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Tuesday, 3 December 1974
Page: 3075

Senator GRIMES (Tasmania) - Senator Guilfoylehas outlined the functions of the Bill and has pointed out how the Bill repeals the Sheltered Employment Assistance Act and the Handicapped Children's Assistance Act and replaces them. It represents an evolution in the development of our care of the handicapped, a system which I believe was largely started by Mr W. C. Wentworth when he was the Minister for Social Services. For all my philosophical differences with him, I recognise him as a man of great enlightenment in this field. We are not repealing and replacing these Acts because they are unsatisfactory but because they do not quite fit our ideas and, I am sure after hearing Senator Guilfoyle, the Opposition's ideas of the assistance we should give. There has been great development in sheltered workshops, to the extent that some of them have become very viable industries. One can think of Bedford Industries Vocational Rehabilitation Association Incorporated in South Australia and others in other States that are a great advance in giving handicapped people a sense of fulfilment and a sense of achievement in society so that they can feel that they are not so very different from anyone else and that with very little help and rehabilitation they can get somewhere and achieve something.

I believe that in the past there has always been a tendency to take a simplistic approach to the handicapped and to divide the whole community into 2 groups- the normal and the handicapped. Out of this approach has arisen the idea that we must build accommodation and workshops- but particularly accommodation- to cater for the more severely handicapped. However, we have left out the group that is less severely handicapped which with very little rehabilitation and a modicum of help could lead fairly independent lives in the community. The psychological effect on these people in the past has been very severe because people who have not a great handicap have had to be accommodated and have had to work and train with those who are very severely handicapped. They have reached the stage at which they feel different and isolated in the community. As Senator Guilfoyle said, in the past this field has been almost confined to the voluntary organisations and the dedicated few. These groups are owed a debt of gratitude by both the handicapped and the whole community. Their attention to this problem and their development of solutions to the problem of the handicapped should be recognised by us all. In the 1970s they cannot go on alone. This is the reason that the Government in this Bill provides for aid to be given directly to these organisations.

We hope that by providing this aid we will be able to increase the flexibility of the aid to the handicapped and provide a variability in accommodation for them so that the problems that we have had in the past of having too rigid a form of accommodation and rehabilitation will be overcome. One problem, although it can be partly overcome by this Bill, will not be overcome. That is the tendency we have had in the past in all the States to draw a rigid line at the age of 16 yearsbetween the time when persons can be accommodated in a home for handicapped children and after the age of 16 years when they must be accommodated in a home for handicapped adults, if such homes exist. Frequently they have not existed. Quite recently I came across a disturbing case of a 16-year-old boy who was working in a sheltered workshop in a capital city, who was accommodated in a hostel that was suitable for handicapped children- not severely handicapped children- who turned 16 and who because of various circumstances could not go home. He had to be accommodated at the local mental hospital because there was nowhere else for him to go. In being accommodated at the local mental hospital he was uprooted from the environment that he liked and in which he was advancing at the sheltered workshop. This was not the fault of the people who had to put him there. This was not the fault of his parents. This was not the fault of the people who ran the institution. This was the fault of the whole system because we have not provided accommodation for these people in the grey area who are no longer children but perhaps not yet adults.

I feel that this rigidity of approach must give way to a flexibility in which accommodation, ranging from almost the hospital type to hostels, flats and bed sitters, must be provided for handicapped children. I hope with the increased aid that is given in this Bill and the increased aid that I hope will be given in the future that the voluntary organisations especially and perhaps the State governments will be able to extend the facilities particularly in accommodation. This is very important for those who live in rural areas and those who live in small country towns who must go to the cities or the big country towns where the training and the sheltered workshops are available. It is just not economically or practically feasible for these people to be trained in the small towns from which they come. This Bill goes some way to improving the system, but we still have a long way to go. I think we all must remember that the increasing sophistication of modern life and scientific knowledge have benefited those of us who have no handicaps, but the associated complexity of life has disadvantaged many people and made life very difficult for them. We must use some of the benefits that we have gained to assist our less fortunate brothers and sisters. I commend the Bill to the Senate, but I think we all recognise that this is just another step in the evolution of our care. If we can continue to assist voluntary organisations and others in developing care for the handicapped we will improve their lot and improve society as a whole.

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