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Thursday, 8 November 1973
Page: 1671

Senator JESSOP (South Australia) - I would like to refer to the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Bill 1973. 1 am pleased to see that this Bill provides for the extension of finance to local government authorities in Australia to enable them to provide training centres, training equipment and residential units for handicapped children. I believe that it is wise to involve local government in this activity. Many children in the community will benefit from this piece of legislation. When one considers that in Australia today many children are being held back because of problems associated with, for example, dyslexia, multiple sclerosis and other disabilities that affect their mental processes- deafness, poor vision and so on- one can identify many thousands of children in our communities who require further assistance. This Bill, in my view, will go a long way towards fulfilling this need. It seems to me that the Government has paid some attention to the report on mentally and physically handicapped persons in Australia which was presented in the Senate some dme ago by the Senate Standing Committee on Health and Welfare. I know that my colleagues Senator Dame Nancy Buttfield and Senator Davidson, were very prominent members of that Committee and worked with other senators on that reference. I believe that the work they did was of tremendous value and I think that in this legislation the Government has recognised, to a degree, the importance of Senate committees.

I refer to the need to follow up the recommendation of the Committee that a national advisory council for the handicapped be established. If we are to provide local government with more finance for this purpose, it becomes more and more urgent that we provide not only local government authorities but also State governments and church organisations with an expert panel of people who can advise them as to the projects they should embark upon and where their money can be spent most profitably. This legislation will mean that we shall need more social workers, occupational therapists and other people involved with ancillary professions working in this important area for the benefit of the less fortunate children in Australia. So, I remind the Minister for the Media Senator Douglas McClelland of the statement made by his colleague, the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), this year, I think, that the Commonwealth is to set up a national advisory council on the handicapped. This, I believe, is an urgent need and must be carried out quickly to ensure that the money which we will provide to local government will be used in the best interests of the children to whom I have referred.

I notice that the Committee, in its report, recommended the allocation of more funds for these purposes, including the establishment of courses of training for professional staff concerned with the handicapped and other matters such as the setting of standards in services for the handicapped throughout Australia. The Committee reported that 44,000 handicapped children had been identified in Australia. I think that is a pretty conservative number. I am quite sure that if we made an intensive examination of this problem we would find that there are nearer 50,000 handicapped children, and possibly more. So, I am quite sure that this is an urgent need. We want to see a national advisory council set up as soon as possible. I commend the Government on the action it has taken in this Bill and urge that an advisory council be established.

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