be foreseen. When this provision has been in operation for some years, it may be possible to consider some kind of closer definition. But I think that the Committee will realise that to some extent we are pioneering. We want to see how this develops and to develop it in the most effective way possible. Therefore, some kind of flexibility is desirable.

In saying this, may I add 2 things: First, I think that this is to the advantage of the organisation itself. My Department does take a realistic point of view. In general it will be found that complaints against my Department are remarkably few. My officers have been instructed to approach every one of these problems in the most constructive and helpful manner, and I believe that they are doing so. The second point that I would make is that, although no legal court of appeal is provided, in point of fact a most practical court of appeal is available. It resides in this Committee. Any honourable member may - and I am glad to say that honourable members on both sides of the Committee have - approached me on numerous occasions in regard to any particular problem about which they feel the decision of the Department has been wrong. Honourable members, from whichever side of the Committee they come, can be assured that any problem that they bring after consideration to my attention will be looked at in the most sympathetic way by me. It does not follow that I will go with the honourable member concerned every time and all the way. But I will look at anything that an honourable member brings forward - I am sure that any other Minister for Social Services would do so - in the most constructive and sympathetic way.

If an honourable member is dissatisfied finally, another court of appeal exists. It is in this Parliament. It is on the motion for the adjournment or, indeed, in debate or by question. Although it does not happen often that an honourable member feels so grieved about a particular instance that he feels it should be ventilated on the floor of this Parliament, it is the ultimate right of every member - and I know that this right will not be abused - to bring a case to this Parliament. This in a way is a more effective sanction that any court of appeal in the legal sense could be.

The honourable member for Barton (Mr Reynolds) spoke also of the question of who was approved and who was not approved in a sheltered workshop. I do remind him of something that I said last night. The Government did not start in this field. This field was started by people outside the Government The initiative came from them. But the Government, having seen how good some of these things were, was able to take advantage of the work that voluntary and charitable organisations had done outside our Commonwealth system and to come in, as we are coming now, in order to assist them. We are pioneering in the manner of assistance but we are not pioneering with the system. The system of sheltered workshops was devised by people, perhaps to some extent outside Australia, but certainly not devised originally in my own Department. It is a system which we want to take up to assist but we do not want to take over. !

Some of these organisations were in existence before our capital subsidy came into operation. Our capital subsidy is, I think, only some 3 years old at the present moment. These organisations would not have been eligible for capital assistance because they were in existence before any plan of capital assistance was obtainable. We have asked in general that they subscribe to the principle of a $4 per week minimum. We do not ask that they should all reach this $4 per week - which, by the way, is an average - immediately in every case. We do give some latitude. We have perhaps - I would not like to say overgenerously - accepted in general estimates -by organisations of their own future capacity. This is one of the flexibilities in the introduction of that scheme. I think honourable members will find that although some of these organisations may have been down in the $2 to $3 per week average in the past, they are coming up now. Where they are not up, my officers do endeavour to get alongside them and to help them to come up.

There is 1 thing that has to be borne in mind. That is this: There are some people in the community who are so handicapped physically or mentally that, whatever we do for them, they cannot themselves come up to this average. It may be that the sheltered workshop is more of an activity centre than a sheltered workshop. If it has in its employees a very large number of these very severely handicapped people, with the best will in the world and whatever we do it may not be possible to bring it up.

Mr Reynolds - They are worthwhile organisations.

Mr WENTWORTH - They are very worthwhile. This perhaps is a field which will repay further examination. But remember that in thinking of these people we must consider the interests of people in sheltered workshops who are capable of some kind of improvement. It is probably not to their advantage to mix them in too much with people whose handicap is so severe that they can never hope to do very much for themselves. It is a practical matter. I know that we talk about these multi diagnostic workshops. We do wish to have some kind of spread of ability. But there is something to be said from a medical and psychological point of view for keeping some distinction between those people whose handicap is slight, minimal or not so severe, on the one hand, and the people whose handicap is unfortunately so severe that nothing effective can be done for them - and there are some such people. it may well be that the Commonwealth should be taking more note of what I would call activity centres rather than sheltered workshops. This is one of the things that is under study at the moment. I am not going to give any commitment to the House. Indeed, it would be quite wrong and improper for me to give any commitment as to the result of that study. Whether this should be a responsibility of the States in this field I leave as an open question at the present moment. But I agree with the honourable member that these activity centres, which are not really sheltered workshops, do have a great value and they do have a proper place in any full scheme of social services.

It is sometimes forgotten that the Commonwealth's power over social services comes under section 51 of the Constitution. As such, it is a concurrent and not an exclusive power. The States have responsibilities in the social services field for their own citizens to some extent. They share that field with the Commonwealth. So, as I say, it is a concurrent power.

