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Thursday, 11 May 1972
Page: 1580

Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - I express my appreciation of the fact that this report is being discussed by the Senate this afternoon, and my commendation of the programme and process by which from time to time we are to give attention to Senate committee reports. As has been said by previous speakers this afternoon and at other times by all of those who know the situation, reports are produced as a result of an extended amount of work by a committee. Sometimes those of us who are involved in these committees feel that the reports do not receive the attention from the Government that they should receive. But this process which we see exemplified today is an answer to a concern we felt regarding the fate of the reports and an uneasiness in the minds not only of people who take part in the committee, but also those who spend a great deal of time, energy and thought in preparing submissions and who come to share with the committee their opinions, their experiences and their ideas on what course of action should be taken.

The comment has been made already today that the Government has been slow in implementing the recommendations contained in the reports of various committees. All of us who have served on committees and who have brought in recommendations certainly would like to see action taken by the Government quicker than has been the case to date. At the same time, it should be acknowledged that the Government already has taken a deal of action over a period of time in relation to a number of reports. The report of the Senate Select Committee on the Metric

System of Weights and Measures is a fairly good example to indicate the truth of what I have said. I would certainly like to see a great deal more attention given to the recommendations contained in the report of the Senate Select Committee on Water Pollution, of which I was Chairman. It should be said, at the same time, that as a result of the. activities and the report of that Committee governments, not only the Commonwealth sphere but also in the States, have moved into this field in a way that they had not done before.

I am especially mindful of my most recent exercise with the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts. The report of that Committee on the Commonwealth's role in teacher education was tabled in this Senate this session. It has been received very favourably indeed by the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser). He has indicated that he has referred certain of the recommendations to education councils and organisations of that nature with a fairly firm view of looking favourably at the recommendations brought down. So I hope that the response of the Minister for Health (Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson) today, and the Government's response in the future, to this report which we are discussing this afternoon will be sympathetic and will show that there is a genuine endeavour to implement as many of the recommendations as is possible, if not in detail then at least in spirit, and if not in complete fashion then at least in part, with a pointer towards eventual implementation in the future.

A government, of necessity, must take political decisions, and it takes those decisions against the background of a series of factors which a committee discussing an issue does not have to take into account. A committee makes recommendations on other bases and on other premises. A committee represents a dialogue between *:he parliament and the people, and I hope that in the blending of a committee's activity the Government also will be aware that a committee brings to the parliament the results of its dialogue and, therefore, will be able to respond not only for the good of the people but also for the good of what I would call the political condition of the country.

The report before the Senate was brought down by the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare which conducted an inquiry into mentally and physically handicapped people in Australia. The Committee's report received a good response when it was put down in The Senate by its then Chairman, Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood, who I think most honourable senators know had a great personal interest in this sphere of needy humanity. She carried on this role not only in the Senate but also in public life in Victoria prior to and during her term of office as a senator, and since her retirement from the Senate she has continued that role in another fashion altogether at a national level. Her work in this field has been acknowledged. She brought an element of dedication to it which has been followed since she left this place. When she put down the Committee's report the Press of the day reacted favourably and drew attention to what it considered to be the important areas in the various recommendations. It would not be a surprise to any of us to learn that the Press reports at the time picked up the fact that the Committee of which I was privileged to be a member put down recommendations which called for more help for the handicapped and needy people, and for additional facilities to be provided to aid those who happened to be afflicted.

When this Committee was carrying on its activities it became very much aware of the wide spread contribution made to our Australian society by the voluntary organisations. lt also became aware of the necessity not only to recognise the difficulties of those people who may be afflicted or who may be described as handicapped people, but also to recognise sympathetically the difficulty of those who are related to these people, either by ties of blood or in other ways, in attending to them and providing for them. In our introduction to the report we referred to the fact that disablement, handicap or impairment of the capacity for life and work was one of mankind's greatest personal and social afflictions. Of course, that is stating a fairly obvious fact, but when one, as a member of a committee, comes face to face with issue after issue this impairment of the capacity for life and work becomes apparent. When we studied this matter further we became aware that there was a great unevenness in this field throughout Australia in terms of facilities, services and staffing. It would be true to say that only in recent years has it been emphasised that the successful rehabilitation of the handicapped and those who have been impaired can yield tremendous social benefits to the country and - 1 suggest this is more important - tremendous economic returns. The remarkable advances in medical treatment, rehabilitation procedures and techniques of education surely will contribute towards an era in which mentally ill or retarded people will be able to become useful and satisfied citizens in the community instead of just being left to languish in institutions and homes.

