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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13211


Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (11:27): I also support this motion recognising the great work of Meals on Wheels. I do not always agree with the member for Shortland but on this occasion I strongly endorse her words. I am the co-chair of Parliamentary Friends of Meals on Wheels and for many years I shared that responsibility with the former member for Hindmarsh, Steve Georganas. Currently the member for Griffith, Ms Terri Butler, and I co-chair that group. It is important that an organisation such as Meals on Wheels have entree into the Australian parliament so that the work they do can be recognised and the issues they face can be addressed.

It is important to note that Meals on Wheels has been going for 60 years, and in the course of a year nearly 15,000,000 meals are delivered by more than 78,700 volunteers to about 53,000 recipients. That is across cities, regional areas and small country towns. It is more than just a meal that recipients are getting from Meals on Wheels. True, Meals on Wheels is about nutrition, but that is only part of the story. As the member for Shortland said, quite often the only visit that some elderly people get throughout the day is the visit from the volunteer who delivers the meals on wheels. Numerous lives would have been saved on an annual basis when people have been found in an unwell condition and it is the Meals on Wheels volunteer who has recommended that they go to the doctor or who has called for help. So that social cohesion is very important.

Across the electorate of Parkes we have dozens of individual organisations that deliver meals on wheels. The one at Dubbo is quite a large organisation that delivers meals not only through Dubbo but also supplies meals to other outlying areas and to much smaller organisations in places like Boggabri, Warialda and Bingara and places like that. Last year I was at the celebrations for the Meals on Wheels anniversary in Boggabri, and many of those volunteers have been volunteering for most of the 60 years that Meals on Wheels has been around. Indeed, one of the ironies of Meals on Wheels is that more often than not the person delivering the meal might be older than the person who is actually receiving it because once people become a volunteer for Meals on Wheels they like to keep that job going.

The member for Shortland touched on something that is of concern, and I think it is a challenge for those of us who are in government, regardless of what side of the chamber you sit on: it is very easy for governments to look to a large organisation to handle the administration of an essential service like this; it is much easier to have a more narrow point of contact with a larger organisation. But we must never forget that the success of Meals on Wheels is due to the volunteers. The reason that Meals on Wheels works is that we have volunteers and we must not do anything that disenfranchises those volunteers. Outsourcing Meals on Wheels to supermarkets or the like would have a negative effect. I know that some other organisations have come into my electorate and have tried to contact some of the Meals on Wheels volunteers with the existing organisations, and that causes friction in itself.

It is a real challenge to foster and care for our volunteer organisations. Many of these are small groups in small country towns, but it is important that they maintain their autonomy, that they are encouraged and supported, that they are reinvigorated with new volunteers and that Meals on Wheels continues for another 60 years and beyond as a very valuable organisation.