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Thursday, 14 September 1972
Page: 1411

Mr PETTITT (Hume) - It is with pleasure that I rise to support both the Bills before the House today. They mark a very definite advance in the Government's programme of assistance to the aged and the frail aged. Already it is a programme of which we can be proud and one that has entailed the spending of a tremendous amount of money. The need to provide accommodation in the many fields involved is very important indeed. Many organisations have taken advantage over the years of the Government's $2 for $1 subsidy. It has been of tremendous assistance to many of those organisations. One of the very good features of these Bills is the provision of assistance to those organisations which already have proved their ability and their desire to do all that they can to assist with the provision of accommodation for the aged.

The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) said that the Government had provided money that had not been spent. Let us just get that into perspective. It is up to the organisations to apply for that money. If they have not applied then it cannot be spent. The Government is always prepared to approve an application provided it meets the requirements. I am reminded that back in 1967 when we were discussing the legislation which extended the $2 for $1 subsidy to local government bodies, the Opposition delayed the legislation for more than 6 months because it claimed that it was not specifically spelt out in the legislation that industrial unions could benefit from the $2 for SI subsidy. I remember very well that the then Minister pointed out that that was not so, that there was provision for industrial unions to obtain the subsidy. However, the Opposition held up that legislation for 6 months. It is rather significant that, as far as I can discover, no industrial union has ever applied for a subsidy. So I think the honourable member's criticism was rather uncalled for and unfair on that point.

I wish to deal with the increased subsidy for nursing homes. This is something, of course, which has been needed urgently for quite some time. Many organisations which provide nursing homes and assistance for the aged are faced with great difficulties because of rising costs and increased wages. I feel that the personal care subsidy is an important part of this legislation. The Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) very carefully spelt out in his second reading speech that in order to qualify for this subsidy it will be necessary for these homes to provide meals, to employ sufficient staff to help the residents who need assistance with bathing and dressing, the cleaning rf rooms and so on. lt is important to note that this subsidy will be paid to homes caring for people over 80 years of age and also for any other aged persons who need particular care. Again this will involve the Government in substantia] expenditure. The increased subsidy should provide something over and above the cost to the hostel of accommodation and other expenses for each patient in the home. It should allow for some pocket money, which up to date too often has been missing. The Aged Persons Hostels Bill is a timely piece of legislation. It will bring a tremendous amount of relief in this area.

As honourable members know the Government has over the years provided assistance in relation to 3 types of accommodation: Firstly, for self-contained units, which assistance has been a tremendous success; secondly, for hostel type accommodation, which has not been taken up to a great extent due, I think, very largely to the cost of servicing this type of accommodation and paying for the staff; and thirdly, assistance for nursing home accommodation. There has been a tremendous increase in nursing home accommodation. Very often elderly people are forced to go into nursing homes because no hostel accommodation is available for them. A substantial number of pensioners would fall into the category of being better accommodated in hostel type homes. The Minister has estimated that about 50,000 pensioners - which is a large number of people - would be in this category. He said also that it has been estimated that the number of aged people needing accommodation is increasing at a rate of about 1,000 a year. The present method of subsidising homes on a $2 for Si basis will never catch up on the backlog unless urgent action is taken.

Assistance for the provision of hostel type accommodation is specifically directed at increasing the availability of accommodation as soon as possible. It is well known that many nursing homes, particularly the hostel type, have large waiting lists, I know that in my own area there is great difficulty in getting accommodation for people in nursing homes and in hostel type accommodation. Many of the country hospitals are filled with geriatric cases who are accommodated at considerable expense to the taxpayers. In many cases it is unnecessary expense and these people are not in the best atmosphere. The Minister went on in his second reading speech to' point out very rightly, that a hospital or a nursing home is not always the best atmosphere for an aged person who still is reasonably active to be living in, and that it is much better for a person to look after himself as far as is possible rather than to be treated as a patient. We know that because of a shortage of staff there is a tendency - I speak from some experience on this because of my association with the situation - for aged people to be left in bed too long, not because of any lack of interest by the staff but because of the sheer inability to get them out and moving as they should be. The costs incurred in accommodating these people in nursing homes and hospitals would go a long way to providing hostel type accommodation.

We are continually faced with the problem of a greater demand for accommodation for aged people. This is something that is part of what we call our developing civilisation, but sometimes I wonder about it. More and more people are unable or unwilling to provide for or to care for aged parents. The provisions in this Bill for home assistance will be a big factor in this regard. I think it is very good that we are encouraging people where possible, to keep their relatives at home. It is essential that where this is not possible we should provide accommodation for people who are not nursing home patients. Most of us know how aged parents enjoy their grandchildren; they are very very welcome in small doses but when they are continually around it creates friction in the home. Very often elderly people are much happier in a different environment such as a hostel type atmosphere where they are able to move about and take an. interest in everyday happenings.

It is unfortunate that there is in some sections of the State departments a resistance to establishing hostels in country areas. People who have lived in the cities all their lives imagine that to go out into a country town is to go out to the bush or the scrub where there are no facilities whatsoever. I have in mind one proposed hostel which was criticised because no facilities were available for the people. It is situated about 100 or 150 yards from 2 substantial general stores; nearby is a post office, a public hall, a library, and even a hotel should anyone desire . to go there. How many hostels in a city would have facilities equal to or as convenient as those? .. .

Another point I stress in regard to institutions located in country areas - and I am thinking now of one which is in my electorate, the Mount St Joseph Old Peoples Home in Young - is the part which is played by the town. This home has become the responsibility and interest of the town because it is the only large institution of this type in this town, other than the local hospital, which excites the sympathy and interest of the people of Young. The individuals in it remain individuals rather than members listed in a card index system. The nome itself has became the responsibility of the local people and there is human atmosphere about it. There are many senior citizens who, having gone to the city to work, are pleased to come home to the quietness and the sympathy and interest of people in a country area. I stress that there is a need and a place for hostel type accommodation in the country.

There are many successful nursing homes in country areas which will be grateful for the assistance provided under this Bill. I am delighted to see the worthwhile financial assistance which will be provided in the provision of new beds and the purchase of furniture for new nursing homes. I think that this is a tremendously worthwhile provision for institutions which have already proved their interest and ability to look after aged people. These homes are being given an extraordinary amount of assistance to increase their ability to provide services for people. In other words, we are giving support to the tried and proven and those who have shown an interest. This is tremendously worthwhile.

I know that the Minister and the Government want to get this legislation through as quickly as possible, and I know how urgent it is. There are many other aspects that one could deal with in regard to these 2 very worthwhile Bills. I conclude my remarks by saying that these Bills, particularly the Aged Persons Hostels Bill which provides for a 3-year crash programme, will provide something which has been desperately needed in this community for a long time; they will provide a challenge and an opportunity for many people to accept some worthwhile assistance for the frail aged and the people in our community who need assistance and whose numbers are increasing as a percentage of the total population.

I commend the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) for the work that he has put into this matter. I congratulate the Government for supporting him. I do not think that we have ever had a Minister more dedicated to his portfolio. I speak perhaps with a little more knowledge than many because I am Chairman of the Government Members Social Services Committee. From working with the Minister and with that Committee I know just how sincere and keen he is and how hard he works to do all he can for those who are in need in this community. I have very much pleasure in supporting the Bill and commending the Minister and the Government for one of the most worthwhile measures that has been introduced in this Parliament for social services, atleast during my time in this House.

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