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Wednesday, 4 March 1970

Mr WENTWORTH(Mackellar-

Minister for Social Services) [8.10] - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The House will recall that in his policy speech before the last election the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) said:

The Meals on Wheels organisation is one of the worthiest such bodies in the community. In the next budget we will make available to each separate organisation in the Meals on Wheels organisation a $1 subsidy for every ten meals served in the past year, such money to be used for the expansion of their activities, or to be donated to another Meals on Wheels organisation of their choice.

This Bill now before the House will carry the Prime Minister's proposal into effect. The Meals on Wheels organisations throughout Australia are generally bodies enjoying a fair degree of local autonomy, but acting within a common framework and sharing a common objective. They deliver meals to the aged, the sick and the lonely who live in their own homes and have the need of care and contact with outside life. Their staffs are predominantly volunteer; the headquarters from which they operate are varying in type - sometimes they have their own kitchens; sometimes they work from a hospital kitchen; and there are various other arrangements. They generally distribute meals from special insulated containers. The vehicles which they use are almost always the property of the volunteers who give their services. They sometimes receive assistance from State and local governments, and they raise and get charitable donations to expand their work.

They charge for the meals which they deliver to the extent necessary to balance their budgets - usually something approximating the cost of the foodstuffs they buy. Since they can buy in bulk, they can buy keenly and pass the savings on to those who get the meals. This means their customers get a really good and satisfying meal - indeed, as honourable members would know, the portions which they serve out are usually so substantial that the one delivery provides the best part of two meals.

This is admirable, but it is by no means the sole contribution which Meals on Wheels and its members make to the well-being of the community. You will find that pensioners and others look forward very much to the regular visit: it gives them the chance of a chat: if they are lonely, they like someone to come inside their home, even if only for a brief visit. This aspect - which I call the morale aspect - is no small part of the good which is done. Basically, Meals on Wheels mobilises latent resources in the community. There are many wellintentioned people - indeed I think that most Australians have a desire to help their neighbours - there are, I repeat, many well-intentioned people who are looking for practical ways to show their goodwill. Many of these are only too happy to be rostered from time to time and to take their turn at driving their own car and helping to deliver these meals to old people who still live in their own homes.

The plan started, I think, in the United Kingdom, and so far as I can ascertain the idea was first brought to Australia about 1949 by Mrs Nancy Dobson, who was then Honorary Secretary of the Ladies Auxiliary attached to the South Melbourne Council. In that year meals were first served at the club premises, and home deliveries started some 2 or 3 years later. In those early days experiments were made with various forms of transport - tricycles, municipal vehicles and Red Cross cars among them. Since then, the movement has spread vastly. One outstanding name connected with it is that crf the late Miss Doris Taylor, M.B.E., who although an invalid from childhood was the founder of Meals on Wheels Incorporated in South Australia. It would seem that the outstanding progress of the movement in South Australia should be attributed, at least in part, to her drive and inspiration.

I am well aware that honourable members on both sides of the House have in the past shown keen interest in helping Meals on Wheels. I can recall, for instance, the honourable member for Casey (Mr Howson) even before he entered this House as the member for Fawkner, taking an active part in helping it. I hope that honourable members on both sides will give this . Bill active support and see in it a way of pushing forward the work which they themselves have done in the past.

The movement as 1 have said has now spread throughout Australia, though its development has not been even everywhere, as the following table will show:

It is true, of course, that circumstances differ in different parts of Australia, but I do not think that differences in requirements for Meals on Wheels should be substantial as between whole States. South Australia delivers 322 meals per year for each 1,000 people, and I am told that even at this figure the current demand is not completely satisfied - and indeed I am told also that current demand continues to grow. For 12,200,000 Australians, therefore, saturation - that is the number required to do the job fully - would seem to require at least 3,000,000 delivered meals per year, as against about 2,000,000 at present being supplied.

The Meals on Wheels organisation is making every effort to expand the scope of its operations, and the proposals made in this Bill are designed to help them. In brief, it is proposed to pay to each organisation a subsidy of $1 for each ten meals delivered in the preceding calendar year. It is proposed that this provision should become immediately operable, so that eligible organisations will be able to draw now their subsidy for the meals they delivered in 1969.