As I said a few moments ago, assistance to handicapped people in Australia always has been spearheaded by voluntary organisations. In the main - very much in the main - they have been financed by groups of hard working relatives and friends of the handicapped. The unevenness throughout the country in this sphere was manifest and apparent. It persisted both in terms of treatment and co-ordination, and even in terms of differing recognition of the problem from one side of the country to the other. The report of the Senate Standing Committee contains 85 recommendations. That is a lot of recommendations. Perhaps some of them might well have been grouped together for the purposes of general description, but I think it was important that a Senate committee which was charged with bringing to the Senate a story on this very sensitive and needy area in our community should put down clearly and in detail, even if it involved as many as 85 recommendations, the feelings of the committee so that they would be clear to the Government and to the community at large.

It has been said already this afternoon that one of the matters about which we were concerned was the lack of information on this difficult area. We feel strongly about this. Some of the recommendations refer to the fact that there should be a disability register; that there should be an opportunity to provide for future estimates, and that there should be greater attention to statistics in relation to the disabled and the handicapped.

The Senate Committee also spelt out some recommendations relating to prevention and treatment, lt dealt for quite a while with recommendations concerning education - pre-school education, the main schooling area and teacher training. It is important that some attention be given to the area of vocational training and the recommendations in the report dealing with this subject. The all-important area of rehabilitation also was among the 85 recommendations that received attention. This covers employment, compensation, pensions, benefits, and matters relating to taxation. It was important that we make recommendations concerning aids, appliances and accommodation. The Senate would not be surprised to read amongst the recommendations of the Committee references to home nursing, the architectural design of buildings and the all-important area of administration.

I think 1 should point out to the Senate and to the Minister that the report which the Senate is discussing this afternoon is based on the combined wisdom of no fewer than 70 written submissions from interested departments, organisations and individuals throughout Australia. Sworn evidence was received from 45 witnesses and the Committee held 10 public hearings, all in Canberra. The combined effort of submission of evidence and of deliberations has resulted in this report containing these recommendations being put before the Senate.

As I said earlier, during the inquiry it became evident that the size of the handicapped population was unknown and that services to the handicapped within Australia had developed in what we may call a piecemeal and fragmented fashion. As I said in another context the other night, no fewer than 6 Commonwealth departments accept a measure of responsibility for the handicapped. The Committee considered that some form of co-ordination was very necessary indeed. The voluntary organisations throughout Australia have reached the stage at which they can no longer carry the increasingly heavy burden. This is evident from the high cost of maintaining organisations. Witness after witness from the voluntary organisations drew our attention to this. They referred to the high cost of staffing organisations and their facilities. They said that the demands of the people they served were increasing, that their desires were such that there was an increasing cost to meet their demands. I said 'demands' but perhaps I should have used the word 'entitlements' instead.

More handicapped people within our community are becoming increasingly aware of their potential. More of them are becoming aware of the fact that there are opportunities of which they can avail themselves. They are becoming aware that they can make a useful contribution to our total society and, more importantly, they can get personal satisfaction from it. The relatives of handicapped people and those who live closest to them are becoming increasingly aware of the potential of these people. All of this has made an enormous demand on the voluntary organisations and we were told again and again that they have reached the stage where they can no longer carry the very heavy burden. Voluntary organisations have to realise that they have to face a very difficult situation.

All of us who have dealt with this report - in fact all honourable senators present - have had associations with organisations which endeavour to serve and help handicapped people. I had the experience a few Sundays ago of starting one of those walkathons or marathons, whatever they are called, in aid of the Phoenix Society in South Australia. This organisation, as its name indicates, is engaged in the rehabilitation of handicapped people. I stood in a parking lot in an Adelaide suburb surrounded by a lot of people who were members of the Society. Most of them were in wheel chairs or needed some kind of assistance to help them along. They set off that afternoon to traverse a certain distance in order to raise a certain sum of money to aid their own cause. I thought of this particular report as I played my small part on that occasion. The occasion highlighted the fact that there needs to be not only greater Government awareness; if we proclaim that there should be greater Government awareness surely we should call for greater community awareness, greater community involvement and a greater sense of community responsibility. Another of my activities relates to handicapped Aborginal children from the Northern Territory. They are cared for in a hospital in Adelaide with which I happen to be involved. Here again is a situation in which people are helpless to rehabilitate themselves and voluntary organisations are doing a great deal.

I must not let this opportunity pass without registering the fact that the Commonwealth Government is one of the great friends of movements of this kind. I refer to direct grants of finance, the provision of its own health and welfare services and the provision of long term loans to enable voluntary organisations to undertake wider, more intensive, more efficient and more effective work. This report highlights the work of voluntary organisations and the needs of people, and calls over and over again for increasing awareness of the problems by the community at large. 1 turn now to the reference in our report to education. I want to mention the speech which Dame Ivy Wedgwood made when she tabled the report. She said that the Committee had been told that there was an Australia-wide shortage of all categories of teaching staff concerned with the handicapped. She went on to say that the Committee recommended various diploma courses in rehabilitation. There were further references to training for nurses, teachers, therapists and social workers. This is a matter of particular interest to inc. I referred earlier to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts on the Commonwealth's role in teacher education. I take the liberty of drawing attention to chapter 6 of that report which refers to the training of what we call special teachers who handle special classes of children who demand a particular form of training. We drew attention to the fact - this is reflected in the report we are discussing today - that there are few such courses in Australia.

