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Tuesday, 19 November 1974
Page: 2484

The PRESIDENT -Is leave granted?

Senator Greenwood - No.

The PRESIDENT - Leave is not granted.

Senator WHEELDON -The purpose of the Bill is to give effect to a number of measures the Government has decided to take to increase the assistance provided for aged persons homes; also to extend the provisions of the Aged Persons Homes Act to handicapped adults. Under the Aged Persons Homes Act, as honourable senators will be aware, the Australian Government makes grants to non-profit organisations and local governing bodies towards the cost of providing homes for aged persons. When the Act was originally introduced in 1954 the subsidy was on a dollar for dollar basis. In 1957 the rate of subsidy was increased to $2 for $1 and has remained at that level ever since.

As announced by the Treasurer (Mr Crean) in his Budget Speech, the Government has decided that a further increase in the rate of the subsidy is now appropriate. The first of the measures in this Bill, therefore, is to double the present rate of subsidy, from the present $2 for $1 to $4 for $1. At the time the Budget was being prepared the Treasurer indicated that the increased rate of subsidy would not take effect until 1 January 1975. Because it is being found that the advance announcement of this increase in the rate of subsidy is resulting in organisations delaying commencement of building projects, it has been decided that the increase should now take effect from the date of royal assent of this Bill, instead of 1 January as announced earlier. The cost of the increased rate of the subsidy will be $2.5m in 1974-75 or $5m in a full year.

The second measure contained in this Bill, as I previously mentioned, is to extend the provisions of the Aged Persons Homes Act to handicapped adults. Experience has shown that the definition of aged person in the principal Act- namely men aged 65 and over and women aged 60 and over- is somewhat arbitrary and that people in younger aged groups often suffer from handicaps or disabilities which result in them also needing accommodation of the type provided under the Aged Persons Homes Act. Amendments contained in this Bill will enable such accommodation to be provided for handicapped adults in 2 ways: First by subsidising the building of homes specifically for people who are permanently incapacitated for work or permanently blind and, secondly, by permitting such people to be accommodated in aged persons' homes. As a result of this widening of the scope of the legislation the title of the principal Act is being amended from the Aged Persons Homes Act to the Aged or Disabled Persons Homes Act. The cost of this measure is expected to be $500,000 in 1 974-75 or $ 1 m in the first full year.

For the information of honourable senators I would like to mention at this point that this legislation will in no way supersede the operation of other legislation under which the Australian Government assists the provision of residential accommodation for disabled persons engaged in sheltered employment or for handicapped children receiving training. I refer, of course, to the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act respectively. The rates of the subsidies payable under those 2 Acts are, in fact, also to be increased from $2 for $1 to $4 for $1. The Bill now before the House, will, in effect, help to provide accommodation for those disabled people for whom accommodation cannot be provided under the 2 other Acts I have mentioned.

In the Budget Speech the Treasurer also announced that the personal care subsidy payable under Part III of the Aged Persons Homes Act to organisations providing personal care services for the aged in approved hostel accommodation would be increased from $12 to $15 a week. That, Mr President, is the third measure contained in this Bill. Hostels play an important role by providing accommodation for elderly people who, whilst no longer able to look after themselves in independent units, do not need the more expensive, medically-oriented care provided by a nursing home. The purpose of the personal care subsidy is to help bridge the gap between the cost-per-head of maintaining such hostels and the amount that pensioner-residents can afford to pay for such accommodation. When the personal care subsidy was originally introduced in 1969 it was paid on the basis of $5 a week for each resident aged 80 and over. In the 1972 Budget the rate was increased to $10 a week and further increased to $12 a week in the 1973 Budget, when eligibility was also extended to cover hostel residents who had not attained the age of 80 years but who required, and were receiving, the prescribed personal care services.

Personal Care Services are defined as: The provision of meals, assistance with bathing and dressing, the cleaning of rooms, personal laundry and general oversight of medication. The hostels are also required to have a staff member available at all times in case of emergency. During the past year the cost of conducting these hostels has continued to rise. According to information received from the Voluntary Geriatric Association of New South Wales the wages of staff employed in hostels went up by 26 per cent in the first 6 months of 1974. Information from other States indicates that similar increases have occurred. Food costs also rose by about 1 8 per cent.

In order to maintain the effective level of the Personal Care Subsidy this Bill provides for the rate of the subsidy to be increased by 25 per cent- from $12 to $15 a week with effect from the first subsidy 'pay day' after the date of royal assent. Needless to say, the Bill provides for personal care subsidy to be paid in respect of disabled persons, for whom accommodation will in future be provided, on the same terms and conditions as aged persons. The cost of this measure will be $800,000 in 1974-75, or $1.4m in a full year.

The fourth measure contained in this Bill relates to the basis upon which grants may be made under the principal Act to local governing bodies. The Act at present provides that moneys which have become available as the result of the borrowing of those moneys or any other moneys by an organisation, or were received by the organisation from the Government of the Commonwealth or of a State or from a Government authority, cannot attract subsidy. Since local governing bodies became eligible organisations in 1967 such bodies have constructed accommodation for only 602 aged persons, compared with approximately 25,000 accommodated by religious, charitable and other eligible organisations during the same period, despite the fact that local governing bodies would appear to be well-situated to enter the aged persons homes field. There is reason to believe that many more local governing bodies would be interested in providing homes for their aged residents if they could use loan funds to attract the Australian Government subsidy. On several occasions since 1967, the Annual Conference of the Australian Council of Local Government Associations has carried resolutions pointing out that Councils normally use loan funds for capital works, that adverse ratepayer reaction could be expected if revenue were used for this purpose and calling on the Government to amend the Aged Persons Homes Act accordingly. Legislation was passed by the Parliament in last year's Budget session, enabling local government borrowing to attract subsidy under the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act, which are 'companion' Acts to Aged Persons Homes Act. The cost of this measure should not exceed $500,000 in 1974-75, rising to about $ lm in 1975-76.

Finally, Mr President, advantage is being taken of the opportunity provided by this Bill to insert a machinery clause in the principal Act to permit the Director-General of Social Security to delegate his power to approve grants. This will relieve the Director-General of some of the great volume of routine work that has developed since the Act was first introduced in 1954. At present the Director-General has no such power of delegation and as a consequence every grant and every amendment to a grant has to be approved personally by him. In the other place the Minister for Social Security recently announced substantial increases in the maximum subsidy limits payable under the Aged Persons Homes Act and in the maximum grants payable under the Aged Persons Hostels Act. These increases, together with the extension of the Act to handicapped adults, the extension of subsidy to local government borrowings and the 25 per cent increase in the rate of personal care subsidy, represent a major improvement in the assistance being provided by this Government for aged persons homes. These measures, however, are only an interim step pending receipt of the report of a Committee of Inquiry into aged persons housing, which was set up by the Social Welfare Commission about 12 months ago. This Committee's deliberations have been prolonged because of the enormous volume of evidence it has received, but the Minister for Social Security expects to have its report within the next few weeks and to table it before the Parliament rises for Christmas. In the meantime, the measures contained in this Bill are necessary and desirable to sustain the program we inherited from the previous government. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) adjourned.

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