Ageing And Disability Department
AGEING AND DISABILITY DEPARTMENT
Debate resumed from 1 June.
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [11.30]: I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate. The establishment of the new Department of Aged and Disability Services by the Labor Government brings the needs of ageing and disabled people to the forefront of the Government's social policy agenda - an agenda that was sorely lacking under the previous Government. The Carr Government is committed to seeing that the needs of key groups that have additional support requirements are adequately met so that they can continue to make a valuable contribution to society and their local community.
The establishment of the Department of Aged and Disability Services by the Carr Government has elevated the importance of matters associated with ageing and disabled people to the full status of a department. The creation of the new department not only brings these issues to the forefront of government decision making; it also reinforces the strategic importance of a whole-of-government approach to policy making for these groups. The honourable member for Eastwood in his address on 1 June suggested that the new department would lose its ability to "range across all departments". He said:
How wrong can he be. By conferring departmental status on the department, the Carr Government has ensured that the whole-of-government reform agenda for both disabled and ageing people will receive priority. Clearly, access to necessary mainstream services for both groups is critical in ensuring that individuals receive the services they need to continue to live as independently as possible within the community. The Government's commitment to ageing and disabled people is at the cutting edge. In the Government's policy for people with disabilities, this matter not only receives close attention; it also is highlighted as a major strategic priority to be addressed if disabled people are to take their rightful place as full community members.
Similarly, the establishment of a whole-of-government planning framework for ageing people will ensure that issues associated with ageing are not marginalised but are kept at the forefront of the Government's social justice agenda. To support this new arrangement further, the Carr Government will establish a Cabinet coordinating committee. The Cabinet social justice committee, involving a range of key Ministers, will focus its attention on improving service coordination and delivery across portfolios and at a local level. As Deputy Premier, I will chair the committee in its deliberations and ensure that fundamental change is achieved in the way that services are provided.
Barriers to access, poor coordination, lack of consideration of consumer needs and traditional service models will be challenged. The Government's goal is to match better the needs of individual consumers to a range of flexible service options. Coordination of support agencies through this forum will result in more efficient and effective outcomes for individuals and a more equitable availability of support to meet individual needs. Clearly, the allegations of the honourable member for Eastwood that the whole-of-government approach is missing from these arrangements cannot be further from the truth. The honourable member suggested in his address that the Government's establishment of a new department with combined obligations is, to use his words, an insult and sends a message that ageing is a disability. He said:
It is precisely that former focus and bureaucratic reach that is missing from the new departmental arrangements.
The Government's intention is obvious: it is to have the needs of both ageing and disabled people put squarely on the Government's agenda. How could
that be misconstrued in such a negative way by the honourable member for Eastwood? This is the first time that any New South Wales government has sent a clear message to the community that issues associated with disability and with ageing are of paramount concern. The Government's enlightened approach can be readily contrasted to the years of neglect under the coalition Government. During the coalition Government's seven long years in office, it instituted a social injustice policy for people with disabilities by closing institutions for people with mental illness and psychiatric disabilities, and not supplying the necessary accommodation to enable them to live with dignity in the community.
That put an estimated 5,000 people with psychiatric disabilities or acquired brain injury into substandard, out-of-sight, out-of-mind boarding houses or, alternatively, forced them on to the street. So much for a caring approach by the previous Government. The social neglect of the coalition Government by its failure to provide supported accommodation for people with disabilities is just another example of the seven years of neglect. Large public meetings and demonstrations across New South Wales in the past two years by people with disabilities, their carers and families have revealed their extreme distress and human suffering as a result of the lack of community-based supported accommodation. The Government has not only recognised that extreme level of distress but has moved to respond immediately to the crisis.
The first decision at the first Cabinet meeting fulfilled the Government's promise to provide an additional 300 supported accommodation places, bringing immediate relief to those in such great need. The previous coalition Government's track record on ageing was no better. That Government increased water, electricity, gas and motor vehicle registration charges, which has obviously hit older people harder than others; it delayed the introduction of age discrimination laws for four years; and it established a review of all pensioner concessions, refusing to rule out further cuts and refusing to make public the details of the review. The Fahey Government has a record of secrecy and social injustice. That record was summarised well in the editorial of a major Sydney newspaper, which stated:
Labor is returning to its old-time condescending attitude and reinforcing negative stereotypes of ageing.
