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Tuesday, 9 November 1971
Page: 3195

Mr BERINSON (Perth) - I take the opportunity of this Estimates debate to raise a number of matters concerning the operation of the Aged Persons Homes Act. Some of the comments I intend to make will have to be critical and, so that I will not be misunderstood and in order to keep my criticism in proper perspective, 1 should make 2 preliminary comments. In the first place, 1 acknowledge that the present scheme resulted from a genuine and original initiative by the present Government parties. It was a good initiative. To the end of June 1971 the scheme has cost $125m and this has been money well spent. If, as 1 intend to do, I suggest that in part these funds could have been better spent or, even without any additional cost at all, the administration of the Act might have been improved, this is not intended to qualify the general approval of the scheme which I have already indicated. Secondly, I intend, time permitting, to comment on some administrative aspects of the homes. I should add here that I fully appreciate the time, energy and devotion of the many voluntary members of the respective management bodies. Indeed, I should think that the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) would agree that without their assistance the scheme might not have worked at all; certainly it could not have operated as economically as it has done.

There are 4 topics on which I hope to be able to comment: Firstly, the restrictions of Commonwealth assistance under the Act to capital expenditure only; secondly, the tendency of the scheme to give least assistance to those most in need as a result of the system of donationlinked entry which has developed; thirdly, the virtual absence of Commonwealth interest in the homes made possible by the Act once building has been completed; fourthly, the unfortunate reluctance by some management bodies to take residents into their confidence and to encourage their participation in the management work and decision making. The Aged Persons Homes Act commenced in 1954 on the basis of a £1 for £1 subsidy and was amended in 1957 to provide a £2 for £1 subsidy. From its inception, however, the subsidy has been limited to capital costs only and it is not at all clear that this limitation is either warranted or desirable. Indeed, to interpolate problems from other areas, the very common tendency of the Government to support capital but not maintenance costs is questionable, to say the least. For example, why should we grant tax deductibility for donations to build independent schools but not for donations towards teachers' salaries at the same institutions? Why do we subsidise buildings for handicapped children but not the costs of providing physiotherapists, speech therapists, doctors or nurses within them? Similar questions can be asked in relation to aged persons homes.

I have heard it said by social workers and geriatricians that our past tendency to favour large aged persons homes and in some cases such as in the Menora subdivision of my electorate, aged persons villages, is misdirected. The suggestion is that a much larger number of smaller developments in the original communities of the aged persons concerned would be preferable. There appear to be some very sound arguments in favour of this proposition. However, having developed in a different direction we should at least take the maximum advantage of what we have and the Commonwealth could very properly assist in this respect. Contributions towards maintenance costs, recreation facilities and occupational therapists would all be logical extensions of the present scheme which could be achieved at relatively small cost and the Government's continued emphasis on capita] contributions should surely be relaxed to accommodate them.

A more serious problem of the scheme, however, has risen from the development of donation linked entry. The theory is simple and attractive. An aged person donates one-third of the cost of his accommodation, the Commonwealth grants twothird of the cost of his accommodation, and the result is that the home can be built at no cost at all to the sponsoring organisation itself. At least until 1969 the situation was that on the death of the first occupant the process could be repeated a second time and so on ad infinitum. The result was that only aged persons with relatively substantial means could afford accommodation in these homes and low income pensioners, that is, those able to go into units on a minimum rental basis only, were effectively excluded. The annual report of the Director-General of Social Services for 1969-70 indicated official recognition of the problem and an attempt to tackle it. At page 42, under the heading Donations by residents', the DirectorGeneral said:

A new form of legal agreement with organisations receiving capital grants has been introduced. This agreement requires organisations to apply donations received by or on behalf of intending residents only towards the establishment of new accommodation. A long-term effect of this provision should be a gradual increase in the number and percentage of units allocated to non-donor residents.

However,. I am not at all sure that the new agreement will necessarily achieve its stated aims. The appropriate parts of clause 3 of the current agreement read as follows:

The Organisation shall not . . . use donations of money or other valuable consideration given to the Organisation by, or on behalf of, or in respect of, aged persons who are occupants or prospective occupants of an approved home, for any purpose other than purposes in connection with the purchase, construction or furnishing of the approved home or other approved homes. In particular, such donations of money or other valuable consideration shall not be used in connection with the day-to-day running costs or the maintenance costs of an approved home.

The relevant parts of clause 4 (2) state:

When accommodation in an approved home is vacated by the aged person who occupied that accommodation on the first occasion ... the Organisation shall allocate that accommodation in accordance with the object of reaching, as early as practicable, the position where at least half of the total number of aged persons accommodated in the home is made up of aged persons by whom ... a donation has not been made to the Organisation.

