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Wednesday, 4 March 1970

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) - I am extremely grateful that the smoke signal from Yarralumla was seen so quickly. The Opposition supports this Bill. Its subject is not a controversial issue, and in fact it was not in dispute in the last election campaign. I repeat that we want to see the Bill pass through all its stages tonight. We were concerned at one stage with the reaction of the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) in wanting to adjourn the debate. In fact, it appeared that there might have been a lack of sincerity in the sentiments that were expressed by the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth). We are concerned, as is the Minister, that the people who will benefit under the provisions of this scheme will quite unnecessarily be deprived of those benefits for some further period if the Bill is not passed tonight. A point was taken earlier, and quite reasonably, that this measure could have been passed on 25th November. Honourable members and the public will recollect that on 25th November the Parliament met for 1 day at great expense to the Australian public. One journalist estimated that every second that the Parliament sat cost the Australian taxpayer from $8 to $10. This is a phenomenal amount of money to achieve nothing. It was the most expensive afternoon tea we have had in the history of federation.

Mr DONALD CAMERON (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - I rise to order. My point is that the cost of the 1 day sitting has nothing to do with the people who are about to receive this benefit.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no substance in the point of order. The honourable gentleman is entitled to give his reasons for supporting the Bill or otherwise. However, I would say to the honourable gentleman that he is getting a little wide of the purpose of the Bill.

Mr HAYDEN - The point about the 1 day sitting is that we had the most expensive afternoon tea in the history of federation while the people who hoped to get something from the Meals on Wheels legislation received nothing. In any event, tonight we are supporting the Bill and we hope there will be no delays in passing it. None will be caused by honourable members on this side of the House.

I would like to make one or two points. The Bill represents an improvement. It is a contribution towards the welfare of certain people. To that extent it is desirable, but it would be a mistake to regard the proposals in the Bill as the most that we should be striving to do, even if our goal is only moderate. The grave deficiency as I see it is that the provision of the Meals on Wheels service, like so many other social welfare benefits required in the community, is dependent on the response of charitable groups. I in no way denigrate their efforts. They are thoroughly commendable. However, I question the scale of values of a Government that always leaves this work to outsiders. If we depend on charitable groups to come together and initiate action that will lead to the development of a service like Meals on Wheels the response and therefore the service will be patchy. Some areas of need will receive a benefit because the people in those areas are concerned about the welfare of others. But other areas of need will be neglected because no-one there has the interest to set in train the necessary organisational functions that will lead to the provision of a service.

There are not adequate Meals on Wheels services within the community. I am sure the Minister, whose approach in many areas is quite warming, would agree with that view. He would like to see many more

Meals on Wheels organisations operating in the community. The services provided by these organisations are greatly needed. But the point is that development in the community is on a patchy basis. Area A will receive the development; area B will miss out. The aspect that gravely concerns me is that area B may very well be the area of greatest need. I do not know; 1 am not aware of any surveys that have been carried out, but from what I have seen my assessment is that the areas of greatest need are the areas proportionately least likely to obtain the service. That is not the same as saying they do not receive the service. Some of them do, but not all of them do.

If we intend to develop social welfare services, we should identify priorities. We should find out what the needs are, develop our scale of priorities and set about providing the services that are needed. This is a public responsibility. How do we measure the quality of life in our society? What we have to offer is more than the mere quantitative measurement of the gross national product and how it varies from year to year. Rather it is a matter of how the wealth in the community is distributed, indeed it may very well be that the country would be much better off qualitatively if we had a slower growth rate and if the wealth were distributed much more equitably and beneficially.

Let me illustrate my point. How do we measure the value of the sort of life we offer in society? On the one side we see a surplus of motor vehicles, with the yards of car wreckers crammed with used motor vehicles. We have more service stations than we require and many of them are closing. All this represents a drain on scarce economic resources for development. On the other side we see grave deficiencies in public needs, such as education. It is notorious that every second child in Canberra has the opportunity to attend a preschool centre, but outside Canberra only one child in 13 has this opportunity. The distribution of child care centres is even worse. I am not talking about child minding centres but rather about kindergarten centres at a recognised level. The distribution in this area is even more inequitable. The lower income areas are much less likely to have these facilities than the higher income areas because largely their provision depends on the resources and initiative available in an area. The provision of one of these expensive centres is a substantial drain on the resources of the lower income groups.