That is the previous Government's legacy. That will not be the case under the Carr Government. Under Labor's policies, older people will receive just recognition and respect for past, present and future contributions to the State; a greater range of concessions and benefits, which Labor more appropriately regards as entitlements, building on the record of the Wran and Unsworth governments; and a strong voice in government. They will be consulted about decisions that affect older people and be asked to participate actively in the implementation of those decisions; they will be offered more sensitive, innovative and flexible services to assist in times of need; and will see a longstanding commitment honoured to improve the quality of life for older people who have contributed, and who continue to contribute, to the State's social, cultural and economic development.
The Carr Government will support persons with a disability to ensure that they are included as equal participating members of the community. The first step in this process is the establishment of the Department of Aged and Disability Services. The coalition thinks so little about the whole issue of ageing that in the shadow cabinet list issued by the office of the Leader of the Opposition, and currently available from the Legislative Assembly office, there is no reference at all to the honourable member for Eastwood representing the interests of older people. The coalition's lack of commitment to older people was apparent in its seven years of failed government. That lack of commitment continues through its neglect and failure to recognise the need to appoint a shadow minister to its front bench.
Mr LONGLEY (Pittwater) [11.39] I support the motion of the honourable member for Eastwood, the shadow minister for the ageing. It is disappointing that the new Government has brought together ageing and disability in this fashion. It rightly ought to be the view of this House that it is a betrayal of both people with disabilities and older people. The Government is sending a strong signal - indeed, a range of signals in the overarching signal - that it does not understand the great changes and the great strides forward made by the former Government. That lack of understanding is apparent in a number of areas. The abolition of the positive ageing agenda is of great disappointment to me and has been condemned by a number of seniors groups. There signals the potential loss of the Age Adds Value Campaign, the mature workers program, age discrimination legislation, and the Media Council, whose role it is to encourage and lead the media to portray older people in a positive light. By bringing together ageing and disability and reinforcing negative stereotypes the Government has made a fundamental mistake that the former Government spent years battling to overcome.
It is significant that reforms that the former Government made to the ageing agenda were lauded by internationally renowned people. Betty Friedan, an internationally acclaimed author who wrote the book The Fountain of Age, described the former coalition Government's ageing agenda as not only leading Australia but "at the leading edge world wide". That is how far the former coalition Government had progressed: it was not New South Wales leading Australia, but New South Wales leading the world. The former Government invited another guest internationally acclaimed for his work on the employment practices of large corporations, who was already in Australia, to speak at a function. When asked what he thought of the Federal Government's Working Nation he said that it was a great document but that the chapter on mature workers was missing. The document had nothing to say about people who
were aged 40 to 45 years and older. They were completely forgotten by Labor at the Federal level, and it now appears they have been completely forgotten by Labor at the State level.
The Labor Government is moving into instead of away from the old stereotype of equating ageing people with pensioners, but that is fundamentally wrong. Governments need to support pensioners properly, but a large and increasing number of older people will not be pensioners. They will require positive programs to look after their needs as well. I am very disappointed about the Government's attitude to disability. It is an affront to disabled people that the Minister for Health should equate mental illness with disability. The Government is confusing two fundamentally different issues and implying that institutions are okay. It is a remarkable comment for the Minister for Health to make. His comments overlook the former Government's landmark disability legislation and its landmark package of $173 million for people with disabilities, which set the pace for this State.
Mr O'DOHERTY (Ku-ring-gai) [11.44]: Governments need to do many more things than provide services alone. Governments will be judged by the leadership they show, the services they provide and the value they place on people.
Dr Refshauge: And you were thrown out.
Mr O'DOHERTY: The coalition got 52 per cent of the vote. The Minister interjected that we were thrown out. Honourable members on this side of the House represent 52 per cent of the two-party preferred vote in New South Wales.
Dr Refshauge: Forget about two-party preferred. You rorted the boundaries and you lost government.
Mr O'DOHERTY: You can take no comfort at all in your pathetic 48 per cent minority government.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! As the member has only five minutes remaining in which to speak he might wish to address the subject matter of the motion.