While this measure represents a further step in the programme which has been instituted by the Government of providing assistance to the aged, it is not confined to the aged. The subsidy will be available to organisations which are providing a meal service wholly or mainly for aged or invalid persons or for both. Nor is the subsidy to be limited to any segment of the aged and invalid group. There will be no form of means test. The Government recognises that persons in all walks of life can face problems, in both the short and the long term, in caring for themselves. The assistance to be provided under this Bill will therefore be available to any approved eligible organisation engaged in the provision of meals wholly or mainly for aged or invalid persons, and the delivery of those meals from the place where they are prepared to their homes, or to some other convenient place.

I have mentioned that only eligible organisations will qualify for the subsidy. Honourable members will be familiar with the definition of 'eligible organisation' contained in the Aged Persons Homes Act. A similar definition will apply for the purposes of this legislation, that is, an eligible organisation will be a non-profit religious, charitable or benevolent organisation or a local governing body.

The introduction of this measure will mark an important expansion of the Government's home care programme, which is designed to provide housekeeping, home nursing and other services to the aged with a view to maintaining them in their own homes, if they so desire, as long as possible.

It will also provide another opportunity for the participation of voluntary organisations and other bodies in the programme of caring for people in need of community support. Community response to the home care programme has so far been encouraging in spite of some delays in the completion of arrangements by State governments; however, there is ample scope for the development still further of the type of service which community effort can best provide.

The object of the legislation is to assist in the establishment, expansion, improvement or maintenance of the Meals on Wheels type of service. In order to qualify for the subsidy of $1 for every 10 meals delivered during the preceding calendar year, an organisation will be expected to supply satisfactory evidence of the number of meals in respect of which subsidy is claimed. Furthermore, an organisation may also be required to provide full information about the meal services being provided before the next year's grant is made available. For example, an organisation might be required to provide details of the way in which the preceding year's subsidy was used before payment in respect of the current claim is authorised. These provisions will be administered with the utmost flexibility. We want to get the subsidy out and not in any way curtail its availability.

I should, however, make it clear that we do not propose to interfere unnecessarily with the affairs of any organisation by laying down rigid conditions in regard to the application of this subsidy. We are prepared to trust organisations which, by their very existence and operation, have shown themselves worthy of trust. Clause 4 of the Bill states:

The purpose of this Act is to assist in the establishment, expansion, improvement and maintenance of delivered meal services.

Provided that our subsidy is applied for these purposes or any one of them or any combination of them, I think we ought to be satisfied. We should leave it to the decision of each organisation as to how best the money should be used for these purposes. May I add that we shall be perfectly happy if an organisation itself decides to devote its subsidy to the help or establishment of a kindred body. It may well be that some organisations will prefer to help others in this way; perhaps several organisations wm , decide to pool their subsidy and use the combined amount to establish Meals on Wheels in some district which needs it. But again I emphasise that the decision would be one for the organisation concerned, and we will not be exerting any pressure either way - that is, whether the organisation should use the subsidy itself or donate it to a kindred body with like aims and functions. It is true, as honourable members will observe, that there are certain reserve powers' under clause 9 of the Bill. May I assure the House that these are reserve powers only, and it is not intended to apply them generally.

As I have said, there are at present some 2 million meals a year being delivered in Australia. The subsidy proposed will therefore cost some $200,000 per year to start with, but I hope that it will rapidly expand with the expansion of the whole Meals on Wheels programme. The amount concerned is not large, but it may well have a substantial impact. It represents, on the average, about one-third of the material cost of the meals provided. If it results - as I believe it will - in the quicker expansion of this excellent scheme, it will be money well spent.

May I make these final observations: Firstly, although we are pressing forward with our aged persons homes and similar plans, we recognise that many old people prefer to go on living in their own homes, even if they need occasional help to enable them to do so. The right of choice should be theirs, and we should create conditions which make it possible for them to choose freely to the maximum extent. Our home care programme is designed to do just this. Let those who want to remain in their own homes, be given every facility to do so. Meals on Wheels can be a great help to them. Secondly, although this subsidy is to be paid directly to the Meals on Wheels organisations, it is by no means the only way in which help may become available to them under our home care programme. Depending upon decisions of local people they may also be able to get some help with equipment and the use of facilities in the local centres which are to be established. Thirdly, this proposal, although it stands by itself, is one example of the way in which the Government proposes to ask voluntary organisations to enter into partnership with it for service to the aged and the sick. We aim to tap and utilise the great reservoir of goodwill which exists in the whole community. Per dollar spent, I know of no service which gives greater comfort and satisfaction than Meals on Wheels. I commend the Bill to the House.

Mr Hayden - The Opposition supports the Bill. We are-

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