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Thursday, 8 November 1973
Page: 1660


Senator DAVIDSON (South Australia) - As the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (Senator Cavanagh) has said, these 3 Bills- the Aged Persons Homes Bill 1973, the Delivered Meals Subsidy Bill 1973 and the States Grants (Home Care) Bill 1973-will be debated cognately. We will debate the 3 Bills together perhaps emphasising the areas in which we are either involved or in which we have a particular assignment to carry out. One of the features of government in recent years is its involvement in the ever-widening sphere of social welfare. As patterns of society change so the need for government leadership strengthens and the leadership of government involved is intensified and the more diversified.

In the sphere of attention to those citizens of senior years who are sometimes described as the aged- if I may say so they are too often called the aged; I prefer the phrase 'senior citizens'- the pattern of society has changed dramatically. We have seen the emergence of the new styles of family life, the economic changes and the new place of older people in our community. This is not the first time that the Senate has had discussions about senior citizens or the older group in our community. The Bills which the Government has put down for discussion this afternoon are Bills to which members of the Opposition do not have any opposition at all. Members of the Opposition are interested in the steps which the Government has taken. They are interested in the pattern which the Government has prescribed, but we lend our assistance to ensure that the benefits which are outlined in the Bills as prescribed in the Minister's second reading speech are carried forward and receive the assistance of the Opposition Parties. The Aged Persons Homes Act was first introduced in 1954, which is quite a time ago, during the regime of a previous government of the same political complexion as the present Opposition. This Act encouraged organisations of a non-profit nature to enter the field of the provision of homes for senior citizens. There were provisions in this original Act for capital cost subsidies. In the first instance assistance was given on the basis of one pound for one pound. This encouraged religious, church, charitable or returned service organisations to establish homes in which senior citizens and people of senior years could be accommodated. In 1957 the one pound for one pound subsidy was increased to an amount of two pounds for one pound for capital costs. There was a later development in 1967 when local government organisations became eligible for this subsidy.

In 1 969 the Act was amended to include personal care subsidies. This personal care subsidy program was established to provide a benefit to homes for the aged that were described as approved homes. To receive this subsidy these homes were required to meet certain circumstances and qualifications. These included the provision of meals and the employment of sufficient staff to help the residents who were in need of any particular personal care. Initially the personal care subsidy was fixed at $5 a week for residents aged 80 years or over. Last year it was increased to $10 a week for persons aged 80 years or over. The Aged Persons Homes Bill provides for the increase of this amount by $2 from $10 to $12 for persons deemed to be in need of personal care services. The eligibility age limit which was previously described under the Act as 80 years or over is to be amended to include all those persons in those homes who are in some need of attention. The 80 years age situation will not apply in the way it did prior to the introduction of these measures.

During the course of this quite extensive program- a program of great variety- for aged people and senior citizens, something like $ 1 7 1 m has been approved and accommodation is provided with the aid of this amount for something like 50,000 senior people. The Minister in his second reading speech said:

It is obvious therefore that the Act has enjoyed a considerable amount of success.

We appreciate the Minister's acknowledgement that this has been a success. He will not mind my saying that this success has been achieved by previous governments which not only have pioneered this field of care for senior citizens but also have put into practice a wide range of services and accommodation for the benefit of senior citizens. One of the very important principles of the program which has been going on through the years has been the fact that the government of the day has provided circumstances, financial assistance and opportunities for community groups and other organisations to help senior citizens. In short it has been a case of the government helping the community to help other people.

It is important in this age of rapid change in our society and rapid development in community thinking towards aged people to state this principle: The aged persons care system must never become another total government social exercise whereby sums of money and facilities are handed out and personnel made available without any sense of responsibility or indeed response from the community itself or from the senior citizens so involved. In my view the best way in which senior citizens can be assisted is a system whereby community involvement must be complete and continuous. This means that there must always be involved groups of people such as committees, social workers, auxiliaries, fund raisers, visitors, social scientists, social study groups, educational and recreational groups and vocational advisers. Every one of these groups must be involved. What is more, the community involvement must have a strong element of voluntary involvement or at least semi-voluntary involvement. I take leave to point out this afternoon that this is the pattern that has been followed. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has been good enough to indicate that the pattern which has been followed has been a success. I imagine that by using the word 'success' he meant not only that it has met with a considerable degree of response from the Australian community but also that it has been of great benefit to the senior section of our community.