The question is: How do we measure the value we are getting in life? We certainly do not measure it by the number of used motor cars. We certainly do not measure it by the amount of money we spend on razzamatazz advertising on television. We do not measure it by the number of service stations on street corners. I use these only as symbols. I could illustrate my argument by using other materialistic matters. We measure the value of life by the benefits we give to people, by the sense of fulfillment in life, and not by materialism. There are some material satisfactions in life, but emphasis on these can leave a person spiritually empty. I use the term 'spiritual' in the very broad sense and not in the narrow theological sense.

These are the important challenges in our society today. Will we make life better? Do we have a material conscience? Are we concerned about the welfare of people? We are living in an age where human values are supposed to be predominant and clearly it is quite wrong to approach the provision of Meals on Wheels services or other community welfare services on this ad hoc basis. We should not regard these services as a series of loose strings lying about the community, with many of them overlapping. The organisations do not realise that the services they are offering overlap'. The Minister knows well what I mean. We have, for instance, multi-problem families. 1 have in mind the family that has a problem in the matrimonial area, maybe a problem also in the juvenile court area, a problem in handling a hire purchase commitment and a problem with school truancy. With each different aspect, the people go to a different agency for assistance.

What is clearly needed is a regional organisation of social welfare services. The Meals on Wheels service would fit into this organisation. If we rely on the spontaneous initiative of local people, we will get a lumpy sort of development of these services. We wa get too much duplication of the services in some areas and a complete dearth of them in other areas. Meals on Wheels should not be seen or treated in isolation or as an independent entity. Meals on Wheels quite clearly has a relationship to the domiciliary nursing service. Again this is not just a matter of providing a visiting home nurse as we do at the moment on the initiative of some local charitable body. The charitable bodies do a wonderful job and I commend them, but really we ask too much of them. In turn we are not providing enough for the needs of the people in our society.

The domiciliary nursing service seems to have a very close relationship to the Meals on Wheels service. Some of the people needing and receiving assistance from the Meals of Wheels service may have a nutritional deficiency. They may need the aid of a visiting home nurse. They may have a personal problem and may need the help of a visiting social worker. They may need occupational therapy or physiotherapy. There is a whole range of services which should be tied up and the whole lot dovetailed into a domiciliary service to the community. Meals on Wheels is only one of these. The Minister knows well what I mean. Frankly, if he had his way we would achieve much more progress in this area. This service, in turn, has to be developed on a regional basis. We do not want to see something developed and operated by a remote, impersonal bureaucracy. We want to see past the power, past the financial resources, down to a regional body which is well known as being established in the area to give service to the community, which has a high reputation in the com- munity and which is regarded as a personal, integral part of that community. This is the way in which this regional service ought to be operated.

There is a grave deficiency in our approach to social welfare services in the community if we always approach these things on an ad hoc basis. For all we know it might very well be that other forms of social welfare service rate a much higher priority than Meals on Wheels. That is a general statement. I make it only to indicate that we are wrong in plucking something out of the air as a social welfare service because we think This will be very good for votes at the next election. We will sit onit until about 6 months before the election and then we will act. Having acted, we will get public support'. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Barnard) reminds me that we will wait 6 months after the election to introduce it. So the grave concern diminishes as the election date recedes. This is quite wrong. What we need in the Australian community is some sort of inquiry to establish what are our needs in social welfare. Those needs are going to vary from area to area.

Adverting to the point I started to make about Meals on Wheels perhaps not having the highest priority in some areas, I think it could very well be because of the demographic structure of a particular region that the people in that region have a much graver need for some other form of service. It could be for juvenile counselling; I do not know. It depends on the demographic structure of that community. We have to identify these needs and then establish our priorities. We have to expect reasonably that there will be a variation between areas. What is a grave need for one area may be less so for another which has something else as its grave need.

The Opposition supports the Bill. It wants to see it go through tonight. While we believe that the ad hoc approach is gravely deficient nevertheless we also accept that what is being done is an improvement. It is an advance on what presently exists. The Opposition is not going to stand in the way of any advance of this sort. Certainly we would feel that we were recreant if we were responsible for delaying the progress of this Bill any longer. The Government proposed this measure at the last election. Parliament met on 25th November, and now we are into March, the fourth month since that meeting, and nothing has been done until tonight. The Bill could quite easily have been passed on that day. I stress that there is no disagreement between the Government and this side of the House on the measure. We do not regard it as controversial. We regard it as a measure which could be much improved on the lines I have mentioned. The delay has not been ours; it has been the Government's. The Opposition is not going to contribute to the Government's recreant approach to these measures which has been manifested to the present time. We hope that the measure will go through without any further delay. If it does not, it will be the fault of the Government.

Motion (by Mr Giles) put:

That the debate be now adjourned,

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