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Wednesday, 26 September 1973
Page: 1554

Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) - 4 rise to support the 3 Bills which we are debating, the Aged Persons Homes Bill, the Delivered Meals Subsidy Bill and the States Grants {Home Care) Bill. No doubt the Government brought these measures down because, with inflation raging as it is, it is essential that some assistance be given immediately in the 3 fields of social welfare which these 3 Bills cover. Legislation in favour of aged persons surely has the support of all honourable members, irrespective of the side of the House on which they sit. Irrespective of whether they belong to the Liberal Party of Australia, the Australian Country Party or the Australian Labor Party, I feel sure that all members of the House are in support of this legislation and in favour of the giving of more assistance to aged people in the various fields.

The Aged Persons Homes Act was originally introduced in 1954 by the Menzies Government in order to encourage and assist religious, charitable and ex-service organisations which were providing homes for aged persons to expand their activities or, if they were not already doing so, to induce them to enter the field. There is no doubt that the Act has been most successful over the years in this regard. It has enjoyed a great deal of success in the 19 years of its operation. Grants totalling $171m have been approved and accommodation made available for approximately 50,000 people in Australia under the aged persons homes legislation.

Legislation which the Liberal-Country Party Government introduced in this House last year has enabled institutions and homes which had not previously participated in the $2 for $1 subsidy to do so. It has allowed many of the older institutions to provide up-to-date facilities for aged persons. The introduction of that legislation last year was met with great acclaim right across the board. Many charitable and religious organisations have taken advantage of it. In my own electorate of Paterson three or four institutions have taken up the challenge of the Government and decided to go ahead and build new installations. The first one to come to mind is the Yates Memorial Home at Singleton, which is conducted by the Methodist Church. It has accepted the Government's offer and is going ahead with the building of new units for aged people. That will be of great benefit to the area.

The Maitland Benevolent Society, which is 107 years old, also has accepted the responsibility of erecting new accommodation. In this instance the grants to be made available to this institution will toe of the order of $467,000. Last Saturday week I had the privilege of opening a fete for the Society. A fete is conducted once a year by an excellent committee for the raising of funds for the Society, which provides excellent accommodation for aged people in Maitland and in the Hunter Valley. Aged people are well looked after in this institution. When the building of the new units is completed more accommodation will be available for aged people in the area. St Joseph's Convent at Lochinvar, which is also in my electorate, will qualify for assistance under the Aged Persons Homes Act. It intends to provide 84 beds and furnishings at a total cost of approximately $676,000. This proposition is being investigated at the present time. I have no doubt that arrangements will be made after the architect has completed the preparation of plans for this institution for work to go ahead and for new units to be built to accommodate aged persons. The Convent of Mercy at Singleton also will benefit from the legislation, although in a smaller way.

I have read carefully the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) and have noted that it is his desire and the Government's belief that residents of aged persons homes should be allowed to elect representatives to the boards of management of their homes. My observation, from visiting these homes, has been that the aged people in them have no desire to undertake any further responsibilities. Most of them are pioneers who have paid their taxes over the years, who have reared their families, who have accepted their responsibilities in the past and who are now happy to stay in these homes, in which they are extremely well cared for, without having to accept any responsibilities. Although I think the Minister was full of good intentions when he brought forward this suggestion, I do not think it will meet with the success that the Minister is apparently hoping for.

The Minister for Social Security has also stated that he is disappointed with the response to the Aged Persons Homes Act by local government bodies. These bodies became eligible to avail themselves of the provisions of the Act as a result of an amendment to it in 1967. Grants to municipal and shire councils have totalled only $2.2m and have provided accommodation for fewer than 500 people. That is no doubt disappointing, but one has to take into consideration the tremendous demands made upon all local government bodies to do all sorts of things. It is very difficult for them to obtain and provide finance for the provision of aged persons' homes. I should say that there would not be a shire councillor or alderman who would not desire to participate in this field of social welfare. The trouble is that the councils are prevented from taking part by a lack of finance.

It is interesting to note the organisations which have availed themselves of the $2 for SI subsidy over the years and the number of persons who have been accommodated toy organisations which have participated in the aged persons' homes scheme. A total of 1,143 religious organisations, 1,338 charitable and benevolent organisations, 34 ex-service organisations, 76 organisations approved by the Governor-General and 32 local government organisations have participated in the scheme. A total of 2,623 organisations have participated in it. As I mentioned previously, they are looking after approximately 50,000 aged people. I have also' mentioned the total amount of the grants provided. Whilst it is desirable to have local governments participating in the scheme, they have not the muscle to do so, although they are entering into the social services field in many ways. I feel - I think honourable members will agree with me - that social services are in the main the responsibility of the State and Federal governments.

The Aged Persons Homes Bill seeks to increase the rate of subsidy from SIO a week to $12 a week, which will be of great benefit to the institutions providing homes for the aged. The Bill also provides for the amount of the subsidy to be calculated on the basis not only of the number of residents aged 80 years and over in a home but also in respect of any other residents - that is, those under 80 years of age - who also require and are receiving personal care in these institutions. I know that the people who are conducting these institutions will be very pleased indeed that the subsidy has been increased. No doubt it has been increased with good intention and by reason of the inflationary trend in our economy to help these institutes and their inmates.

So much for the Aged Persons Homes Bill. I wish to speak very briefly, in the time that is available to me, about the Delivered Meals Subsidy Bill. The major aim of the Meals on Wheels organisation is to supply certain persons with one nutritious meal at least 5 times a week. Of course, the service provided goes far beyond that. To many elderly citizens in our community the delivery of these meals provides the only regular social contact they have. My wife and the wives of many other members of Parliament take part in the providing of Meals on Wheels services in the various communities from which they come. No doubt the aged folk are delighted to see these kindly people visiting their homes and providing them with nutritious hot meals. This contact ensures that frail or isolated people receive a daily check on their state of health. This is important as the people delivering the meals can see at first hand the health of the aged people. Meals on Wheels helpers frequently report that an elderly person is in need of attention. Meals on Wheels workers and all those wonderful people who have formed themselves into committees, who arrange for meals to be cooked and delivered to aged persons, are giving great service to the community and a great social service to those people who have been pioneers, who have helped this country develop and who have now reached the end of their service and are being looked after in this way.

The Bill provides for a further subsidy of 5c per meal. Last year when the LiberalCountry Party was in government it increased the 5c allowance to 20c. This Government is carrying on the good work by increasing the allowance from 20c to 25c per meal. I support the legislation in its entirety. I hope it is the forerunner of more assistance to aged persons as time goes by.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

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