Mr Hayden - They would welcome more support from us, though.

Mr WENTWORTH - This may well be, and I am not trying to rubbish this argument. I am trying to look at it as an argument which is put forward sensibly and which may be sustainable. I am saying that it is sometimes forgotten that in this social services field there are State powers and responsibilities as well as Commonwealth powers and responsibilities. We would not want to have a position where, in the running of these things, there was an inordinate kind of confusion between the States and the Commonwealth. It may be better to have a fairly clear cut-off line of distinction between them. This does not matter when the Commonwealth is coming in with capital and the State is doing the running, because then there is no confusion. 1 am not saying it is so, but I am saying it should be considered whether the activity centre, as distinct from the sheltered workshop, should not be a State responsibility rather than the Commonwealth's responsibility, but I agree that it should be somebody's responsibility.

I have tried to deal with the matters raised by the honourable member for Barton. The honourable member for Hawker (Mr Jacobi) raised 4 main matters with me. I will try to answer them. First of all he spoke about apprentices, I am glad to be able to inform him that he need have no fears on this, because the legislation does all the things that I think he was wanting it to do. There is no bar against an apprenticeship, either in an organisation or outside the organisation. If normal rates are being paid and if the person concerned is carrying out his normal duties as an apprentice then the proper performance of those duties over 12 months will qualify for the $500 bonus. Of course, I am familiar with the excellent work being done by Bedford Industries. I have been there on a number of occasions. Indeed, I am familiar with one or two cases mentioned by the honourable member. I agree with him about the excellence of the work done. I am glad to inform him that under the legislation as it stands he need have no apprehension on the matter of apprentices that he raised.

The honourable member raised the matter of medical inspections and the 85 per cent disability. The general practice is that where a person is not an invalid pensioner evidence as to his being 85 per cent disabled for the purposes of this Act will be accepted from an organisation's doctor. It is only in cases where there is doubt as to the degree of incapacity that it is necessary for the person to be examined by the departmental doctor. Any such examination would be carried out by the rehabilitation doctor. I am bound to tell the honourable member that this general departmental practice has hitherto not obtained in South Australia. In South Australia there has been some departure from the practice which has obtained in other parts of the Commonwealth. I am going to suggest that South Australia be brought into line in this regard with other parts of the Commonwealth. I think that answers the second question that he raised.

The third question that the honourable member raised concerned the $1 for $1 subsidy. I think he was suggesting that it should be brought up to a $2 for $1 subsidy. The honourable member will remember that the general principle that has been established in regard to the home care programme which was before this House some time ago is that in capital matters the Government pays a $2 for $1 subsidy, but in maintenance and running matters which require a much more continuous supervision the Government is inclined to confine its aid to $1 for $1. This is, as I said, a general principle. I have spoken about the sheltered workshops and I am inclined to think that the subvention we are offering now - it will be interpreted again in a flexible and general way - will be sufficient to carry them out of their present difficulties in this regard. It may be that later on - I think the honourable member for Barton suggested this - we may be able to put in some kind of overall subsidy rather than on a $1 for $1 basis. I am not quite convinced that this will ever happen, but it may happen in the future. I would not rule out that possibility.

I would, however, say that at the present moment when we do not quite know where we are going in all its detail - we know the direction we are moving in and we know it is the right direction but we do not quite know all the twists and turns of the path and we cannot find out except by going along the path - I think it would be out of place to adopt the suggestion, certainly at the moment. I give no commitment that it will be adopted in the future. Let us see how the thing works out. I am afraid that I could not go beyond the $1 for$1 subsidy in regard to maintenance and running, but the Government will continue to provide the $2 for $1 subsidy on the capital advance. This seems to me to be a general principle.

Finally, the honourable member raised the question of amenities and recreation areas. The general rule is that reasonable amenities - things like tea rooms, meeting rooms and locker rooms - qualify for the $2 for $1 subsidy. Hitherto we have not given this subsidy for such things as sporting ovals and swimming pools. I suppose this is something which can be considered in the future. I do not rule it out, but at the present moment I give no commitment in regard to it. But I can give a commitment that in deciding what amenity is reasonable my officers will be looking at the matter in a generous way and will be interpreting the Act in a flexible manner. I do not think it will extend to sporting facilities which are sporting facilities only but it will extend to what we would call a reasonable amenity, such as play areas, recreation rooms and things of this character. Let us see how it works out.

Again may I thank the House for the constructive way in which the second reading debate was conducted and for the way in which honourable members have approached the details in the Committee stages this afternoon.

Bill agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.

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