One of our first and, indeed, strongest responsibilities to those who are in their senior years is to care for those of them who are in need, those of them who do not have sufficient finance or facilities to enable them to carry on the standard of living which most people in Australia expect today. It is also important to point out that not all senior citizens are poor or in need of assistance in their day to day living, but that all people who are in their senior years have the same serious problem, that is, they all suffer from the same conditions of age. They may be lonely; they may be isolated; they may have no relatives to care for them; or they may have no homes to go to. The program of the last years of the previous Government has shown that there is an essential need in our society to provide facilities for aged people in whatever circumstances they find themselves and from whatever financial group they come. So the Minister chose well when he used the word 'success' to describe the program of the previous Government. The Aged Persons Homes Act has been a success since its introduction because it has provided facilities for all kinds of people who have only one common link, that is, the fact that they are in their senior years.

I note with considerable interest that the Minister for Social Security is not altogether satisfied with certain features of the scheme and that he has asked the Social Welfare Commission to carry out a critical appraisal of it to see whether it can suggest any better ways of providing a program of accommodation for aged people or senior citizens. While he is awaiting receipt of a report on the result of its deliberations, the Government proposes to make some amendments to the Act. I have been interested in the report which the Social Welfare Commission has distributed headed 'Annual Report 1973'. It is in fact the first report of the Interim Committee of the Social Welfare Commission. In the early pages of the report, under the heading of Philosophy', the following comment appears:

The general purpose of social policy- which encompasses such areas as education, housing, health services, employment policies and other matters, as well as the more specific issues of income-security payments and personal welfare services- is to provide an environment in which the individual is given the opportunity to develop his or her personal abilities to thenmaximum potential. Special provisions must often be developed for particular individuals or groups of people who are in need of particular assistance to enable them to cope with inherited or environmentally induced disadvantages.

Social welfare policies have traditionally centred on the disadvantaged. However, in the last few years in Australia, there has been a growing concern to ensure that community health, welfare and legal services, as well as adequate education and housing, are available to the entire community as a matter of right rather than as an act of charity.

I underline the words 'as a matter of right rather than as an act of charity'. That is a philosophy which, if I may say so, the previous Government endeavoured to implement through its wideranging plan of providing services to aged people. I note with interest and, indeed, approval that there is in this report a maintenance and a carrying on of the philosophy that these kinds of services are a matter of right rather than an act of charity. I return to the section of the report devoted to philosophy. It states:

The Commission considers that it is of the highest importance to develop a different approach to the planning and provision of welfare services. It considers that the traditional medical' model of treating social problems as sickness, or deviation, has proven unsatisfactory and inappropriate. The counter position, which the Commission endorses, recognises the need for fundamental changes in society. Initially, it is necessary to develop community-based systems with a network of services to which people may be linked if they have family, health, educational or personal problems.

In that paragraph the Commission is indicating that there is a need for a change in approach to the whole matter of social welfare policies, especially as far as aged people are concerned. That may or may not be true, but I have in approval the matter that the Commission is. examining the total area to see where the unsatisfactory and inappropriate elements lie. I am not convinced that the program which has been heretofore followed is entirely unsatisfactory or inappropriate. On the other hand it has been acknowledged that there have been vast advances and improvements in social studies and that the matter of care for aged people, whether it be in aged persons homes or in their own homes, needs to be thoroughly and continually investigated and that every progressive opportunity that can be taken advantage of should be embraced and implemented. Nevertheless it also should be recognised that when these schemes were first embarked upon some years ago the Australian Government of the day was reflecting those processes of modern thought and research that were being used in various parts of the world at the time.

The measure to which I am at present referring relates to the personal care subsidy, the details of which have been outlined in the Minister's second reading speech and to which I have already made some reference. But in relation to any matter which takes up the case of senior citizens I think the Parliament needs to draw the attention of the Australian community to the fact that it- the Australian community- needs not only to rethink but also constantly rethink its attitude to senior citizens. Too often we have fallen into the habit of thinking that by the establishment of homes or other institutions we have solved the problems of our senior people. Involved in the whole environment of our senior people is the matter of their retirement and what they do on their retirement. That, of course, is a study in itself which I do not propose to examine or pursue at length this afternoon because we are dealing with a matter which provides for certain facilities and assistance to the community of senior people.

