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Thursday, 8 November 1973
Page: 1666

Debate resumed from 1 1 October (vide page 1 1 8 1 ), on motion by Senator Cavanagh:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Senator Douglas McClelland (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Mr Deputy President,I suggest that this Bill and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill 1973 be debated together.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Prowse) -Is it the wish of the Senate that these 2 Bills be debated together? There being no objection, that course will be followed.

Senator DameNANCY BUTTFIELD (South Australia) (2.52)- I am pleased to be able to speak in support of these 2 Bills, on behalf of the Opposition, and to say that we offer them a speedy passage. However, I would like to say a few words in respect of the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Bill and to offer a few suggestions. I think my remarks could refer equally to the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill. For many years I have been very closely associated with the 2 largest sheltered workshops in South Australia. It certainly is extremely heartening to see the way that handicapped people have helped themselves in their difficulties, with the assistance of the previous Government, which did so much for them, and now this Government which, by introducing this Bill, is providing them with further encouragement. There is no more deserving section of the community than those who are disabled, be they adults or children. Most of these people have a great deal of thenlives ahead of them and have to face the handicaps they bear. Sheltered workshops are the most effective method of rehabilitation known. They certainly provide vocational rehabilitation and work in a work oriented atmosphere. This, as I mentioned yesterday, is the most important and effective way of going about vocational rehabilitation.

In the past voluntary organisations have done their utmost to provide sheltered workshops and homes for handicapped children, but it is quite obvious that they cannot provide all that is necessary. At present we have about 160 sheltered workshops employing 8,000 people, most of whom are handicapped. However, no complete survey has been undertaken to tell us exactly how many handicapped people there are who need these facilities and work opportunities. We certainly know that there are many thousands more than those already provided for. For this reason I am delighted that the Government now is to subsidise local councils which borrow in order to provide buildings for this purpose. I hope that if local councils do the building themselves they will consult constantly with the voluntary bodies which have had so much experience in this field and have so much to offer in the way of advice and co-operation with them.

I mentioned that much was done by the last Government by way of subsidising personnel who assist handicapped people in sheltered workshops and reimbursing people who are returned to open industry if they remain in industry for one year. The previous Government also subsidised hostels so that handicapped people can live near the sheltered workshops, as well as the building of the workshops themselves. Equally important, I think, is the fact that under the previous Government the Public Service modified its terms of employment so that handicapped people could be employed in that sphere.

The Public Service also has been extending its contractual opportunities for work done in sheltered workshops. However, there are one or two other measures that I would like to mention. I mentioned them in the past to the previous Government. Although it did a great deal to assist, these ideas which I will explain to the Senate have not yet been implemented. I hope that this Government will take them seriously and urgently and do something about them.

The most important suggestion relates to the special supplementary allowance for handicapped people. The allowance now has been raised to $4 a week. However, the anomaly is that, once a handicapped person working in a sheltered workshop earns $5 a week, his allowance stops. If he happens to be working in a sheltered workshop which does not provide transport for him, he no doubt is out of pocket. If he earns $5 a week he does not get the special allowance, and possibly his transport will cost him more than that. In order to get to work, he is out of pocket. I urge the Government to look at the question and to find ways of permitting the special allowance to be paid to a person who is courageously employed in a sheltered workshop.

In addition to the problem I have just mentioned, which relates to a person who is paying for transport and is out of pocket, there is another anomaly. If a person can earn $5 in 2 or 3 days at a sheltered workshop, he does not continue working for the rest of the week so as not to lose the allowance. This is a definite deterrent to a person trying to get into regular employment and thus being rehabilitated back into the work force. There is a tendency for a sheltered workshop not to pay in excess of $5 so that an individual will not lose the special allowance and so that the workshop itself can retain the allowance which it receives from the Government. Some workshops have to repay an enormous amount to the Government. I mentioned that I am closely associated with workshops in South Australia. One of them is the biggest in the southern hemisphere. It is known as Bedford Industries. Only last week that organisation had to pay back to the Government, in respect of one week, $661 which it had received by way of special allowances, because people were earning more than their $5. 1 repeat that this practice is a definite deterrent to people helping themselves, and I hope that the Government will soon do away with it.

Another matter which deserves urgent attention is the need to investigate government contracting with sheltered workshops. In Australia we have no policy for Government contracts in this respect. In the United Kingdom a Treasury circular of 195 1 provides a policy in this respect. In the United States of America the Wagner.0'Day Act of 1938 also provides a policy. In the United Kingdom part, if not all, of a contract can and must be given to sheltered workshops if they can meet the quality control and delivery requirements. This certainly would be of advantage. In the United States, workshops have a preference from the government in regard to contracts. In Australia at present the situation is relatively or reasonably satisfactory because we have full employment. Therefore, sheltered workshops can find the contracts and the work that they need, but in a time of less affluence there is a tendency for them to look for government contracts in order to keep people employed. It is almost impossible for sheltered workshops to engage in competitive tendering because of the difficulties concerning costing. Their costing is not normal, and therefore it would be of great advantage if the Government provided that some part of government contracts must go to handicapped people in sheltered workshops.

There is only one other small item that needs urgent attention, and that is the provision of assistance to transport handicapped people to their place of employment. It would be of enormous advantage if the Government were to grant an allowance, perhaps to the sheltered workshop itself, for the provision of the transport of handicapped people. This would be not only of assistance to the community because it would ensure that these handicapped people got to work, but it would be a great incentive to a handicapped person to find employment for himself. I again congratulate the Government in taking a further step to assist handicapped people, both adults and children, and I urge the Government to look at these further anomalies in the near future.

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