Mr O'DOHERTY: One of the reasons that the people of New South Wales endorsed the Opposition parties was that they showed when they were in government that they had ways of valuing the people of New South Wales, not just as numbers in some ALP -
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for Ku-ring-gai is straying somewhat from the leave of the motion.
Mr O'DOHERTY: I shall demonstrate in 30 seconds how I am returning to the motion. The Opposition parties valued the people not just as numbers in some ALP Minister's book to be aggregated, conglomerated into some too-hard basket, some social reject pile. That is what the Minister for Community Services has done in the reorganisation of the department the subject of the motion. That is how Labor views people. What other social problem - other than disability, age -
Dr Refshauge: Mental illness.
Mr O'DOHERTY: Mental illness, the Minister for Health throws in - will the Minister put together in some kind of tokenistic grab bag? The alternative was what the previous Government was doing. That is the reason for the debate today. I commend the honourable member for Eastwood for bringing this important motion before the House. Ageing does not equate with disability. Mental illness is a separate category. Each of the people in each of the categories is a valued member of our community, an important person in this society, but the Government lets them down. By throwing them together in some kind of grab bag, tokenistic department, no clear agenda for each of those groups will be able to be argued by the department to the Minister, or by the Minister to the Cabinet. How does that work? Under the former coalition Government a Minister, fed by a small department policy directorate, would speak on behalf of the ageing, not the ageing plus the disabled.
Dr Refshauge: You don't have anyone speaking on it now.
Mr O'DOHERTY: The Minister for Health is incorrect because the honourable member for Eastwood is the shadow minister for the ageing.
Dr Refshauge: He is not on the list; he has been forgotten.
Mr O'DOHERTY: The Minister should get a new list! The honourable member for Eastwood will address it in a minute. Under the previous Government there was a department, a role and an agenda for people who fall into the ageing category not because they are disabled, because they are not; not because they share common problems with disabled people - in some cases they do; but because ageing is an agenda all of its own. The ageing deserve a department and a Minister to speak in his own right on their behalf. They deserve someone to say that they have a value to our community, independent to other considerations. It is often the case that philosophy precedes form. But in the case of this Government form has betrayed a philosophy, which is inappropriate and unhelpful.
By putting the two departments together, by creating the form that equates ageing with disability, the Government has betrayed its philosophy and will send an important message of philosophy to the community that the former coalition Government spent so many years trying to turn around. It had gone a long way in that regard and the ageing in the community were responding well. They were suddenly finding themselves valued in a new light, finding ways to feel good about the ageing process. But the philosophy coming out of this move by this callous Government is that ageing is equated with disability and the seven years of reform has gone out the window. It goes beyond politics; it is a matter of the way in which we value the lives of the individuals of the community of New South Wales. [Time expired.]
Mr TINK (Eastwood) [11.49], in reply: On 1 October 1993 the Deputy Premier, when Deputy Leader of the Opposition, issued a press release on a ministry on ageing. He was right. It is a pity that his leader, now the Premier, did not take his advice. The Premier has created a Minister for Aged Services, and that remains Minister Dyer's title. The Opposition waited in vain for a couple of months for the penny to drop, for the Premier to develop an understanding of the Deputy Premier's view that ageing is a positive process and change Minister Dyer's title to the Minister on Ageing. That did not happen. The Opposition did not want to have a shadow minister on aged services. After two months the Opposition gave up. I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition has agreed that my title is to be the shadow minister on ageing. The Opposition will be waiting for a long time for the Government to make a positive change to Minister Dyer's title.
What makes a real meal of it is that the Minister for Aged Services is in charge of a ministry on ageing and disability services. A past tense Minister is running a present tense department. It is a dog's breakfast. If this issue were not serious, it would be funny. But the issue is serious. I am disturbed that the Deputy Premier, the putative social justice committee chairman, still does not understand what is at stake. The motion addresses serious questions including the real problem of equating ageing with a disability. If the House does not take my word for that, it has only to refer to the June 1995 issue of COTA News, the newsletter of the Council on the Ageing. I shall quote excerpts from that newsletter that underline the seriousness of Labor's policy blunder of incorporating ageing in the disability department. The headline article in that edition of the newsletter stated:
This is not the sign of a caring government; it smacks of ruthless dehumanised economics where dollars and cents are of prime concern and human values count for nothing.
