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Thursday, 27 September 1973
Page: 1683

Mr CHIPP - I thank the House. The Bill recognises the need to encourage further provision of facilities for handicapped children and workers. The numbers receiving benefit under the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act are approximately 7,500 and 12,000 respectively - a small proportion df the total handicapped population. The Report of the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare on Mentally and Physically Handicapped Persons in Australia of May 1971 noted the absence of accurate data on the numbers of handicapped people', in Australia. Invalid pensioners apparently number 150,000. Estimates suggest that between 1, per cent and 2 per cent of our population, that. is,, between 120,000 and 240,000 human beings, .may be mentally retarded. An estimate by ,the Department of Social Services of 1971 put the number of handicapped children between the ages of 0 and 20 years in Australia at a minimum of 44,000. Therefore we are dealing, with a situation which recognises a great .number of human beings in our community who are handicapped either physically or mentally. Obviously there is a need for greater expansion of facilities for the handicapped, as' provided for in these Bills. The Minister's second reading speech recognises the haphazard distribution of workshops, a fact recognised in the Senate report to which I referred previously. It stated:

The Association of Sheltered Workshops of New South Wales submitted that little consideration had been given in the past to the geographical location of workshops. In a number of cases small workshops catering for one particular type of disability had. been set up in close proximity, without full assessment' 'df the likely future requirements in that area. Also, in the case of country establishments, consideration should be given to providing regional centres rather than small units in individual towns.

The Committee agrees with this logic and considers that the planning of future workshops should be on a regional basis and a matter for discussion between the interested voluntary organisation and authorities responsible for planning of community health services.

The problems of workshop distribution may require more supervision and selective encouragement than is presently provided for. Despite the current labour shortage - this is an aspect that concerns me deeply - employers appear hesitant in making use of handicapped workers. The 3 September 1973 issue of the Victorian Employers Federation report states that last year 11,000 disabled people were registered in Victoria as wanting employment but only 4,800 were placed. Placement figures for 1970 were 1,100; 1971, 2,200; and 1972, 4,800. The report continues:

There appear two main sources of employer objection to the employment of these ' people. Firstly fears have existed that employing disabled persons would jeopardise employment opportunities for others. Consequently, employers fear that involvement could cause disputes with unions^ 1 am one member who has been as critical as anyone in this House of trade unions, but I would dispute the point that any responsible trade union would register any kind of. protest against employers employing handicapped people. I feel that this is an imaginary fear that employers have placed in their own minds. Surely discussion between employers and trade unions could result in a solution of this objection

It also gives me no comfort to say that most State governments seem to be reluctant to give permanency to employees with disabilities. This is in contrast to the policy of the Commonwealth Government, which has passed legislation enabling disabled persons to gain permanency. Secondly, some employers fear the quality of the service they would receive from the disabled employee. But those associated with the employment of handicapped people would strongly and immediately refute this objection. They maintain that employees with restricted abilities are. extremely loyal, efficient and conscientious people. This they attribute to the fact that such a person values his position and is therefore prepared to work hard and honestly to ensure that he is retained. Also his special advantage is that generally he is less accident prone than his fully able counterpart due to his greater awareness of the need to be safety conscious. The Commonwealth Government currently maintains about 150,000 people on invalid pensions, many of whom are employable assets. The report of the Victorian Employers Federation continues:

Certainly, if this situation could be improved, then it would mean, not only a reduction in the Government's social welfare commitment, but greater production and higher productivity.

I conclude with one comment on the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill. I ask the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) or the Postmaster-General (Mr Lionel Bowen) who is now representing the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) to convey my remarks to the Minister. The Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill makes no provision comparable with the provision already in the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act providing for a subsidy for salaries of professional counselling and medical staff in workshops. I wonder why there is the distinction. I think this is something that the Minister could ask his Department to examine. There seems to be no reason for the distinction and why subsidies on salaries of counselling staff should be provided for elderly people and not for handicapped children. It would seem that younger children would be more amenable to and just as much in need of professional care as handicapped adults. I should be glad if the Department would look at that question. The Opposition wholeheartedly supports the 2 Bills.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lamb) adjourned.

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