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Wednesday, 21 October 1970

Mr FOSTER (Sturt) - 1 want again to take up the matter of the Government's neglect of this very vital and unfortunate area of the community. Who will care for the sick and the aged in view of the fact that the Government expresses so little concern? The plight of the sick aged in our community is of crisis dimensions. The simple fact is that there are insufficient beds for nursing care available for those whose only income is the pension. Mrs Polkinghorne, who conducts a telephone bed service for sick aged in Adelaide, said the other day that in one half day she had 8 calls on behalf of sick aged pensioners and was unable to find a placement for any one of them. Whilst the numbers are not known, we have good reason to believe that there are lots of people in this category occupying beds in the Royal Adelaide Hospital who should be discharged to long-stay infirmary care, but the almoners are unable to find placements for them. This is only an example and no doubt it applies widely to public and community hospitals. It costs $200 a week to keep each one of them in the Royal Adelaide Hospital. There is also the anxiety and insecurity which these people, experience while they are there because they know the pressures that are on them to leave.

There are some things the Government could do right away to ease this situation. The Morris Hospital has empty wards which could be made available for the sick aged. The excuse that staff is not available is not valid. There is no reason why the rosters and disciplines of the Morris Hospital wards could not provide the flexibility in working hours which would attract married nurses, lt is an open secret that some chronically sick aged people are certified for admission into the Glenside Psychiatric Hospital simply because no alternative accommodation can be found. If this is not a disgraceful affair, if this does not stir honourable members opposite, then all I have to say is that they are content to see people reduced to a psychiatric state because they have to go into these hospitals regardless of whether they suffer from mental illness. It must be a great reward to honourable members opposite to think that they sat through sessions within their Cabinet and within their Party room to have done absolutely nothing about this very pressing problem. The increase in pensions of 50c a week means nothing. This is a long existing situation in South Australia, and of course it must prevail in other States. We must decide whether adequate care and nursing facilities are available to sick aged pensioners.

Finance is a factor in all of this, or if you like, the ability to pay. There are approximately 43,000 aged people in voluntary private and State nursing homes across Australia, and about 32,150 of this number are pensioners. This does not account for those who cannot get care. An anomaly in our hospital benefits funds is that for the most part these people do not qualify for benefits at the point of their greatest need. We find that most people believe that paying into hospital benefit schemes will cover them in nursing homes. This is rarely so. Voluntary and some private enterprise nursing homes undertake the care of pensioners on the basis of what they are able to pay. We know too that there are private nursing homes which will accommodate the sick aged only until their money runs out. Well, I guess the alternative for them would be bankruptcy. But the nation's concern must be with the humanities in all of this. Recently a matron of a private nursing home motored a patient back home because no cheaper alternative accommodation could be found. The anxiety and tension which many families endure over this situation must contribute in no small measure to the nation's health problem. This, I do not suppose, will stir honourable members opposite either

New awards being gazetted this year could close voluntary organisations providing nursing care unless substantial assistance is forthcoming swiftly from either State or Federal sources. Of course, we all know in this chamber that the cry from the Government is that this is a State problem. However, the fact is that the Commonwealth is the principal collector of taxation. It holds the purse strings and it is time that it showed sufficient principle by untying the purse strings for the benefit of the aged in the community. It is established that it is Government policy to encourage and support voluntary agencies in the field of aged care, and it can be reasonably anticipated that this new crisis in rising costs will receive realistic Government attention. We hope that that does, in fact, occur. Immediate financial assistance is imperative if voluntary agencies who major on nursing care for pensioners are to remain open. This cannot wait for another Budget. Governments expect to meet crisis situations from time to time. Bushfire relief and drought relief are usually met by swift decisions. An immediate $5ra may well match this Australia-wide crisis, and such a grant would win wide public support.

We should note that the present pension rate has not in any way increased the ability of the pensioner to meet increased charges for care. The 50c a week increase in the present Budget is an insult to pensioners and an affront to the public conscience. A 50c increase gives no additional purchasing power to the recipient. The present rate of pension represents only 35 per cent of the minimum basic wage in this country. The decision makers of Australia would not be prepared to live on the basic wage, much less on 35 per cent of it. Add to the pension the supplementary payments for which some pensioners qualify and the result is much the same.

It is time this nation stopped treating out aged people as third-class citizens. Pensions should not be a disposable pawn in any Budget. Justice must be done, and it is high time this nation said to Canberra that the rate of pension should always allow our senior citizens to live without anxiety. The rate of pension should always match the inflationary spiral of new costs. We can only conclude that in the current Budget the welfare voices in the Cabinet were not heard. I made reference to this earlier in the debate. The official line is that there will be a new deal for pensioners next year. What the nation can afford next year it can afford this year. The character of a nation will always be determined by what it does for the homeless, the aged and the sick.

J would now like to refer to nursing home fees. A statement in the 'Advertiser' on 30th July 1970 gave the impression that pensioners are being accommodated in a majority of nursing homes at a fee of around $35 a week, towards which the Commonwealth Government pays $14 a week and the pensioner $17 a week. On 22nd July 1970 the social workers conducted a survey of nursing homes and found that there were 39 beds available in the following price ranges: S30-$39 - 1 bed: $40-549- 1.1 beds: S50-S59- 20 beds; S60-S69- I bed; and $70-579-6 beds. Some of the dearer beds would have been eligible for a Commonwealth subsidy of S3 5 per week. However, it can be readily seen that in all. cases the pensioner will need extra finance from some other source to meet the weekly fee. Most of what I have said during the course of my contribution has come from a sermon which was preached by the Revend Erwin Vogt in the Maughan Church in Adelaide on 4th October. Most of what I have said came from the lips of that gentleman who is vitally concerned, as the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) who is at the table knows, wilh the increased cost factor confronting homes that care for and are concerned with the problems of the aged, the sick and the ailing. This gentleman is concerned that these people should not be left alone in homes be they homes provided by Commonwealth subsidy or others because they have reached the stage in life where they can no longer care for themselves. They have reached the stage in life where in fact the Meals on Wheels organisation can be of little assistance to them because of the fact that they need more intensive care than a knock at the door and a meal placed on the table. It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that these people are looked after.

The honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay), who has left the chamber, during the course of his speech this afternoon talked about what should happen on State government levels. His remarks were removed from the matters which should have concerned him in a debate of this nature. The honourable member saw fit to ridicule the move made by Mr Scott in Melbourne, which the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) dealt wilh, by saying that it was almost a subterfuge. He even cast some doubts on the character of some people who are representatives of the various pensioner organisations.

If honourable members on the opposite side of the House, who claim to be the government for the people and by the people, have any courage, any thinking or any conscience they will get up off their backsides and do what should be done. They should recognise their mistakes and correct them by introducing into this Parliament not later than next week a Budget which will at least go some way towards alleviating a very real social problem within our community. We will all get old, whether we are members of this House, spectators or what have you. We should not have to pay taxes for years in what is described as one of the richest countries in the world where people can fleece the public on bodgie share deals and so forth. The Government allows that to happen and then does not correct its mistakes in the social welfare side of the Budget.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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