The Hon. Ron Dyer MLC, the new Minister for Aged Services is also the Minister for community services and the Minister for Disability Services. While his job is secure at the moment the story of the restructure of his new Department changes daily. It seems now that the name of the Department is as good as fixed as "The Ageing and Disability Department".
Ageing and Disability Together?
My communications with the Council for Intellectual Disability and other groups indicate that they are as unhappy as is the ageing lobby with the Government's move to combine ageing and disability services. The newsletter further stated:
The disability and aged sectors do not want to be linked together and both have recently stressed to the Minister the importance of ensuring that there is no blurring of the division between the two in terms of issues, agenda, funding etc.
The Deputy Premier, the social justice committee chairman, must pay regard to that comment: it is not just more talk or grandstanding. The perception problem is real, and the Council on the Ageing is flagging it as such in its newsletter. The policy reach of the department is creating another major issue. The newsletter went on to say:
COTA has noted on a number of occasions that the majority of seniors are well and don't want to be perceived to be disabled, even if that perception is only by association within a Department.
As the honourable member for Ku-ring-gai said, under the previous Government those differences were noted and understood in the bureaucratic arrangements that were in place. In the present set-up those differences and understanding have been lost. The Council on the Ageing demands assurances from the Minister about rectification of these problems and that ageing will be kept separate from disability in both policy and structure. The ageing sector is focusing its efforts on ensuring that the structure and budget of aged services are kept separate from disability services. There is real concern about the problem, and it needs to be rectified. The newsletter also stated:
There is a specific service for almost every disability whereas ageing issues are general, mainstream and with a lot of overlap between the few relevant services provided.
That is a disgrace. It was the "Positive Ageing" statement that gave impetus to all the changes that I outlined in my contribution in this House last week. All the policy-driven issues mentioned in that statement have gone down the plughole. [Time expired.]
Question - That the motion be agreed to - put.
The House divided.
Treasury has withdrawn all funding for the 'Positive Ageing' statement as it had been released by the former Premier during Seniors Week. The document's status is that it does not now exist.
Mr Armstrong Mr O'Doherty
Mr Beck Mr O'Farrell
Mr Blackmore Mr D. L. Page
Mr Causley Mr Peacocke
Mr Chappell Mr Phillips
Mrs Chikarovski Mr Photios
Mr Cochran Mr Richardson
Mr Collins Mr Rixon
Mr Cruickshank Mr Rozzoli
Mr Debnam Mr Schipp
Mr Downy Mr Schultz
Mr Ellis Mrs Skinner
Mr Fahey Mr Slack-Smith
Ms Ficarra Mr Small
Mr Fraser Mr Smith
Mr Glachan Mr Souris
Mr Hartcher Mr Tink
Mr Hazzard Mr Turner
Mr Humpherson Mr West
Dr Kernohan Mr Windsor
Mr Kinross Mr Zammit
Dr Macdonald Tellers,
Ms Machin Mr Jeffery
Mr Merton Mr Kerr
Ms Allan Mr McManus
Mr Amery Mr Markham
Mr Anderson Mr Martin
Ms Andrews Ms Meagher
Mr Aquilina Mr Mills
Mrs Beamer Mr Moss
Mr Carr Mr Nagle
Mr Clough Mr Neilly
Mr Crittenden Ms Nori
Mr Debus Mr E. T. Page
Mr Face Mr Price
Mr Gaudry Dr Refshauge
Mr Gibson Mr Rogan
Mrs Grusovin Mr Rumble
Ms Hall Mr Scully
Mr Harrison Mr Shedden
Ms Harrison Mr Stewart
Mr Hunter Mr Sullivan
Mr Iemma Mr Tripodi
Mr Knight Mr Watkins
Mr Knowles Mr Whelan
Mr Langton Mr Yeadon
Mrs Lo Po' Tellers,
Mr Lynch Mr Beckroge
Mr McBride Mr Thompson
Question so resolved in the negative.