Putting these clauses together it means that an organisation, once it has reached the stage where half of its units are rented outright, can continue to sell the other half indefinitely while it is engaged in improving its existing buildings and furnishings or while building other units elsewhere. Moreover, the last section of clause 3 is simply incapable of. regulation, at least where donations are made by the families of residents rather than by the residents themselves.

In addition, the thousands of units built prior to the 1969 formula are not subject to the current limitations at all and in theory at least can continue to be sold in perpetuity. Can we then claim to be gaining maximum value out of the scheme while these real and potential barriers exist to the entry of low income pensioners? I am sure all honourable members will share my own observations as to the importance of the role of low cost accommodation to social service recipients. This does not apply only to aged pensioners; it applies to invalid pensioners and to working mothers who are widowed or single or separated. How often do we find that the difference between a reasonable and an unreasonable living standard is constituted by the availability of reasonable and genuinely low cost housing? I believe we should tackle this head-on by amending the agreement to allow any unit to be 'sold' no more than once, as a general rule, and no more than twice where the second payment is to be devoted to hostel or hospital facilities for aged residents in independent units who lose the capacity to care for themselves. Moreover, uniformity should be brought to the scheme by persuading pre- 1969 homes to accept the same conditions as apply to developments under later agreements. In most cases I am confident this would be accepted willingly and voluntarily but if necessary, as a last resort, it should be legislated.

The third problem which I refer to concerns the lack of continuing Commonwealth interest in the buildings once they are established. I believe that it should be continued for 3 reasons: Firstly, out of concern for the residents; secondly, out of concern to safeguard the very large Commonwealth investment in the scheme; and, thirdly, to assist the residents to safeguard, their own interests. It must be remembered that at the Government's insistence aged donors can receive no contractual or other legal rights to their accommodation. Without even suggesting possible impropriety by managements - I have seen no instance of this at all - the need for some different, form of protection for these elderly people can nonetheless be visualised.

Let me take the example of charges for rental accommodation. In my own electorate - and we are dealing purely with rental accommodation - rental charges range from $3 a week in the best instance to an instance which I have in my hand, in circular form, of $11 a week for the rental of a unit subsidised by this scheme. At $11 a week we are virtually operating at commercial rental rates. I also have correspondence here showing that these homes are not required to pay shire rates or water rates and in most cases in Western Australia they are exempt from land tax as well.

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

Mr BERINSON - As no other honourable member has risen- I will take my second . period now. As I have already stated, with rented accommodation costing $11 a week we are reaching the stage where we are operating virtually on a commercial basis in an area which was surely intended to be anything but commercial. The question which arises is: Was any such possibility envisaged by the Government when the scheme was introduced? Surely it was not. Yet the only check which the Government has retained is to be found in clause 11 (2) of the current agreement which reads:

Hie Organisation shall furnish to the DirectorGeneral, at his request-

I stress the words 'at his request' for reasons which I will indicate shortly - all records, books of account and documents relating to the approved home or homes, in the possession or under the control of the Organisation and afford all requisite assistance to enable the Director-General or bis agents to ascertain the true financial position of that home.

All that happens is that the organisation may be obliged, on request, to supply this financial information. My understanding is that no such request for information has ever been made in my own State. I do not know whether it has been made in any other State either, but I am also informed that even if this information were demanded it would not be made available, for example, to members of Parliament or even, strange as it may sound, to the residents of the homes who may be interested in the financial standing of the institution which they themselves occupy.

This last point is linked to the fourth matter which I indicated that I wanted to raise, and that is the lack of information and the lack of communication which appears to arise at least in some cases between the residents of homes and their managements. I think this is unfortunate. I have never been able to discern for myself any good reason why the financial position of a home should be kept confidential from the residents, that is, from the people who in some cases pay substantial sums to go into the home and who in other cases are paying maintenance and/or rental charges. I think it would be a highly desirable development for the Commonwealth, in expansion of its current interest in the further welfare of these homes, not simply to require that the financial position of the homes should be made available on demand to the Director-General, but that it should be made available annually as a matter of course to the Director-General, and also that any information appearing therein should automatically be available to the residents of the homes themselves.

I want to say and emphasise, as I did at the outset, that there is nothing in what I have said to suggest or to imply in any v/ay that I believe that there is any impropriety in the conduct of these homes. That is far from the position. But we are dealing with elderly people, people who need some understanding and need to feel that their opinions do count in the spheres in which they are operating. I put it to the Minister that the matters which I have raised in relation to the Government's actions and to the way in which the relationship between management and residents of these homes might be improved should be given due consideration.

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