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Wednesday, 10 October 1956

Mr CLEAVER (Swan) .- I wish to direct my comments to Division No. 222, Department of Health, Item 3, " Commonwealth Council for National Fitness. £72,500". In the first place, I want to remind the committee, by a quick reference to the history of the national fitness movement, of the outstanding value of this organization to the nation. The movement was established under the Commonwealth National Fitness Act of 1941. We should appreciate, therefore, that it came into being at a time when the nation was engaged in war. The attention of the Commonwealth was, no doubt, centred on the need to build the youth of Australia into young men and women who were as fit as it was possible for them to be, so that from that valuable source the nation might draw people suited to the needs of the times. The National Fitness Act was passed in 1941, and the vote provided by the Commonwealth naturally was experimental; but within three years it was increased substantially to £72,500. That was the amount of the vote in 1944. 1 make the point that, from 1944 to the present time, there has been no addition to the vote. So far as I can see, this vote, with the exception of the National Service Training Scheme and several grants to certain organizations, is the only direct contribution to the welfare of the youth of the nation. 1 have spoken previously in this chamber about the responsibility of the Commonwealth to consider the needs of our youth. A government that fails to recognize that young men and women need to be given every encouragement surely overlooks one of its fundamental tasks. Is it possible to justify the attitude, on the part of a federal government, that this vote need not be increased and that the States should do more, either through their education departments or by way of grants to the national fitness organization? Can we justify leaving this field of activity to the States alone? Is it not true that, since the National Fitness Act emanated from the National Parliament here at Canberra, other nationally based plans might well be adopted? 1 believe that it is. At the present time, the Government of Victoria is concerned - and rightly so - with the problem of vandalism. If honorable members have read their newspapers during the last few days, they will share the concern of that government. A grant of £20,000 to train youth leaders is being considered by the Victorian Parliament in connexion with the Youth Organizations Assistance Bill. I affirm that there is no need for a new committee to be appointed in Victoria, or elsewhere, to provide assistance of this kind for the youth of Australia. In each State, the national fitness organization has an associated youth committee which acts as an extremely valuable co-ordinating body with voluntary youth organizations. Victoria, like other States, has a most efficient national fitness organization. Only last Friday evening, I understand that the honorable member for Wills (Mr. Bryant) was invited to attend the re-opening of a youth centre in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, and, on Monday last, it was my privilege to be taken, as a visitor, to see the same centre at which, on Saturday, no less than 250 young people had been in attendance. 1 was delighted to see this practical approach towards helping the young men and women of what I may, perhaps, describe as a very difficult district, by providing training in hobbies such as photography and woodwork, and in a variety of other ways, to employ their time sensibly and usefully.

The vote of £72,500, to which I have referred, has been allocated this year, as in recent years, as follows: - The various State councils will absorb £36,954; the State education departments will receive grants totalling £17,000; the universities will receive £12,400; the central administrative office here in Canberra will require £3,396; and the balance of £2,750 has been allocated for work within the Australian Capital Territory. It is significant that there is a relationship, in this allocation, to educational institutions of the States, in the form of State education departments and universities. I have every respect for the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) and for the national fitness officer in charge of this important division, but I pose the question whether the National Fitness Council is well placed strategically under the administration of the Minister for Health and the Department of Health. Because its operations are related almost entirely to the field of youth, I claim that it could be better administered by the Commonwealth Office of Education. If that were so, surely matters pertaining to the activities of youth would receive keener scrutiny and wider understanding.

If we turn to the last printed report of the National Fitness Council, we find, at page 5, a reference to Australian representation at international youth conferences, and in that connexion 1 want to make a very important point. The committee will appreciate that Australian representation at international youth conferences is dealt with in the report of a council which is administered by the Department of Health. If honorable members have an opportunity to look carefully at this section of the report, they will see that this matter has given concern to national fitness authorities for some years, particularly the associated youth committees which act as the coordinating bodies for the major voluntary youth organizations in each State. The report states that the lack of a national youth committee has prevented Australia from being affiliated with the international youth organization known as the World Assembly of Youth, with which other countries of the West, and of the British Commonwealth, are affiliated. The report states that the second general assembly of the World Assembly of Youth was held in Singapore in August, 1954, and that Australia was invited to send delegates. Through the Commonwealth Office of Education and the national fitness organization, two observers were nominated. Only two observers were sent because there were no other organizations from which direct representatives of the youth of this country could be sent. These two observers, on their return to Australia, reported that their participation in the meeting was valuable, but that it was considerably hampered by lack of proper status as fully accredited delegates of Australia. I think we must recognize that, because of the relationship of national fitness to education, the Commonwealth Office of Education is the most appropriate body to handle national fitness matters.

The report of the national fitness organization convinces one of the value of this body and indicates something of its achievements. At the same time, it underlines the inadequacy of the vote, which, as I have said, has remained unaltered since 1944. The report, in referring to the achievements of the organization, mentions the continuing use of national fitness camps for leadership training, and by youth organizations. It directs attention to the need to promote physical recreation. The number of school camps and hostels has increased in all States. In addition, there has been splendid co-ordination of youth activities by each of the State councils. To support my claim concerning the. inadequacy of the vote, I invite attention to the problems occasioned by shortage of finance. The various State governments have been called upon to supplement their grants substantially because last year this Parliament decided that the vote of £72,500 could not be increased. New South Wales is now providing approximately £72,000, compared with the Commonwealth grant, under this vote, of £12,000. The report clearly indicates that the grants to universities which undertake physical education courses are inadequate, as are the grants for State centres and youth head-quarters. Bursaries for specialist training are also short of requirements. I find, with interest, that the Tasmanian bursary has not been taken up because it is only £400 per annum. Apparently, it is not attractive to any one who otherwise would be glad of bursary assistance. The amount of £484 granted to each State for books, films, records, and so on, has been wholly expended, indicating that a larger amount could be usefully employed.

In conclusion, I wish to recommend, first, the transfer of the National Fitness Division from the administration of the Department of Health to that of the Commonwealth Office of Education. Secondly, that the vote of £72,500 for national fitness should be increased, at the first opportunity, to at least £150,000. I suggest, further, that grants to youth organizations should be substantially increased. The grants of £3,000 in the State of New South Wales and of £600 in my own State of Western Australia represent only a very small proportion of the funds needed to provide equipment and facilities for the training of young people. I further recommend greater activity among underprivileged children, and the children of immigrants and aborigines, so that camps may be organized and free equipment and even uniforms may be issued to boy scouts, girl guides, and members of other organizations of that kind.

My final recommendation is that youth head-quarters should be set up in every capital city. Surely this country warrants central head-quarters for national fitness organizations to provide council and committee rooms, theatrettes and central youth group offices. These are essential in a country such as Australia, which has many privileges and opportunities available to train young men and women. I urge the Government to recognize the need for making special grants, even greater than the figures I have recommended, so that there may rise in every capital city of the Commonwealth youth head-quarters in which a work second to none may be done.

Progress reported.

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