While the original plan behind the providing of homes and capital subsidies for homes was to care for the people who live in those homes, it needs to be placed on record that the thing the Australian community has to do today is give very serious thought to how it integrates into the total community those people who have, according to the chapter and verse of various books, reached retiring age. I do not think it is sufficient just to say that in order to meet a situation we will provide a whole lot of recreational activities, craft centres and things of that nature. It is true that they are necessary, desirable and meet the needs of a wide range of people but there are a large number of people in our community today- I suggest the number is going to increase- who, at the age at which society says they shold retire, are Stil in possession of their faculties, abilities, ideas and who have a physical capacity for work in relation to which they can continue not only to make a contribution to our society but also create for themselves years and years of job vocational satisfaction. Therefore I hope that as the Government prepares its program of social welfare and as the Social Welfare Commission swings into action the Government will take into account the vocation and occupation by which the talents and abilities of our senior citizens can be involved.

I want to say only a few more words in regard to the States Grants (Home Care) Bill 1973. Many of the things which I have already said apply to this legislation. But it needs to be observed that as this is a States Grants Bill it involves money granted by this Parliament to the States which must be spent in a certain way which is laid down in the Minister's second reading speech. In that speech the Minister said that the Bill provided for 3 forms of assistance. He pointed out that firstly it provided assistance for home care service schemes which give housekeeping and other domestic assistance for aged people in their own homes; secondly it provides assistance for the building of senior citizens centres; and thirdly it provides assistance for the employment of welfare officers employed by or in association with senior citizens centres. Very obviously the main object of the Bill is to provide extra funds for the present home care program by providing a more generous basis on which finance is made available. The Minister expressed his hope that the terms of this subsidy will prove to be an incentive to what he called 'an accentuated development of the home care program services'.

The proposal to increase the subsidy for the home care service schemes is an extension of that which is in operation and which provides the facilities for keeping aged people in their own homes. One of the social problems with which all of us have had some association is the situation whereby senior citizens have to be moved from their own environment with which they have become familiar for a long time into another environment which might provide security and a whole lot of other social advantages but which is not the area in which these people have grown up and with which they have been long associated. This matter calls for a balanced approach. It is true that there are those of us who would prefer to stay where we have spent most of the years of our lives. It is true that there are people who are prepared to put up with discomforts and disadvantages so that they can stay in this environment. But a judgment has to be made in regard to whether or not a person should be moved into an environment which is more secure but which does not have the same kind of relationship to which I have just referred. Such a judgment provides a difficulty. I hope that in the implementation of this plan the Government will always take into account the dignity of our senior citizens and will ensure that there is a minimum of emotional upset so that the people who have the opportunity to take advantage of the home care service scheme will be able to take the maximum advantage of it, not only in regard to material facilities which the scheme may provide but also in regard to matters of their own personal satisfaction and good will.

The second measure to which this Bill refers is the building of senior citizens centres. The development of senior citizens centres and clubs is something that has taken place in recent years and it goes without saying that they have provided a great deal of satisfaction and happiness to a great number of people. All of us have had some association with senior citizens centres. I have had a personal connection with two or three in my own State and I have seen for myself some of the conviviality, comradeship and club.manship which these centres provide. But like all organisations of this kind they not only provide community centres but they also reflect community patterns, and because human nature is what it is they also run into the problem of personal feelings, and sometimes those personal feelings can be very strong. I think that in the implementation of this section of the legislation the Minister or those who will administer the Act on his behalf should always be very watchful of this element of human nature so that senior citizens will not be disadvantaged in the running of these centres, so that the community in which the centre is placed will not be disadvantaged and so that the centre can maintain a high reputation of care for people of senior years.

The third and final objective of this Bill relates to the employment of welfare officers. As time goes by the employment of appropriate welfare officers becomes more and more urgent because there are a greater number of people to be serviced. While voluntary helpers and workers do a splendid job there is a point beyond which many of these people cannot go simply because they may not have had the training to take them beyond that point or the time or the facilities to render the kind of service that a trained welfare officer can render. Therefore it is important that there should be a sufficient number of these people available. At the same time it must always be remembered that people who are served by any welfare officer program should never be placed in the position where the welfare officer determines what they should do. This is an area in which advocacy, conversation and an exchange of views by the senior citizens and staff of the institutions must be observed and maintained. The Government has given an indication that it is aware of the many involved and changing problems and situations that are associated with that section of the community which I call senior citizens. I am glad to support the measure which is before the Senate this afternoon. I hope that in the implementation of the provision of extra funds and services the Government will never lose sight of the human dignity of the citizens involved. I support the measure.







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