One of the submissions to the Committee which investigated teacher training stated that provision within the State education systems for the special training of teachers dealing with the mentally retarded virtually is non-existent, although awareness of this lack is evidenced by recent moves in some teacher training colleges to introduce special courses. We pointed out that there is an urgent need for at least one recognised training course for special school teachers in each State. The evidence given to that Senate Committee indicated an Australia-wide shortage of teachers of the handicapped. It is all very well for us to talk about education for the handicapped but we must ensure also that as we do this we talk about some facility for teaching the teachers. We discovered that opportunities and facilities for the training of such teachers are few and that they vary considerably from Stats to State. All teachers in all schools educating the handicapped should have sufficient background to recognise the common learning problems of the handicapped child and should be able to refer those children with the more serious problems to special classes or to special schools at a very early age. Honourable senators may care to refer to the Committee's report and its recommendations for establishing special arrangements for training teachers who will have the special job of teaching handicapped children.

Turning, very briefly, to the report itself, I would like to draw attention to the references to home nursing and domiciliary care. Honourable senators will recall from their reading of the report that domiciliary nurses, or people who are engaged in domiciliary nursing, form part of what we call the community health team in which the general practitioner provides the essential continuity to the health care for each individual and family whilst domiciliary nurses operating from either a hospital or a community based service ensure that specialised nursing is available in the home when necessary. More importantly - this reflects something 1 have said once or twice today - the family concerned can be counselled or helped as to the best way in which it can take advantage of other services provided, perhaps by hospitals, local councils or voluntary agencies. We strongly recommend that visiting nursing services, providing not only health supervision but also demonstrations and nursing care, should be designed to help all persons who have a disability, to help them adapt to the limitations which have been imposed upon them and to enable them to live among their families and friends rather than to find their way into some impersonal institution.

1.   refer also to the matter of rehabilitation to which I referred earlier. I pay my tribute to the many organisations within our society which are giving their time and talents to the rehabilitation of people who are suffering from a handicap. Indeed, in our report we went on to say that the final phase of a successful rehabilitation programme is to place handicapped persons not only in places where they can receive training but also, as near as possible to those places in maximum, normal and continuing employment. We urge the Government to look at the situation in which handicapped people are unable, due to the severity of their disability, to do work of economic value. The importance of this programme cannot be understated. As 1 said earlier, it is a way in which they can play a satisfying and meaningful part in our community.

I have only one other reference to make to handicapped people. As with the references of other honourable senators, it arises from my association in recent times with a particular matter. 1 do not want to delineate a particular area of handicap which could be claimed to be more needy than any other, because all areas are needy. But representations have been made to me very recently on behalf of a group known as the Association of Adult Deaf Societies, lt has drawn attention to the fact that the adult deaf are quite unlike any other type of handicapped person. They arc able to obtain employment and lend a relatively normal life in the community. They do not require, because of their deafness, any special medical or paramedical assistance. But, because of the highly unusual nature of the problems arising from deafness - of course, these are concerned mainly with communication - the adult deaf do not fall into the normal categories of the handicapped or of those requiring welfare assistance. But, at the same time, they do have a great claim on the assistance of the hearing community. Of all the handicaps we are capable of sustaining, deafness is probably one of the most profound. It not only cuts a person off from verbal conversation but also denies him a ready access to language itself and to all the complexity and richness of human experience that language opens up to us. This is just one example of a handicap with which I had an involvement in recent days and which highlights the importance and the underlying concern set out in the Committee's report and its call for a Government response.

I hope the Government regards the report as a balanced one. As I said earlier, it deals with an area that is distressing and sensitive. It deals not only with handicapped people but also with those closest to them. The 85 recommendations involve a great amount of money. We have to remember that, if we seek money from the Government, the Government can only obtain it from the people. 1 want to place on record my appreciation of what the Government has already done for handicapped and needy people. The report deals with people who are placed in circumstances beyond their control. If we expect the Government to do things for these people, there is equally a call for the community to show a greater awareness. Already many thousands of people are involved in voluntary organisations. The work of voluntary organisations can be best expressed and very wonderfully undergirded by additional funds and services being made available by the Commonwealth itself. Handicapped people are people and not statistics. Because they are people, a feeling of understanding and compassion and a sense of humane responsibility are required. After all, we are our brother's keeper and those of us who have the blessing of a full life should be concerned with those who suffer from some disability or handicap. I commend this report to the Senate and to the Government. I hope that now and in the future the. Government will use it as a basis on which it can make a continuing response to meet the needs of needy people.

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