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Thursday, 3 May 1973
Page: 1652

Mr OLDMEADOW (Holt) - I should like to bring 2 matters to the attention of the House. The first is one that I believe will have the support of all honourable members of the House. The people involved would be regarded as a forgotten group in our community - a group which I believe could claim a sense of genuine injustice for the way in which it has been treated. I refer to those people who, for one reason or another, have to wear medical or surgical wigs. The present position is that no assistance is given by the Government, nor is it a matter for tax deductibility. The question may be asked: 'Who are these people who are forced to wear medical and surgical wigs?'. I point out that they include women, children and men. It is not a small group within our community. It would involve thousands of people.

These people have to wear wigs for reasons which result from medical complaints. In some cases it is alopecia which, in its chronic form, results in complete baldness. Accidents, burning, scalding and so on also can cause the loss of hair. The question may be asked: Why are they a forgotten group?'. I believe this is explained in a letter from one of my constituents who wrote:

In mitigation of the lack of consideration previously shown 1 think it is fair to say that the majority of sufferers from this handicap would find an approach to their parliamentary representative a little too embarrassing.

The key to the reason why nothing is done is probably the embarrassment that is caused to those who are in this position. Surely it is natural that a young child or a woman would wish to keep this matter secret. For this reason there are no organised groups as such and they have no voice in the community. In the past the only group that has spoken out for these people has been the manufacturers of medical wigs. The sufferers of baldness, particularly the children and the women's experience, as one can imagine, countless frustrations. Often humiliation is involved and this can be relieved only by the wearing of a wig. I wish it was possible to show in this Parliament photographs that I have here of a young lad aged 6 who is completely bald, and photographs showing the lad wearing a wig. Honourable members would see what a difference it makes. The purchase of a wig means a heavy financial burden on the parents or on the person concerned.

We should distinguish clearly between the wearing of fashion wigs and surgical wigs. They are not the same thing. The surgical wig must be made to perfect measurement and must match the texture and colour of the hair. Fashion, style or cosmetic wigs, whatever one likes to call them, do not have to conform to those same high standards. The result is that medical wigs are extremely expensive. I am informed by both purchasers and manufacturers that at present the cost is approximately $180. To allow for servicing and cleaning it is necessary to have 2 wigs. The estimated cost that I was given was that it would be $200 a year. I draw the attention of the House to an article in the 'Age' newspaper dated 22nd June 1972. It reads as follows:

People who have to buy wigs to conceal complete loss of hair (as distinct from cosmetic wigs) are no doubt happy that the Government promised that the cost of these high-priced wigs will be tax deductible after the next Budget. It is a concession which is long overdue. Had these people been living in Britain, things would have been different. More than $3m is spent each year by the British government on supplying wigs free on National Health Service to people whose doctors consider they need them. Each patient, as here, has to have 2 wigs. They are made of human hair and cost about $100 each. In Britain the State also pays for the periodic cleaning.

Two points emerge from that article. The first is the promised concession of tax deductibility for 1972-73 which did not eventuate. The second is that the British Government not only supplies medical wigs free but also pays for periodic cleaning.

I submit to the House that as a first step we must make medical wigs a tax deductible item. To prevent abuse, this may necessitate the presentation of medical certificates as evidence that the people receiving the relief are in fact purchasing medical wigs. For the future, I sincerely hope that the Government will go much further and that wigs together with many other items that are prescribed for medical reasons, such as spectacles and false teeth, will be included in a comprehensive national health scheme.

The second matter that I would like to bring before the House relates to education and concerns my own State of Victoria. I am particularly concerned about a number of matters where there has been a failure by the State Government to spend money that has been made available to it by the Commonwealth. In the first year of the triennium of the Commonwealth libraries program the Victorian Government claimed only $500,000 out of the possible $2,300,000 that was available to it. In my electorate 2 schools on the short list in 1971 wei e promised emphatically that they would get their libraries in 1972. They are the Doveton High School, of which I was a member of the staff at the time, and the Noble Park High School. Throughout 1971 nothing took place. In 1972 - an election year - they were promised that there would be action. But I would highlight the point that those 2 schools in my electorate should today have the advantage of a Commonwealth library.

Another area in which Commonwealth money has been made available and not used as quickly as it should have been is the area of technical training grants. In the first 20 months of this program we find again that the Victorian Government failed to use all the money that was available to it. During this period $3. 5m which could have been claimed in fact was not claimed. Again I am concerned from a personal point of view. I live in the city of Dandenong. On visiting the Dandenong Technical College recently I was told by the principal that the college's most urgent need - the children at this college have 13 portable class room buildings - is a middle school complex. A technical training grant would be applicable to that area. The information that the college received is that the money is not available. At this stage $3.5m from the Commonwealth Government remains unclaimed. I know that Mr Thomp son in the Victorian Government will eventually take this money from us. I do not doubt that, but the fact remains that this money should have been used when it was first made available so that the students could now be getting the benefit of it. In this regard I would point out that it is rather hollow to promise that $62m is to be spent on education when one queries whether the efficiency of the Victorian Government will allow that amount of money to be spent. One also feels that it is a little hollow to promise one year's kindergarten training when in fact this was one of the issues we took to the poll on 2nd December.

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