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Thursday, 28 November 1974
Page: 2971

Senator WHEELDON (Western AustraliaMinister for Repatriation and Compensation)

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to incorporate my second reading speech in Hansard.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Georges)- Is leave granted? There being no dissent, leave is granted. (The document read as follows)-

This Bill, which repeals the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act, consolidates and extends the Australian Government's programs of assistance to voluntary organisations that have assumed responsibility for the welfare of handicapped people. In doing so it takes us several steps further in our endeavour to give handicapped people every opportunity to live full and useful lives. The Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act has been in operation for more than 7 years and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act for more than 4 years. Both have proved beneficial and during these years both the Department of Social Security and the voluntary organisations through which the various services are provided have learned a great deal.

The number of disabled employees in sheltered workshops in 1966 was just over 2,000. That number has now increased to almost 10,000. The gross production income of sheltered workshops in 1966 was $2.2m. By 1974 the income had risen to $16m. But it had become clear that there was need for further improvement, not only in the basic services that were being provided, but also in the peripheral activities that help the handicapped people to participate more fully in the general life of the community.

These questions were discussed at length with representatives of the Australian Council for Rehabilitation of Disabled, the Australian Association for the Mentally Retarded and the consultants engaged by the Department of Social Security to assist the voluntary bodies to develop effective sheltered workshops and hostels. The program that was evolved as a result of those discussions forms the basis of this Bill. Although the Sheltered Employment (Assistance) Act and the Handicapped Children (Assistance) Act will be repealed the main provisions of those 2 Acts are continued and expanded. It is designed to cater for the needs of handicapped children and handicapped adults who do not require constant medical attention but who, nevertheless, need special facilities to enable them to take thenplace in the community.

The broad details of the new measures were contained in an announcement made earlier this year by the Minister for Social Security, when he outlined a 15-point program for the welfare of handicapped people. This Bill gives effect to those of the 15 points that require legislative action. I should like to refer to several of the more important provisions.

The subsidy for establishing sheltered workshops for handicapped adults, training centres for handicapped childen and hostels for both children and adults will be doubled from $2 to $4 for every $1 raised by voluntary organisations. This will take effect from the date the Act receives royal assent. The extension of the rental subsidy to many new types of project will, I am sure, result in the provision of many additional and much needed services. It will also enable organisations with very limited capital resources to provide facilities. The renting of an existing large home for use as a half-way house for handicapped people being re-established in the community is but one example. The Bill also transfers the provisions relating to the handicapped children's benefit which is now administered by the Department of Social Security, from the National Health Act to this Act. In doing so the rate of benefit has been increased from $3 to $3.50 a day, and provision made to enable short absences, such as when the child returns home for a weekend, to be disregarded.

Voluntary organisations are being faced with increasing overhead expenditure, especially on wages and salaries. And they have all had the experience that while it is still possible to get donations towards the cost of a tangible project such as a new hostel or workshop, it is much more difficult to raise charity funds to meet operational costs. The Bill introduces a salary subsidy of 50 per cent for approved staff. This provision, which previously applied only in relation to sheltered employment, will now apply to the whole range of prescribed services. With new ventures 100 per cent of staff salaries may be paid for up to 2 years to enable the service to become established.

Also as a result of this Bill, voluntary organisations will be able to obtain subsidy assistance towards the cost of establishing activity centres for those handicapped people who cannot meet the requirements of a sheltered workshop. The

Bill will also assist the development of recreational and rehabilitating facilities that are ancillary to either the workshop training centre or activity centre. It will encourage organisations to put greater emphasis on the social interests of the disabled.

It is not enough to provide these people with training, sheltered employment and accommodation. They also need encouragement to lead a more normal social life and to develop the capacity to accept and be accepted by the society in which they live. At this point I would like to express my appreciation of the work of the voluntary agencies. There is a very special role for them to play for there are many people whose needs are best served by these organisations. Although the Australian Government provides for the general economic welfare of the disabled, it is the voluntary organisations that are able to help, in a way not possible for a Government department, in the personal day-to-day care of many mentally or physically handicapped people.

Voluntary organisations have an 'individual touch'. They can deal with the person as a whole, helping with not one but perhaps four or five interlocking personal difficulties. And they can be so much more flexible in their approach. This personal interest is irreplaceable and this is why the co-operation between the voluntary agencies and the Government is so vital. The Australian Government has the financial resources; the voluntary agencies have the grassroots understanding. By working together we have achieved much. This Bill opens the way for us to achieve more.

The provisions that are contained in this Bill constitute the Government's considered program for an area of special need. It caters for physically and mentally handicapped children and adults most of whom require assistance by way of training, supervision, employment or accommodation if their lives are not to be wasted. It provides a balanced and integrated program that is intended to serve an area of social need bounded on one side by the program of the Australian Assistance Plan, and on the other by the Hospitals and Health Services Commission. It will also be necessary to ensure that the assistance provided for handicapped children is coordinated with the activities of the Schools Commission.

All of the measures contained in this Bill deeply involve the community. But they are measures that the community wants and, indeed, in many cases has taken the initiative in supplying. It is a privilege to be able to join forces with these voluntary organisations and so make their efforts more effective.

We, in this Government, accept that a Government's duty is not discharged simply by assisting handicapped people to live in comfort. We accept as a challenge the role of joining with community organisations to broaden the horizons of handicapped people, to promote their abilities in both occupational and recreational activities, and overall, to improve the range of their social opportunities. At a time and in a country where expectations of higher life styles are continually rising from a base of affluence and social improvement, we want to ensure that the needs and aspirations of all Australians are met. I believe some Australians whose legitimate claims on the social conscience of our community have been the highest, have in fact, been short changed.

The morality of the social contracts written by past governments for some of these groups has been very much open to question. All too often it has been a case of those with the most financial and political influence, the most access and the most highly developed sense of their own importance to our economic and social system receiving the most attention. On the other hand the modest, the humble and the handicapped have received only token attention. The exciting new provisions covered by this Bill provide a significant measure of the social progress we have made in the past 2 years. One measure of a civilised community is the size of the gap between the reasonable aspirations and the opportunities to fulfil those aspirations of its members. With this Bill our Government is aiming to reduce one of the gaps which has existed for far too long in Australia. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) adjourned.

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