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Wednesday, 20 August 1980
Page: 519

Mr HUNT (Gwydir) (Minister for Transport) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to increase the assistance available to organisations providing Meals on Wheels services. These services form an important part of the comprehensive health and welfare program introduced in the late 1960s to help the most needy and disadvantaged members of our community. The fundamental objective of the programs introduced at that time was to encourage and enable elderly and disabled people to remain in their own homes. Measures which are designed to achieve this objective include: The States Grants (Home Care) Act 1969, which in association with the States, local government authorities, community and charitable organisations provides financial assistance for a range of home care services, for senior citizens centres and for welfare officers; the States Grants (Paramedical Services) Act 1969, which assists the States or an approved service to provide paramedical support to aged people in the community; the States Grants (Dwellings For Aged Pensioners) Act 1969, which has now been absorbed into the Housing Assistance Act 1 978; and the Delivered Meals Subsidy Act 1970, which assists approved organisations in the provision of meals for aged or invalid persons.

The Government has significantly expanded the program of assistance for aged and disabled people needing home care services. Allocations for subsidies for welfare officer salaries, housekeeper services, home repairs, gardening, laundry, and other home care services under the States Grants (Home Care) Act have been increased by some $7m, or 1 1 1 per cent compared with the expenditure in the 1975-76 financial year. This program is a very important contribution to helping aged, infirm and disabled people to remain independent of institutional care, within their own familiar surroundings, for as long as possible.

Turning to the Delivered Meals Subsidy Act, which is the subject of this Bill, honourable members will know that Meals on Wheels organisations were first established in Australia by voluntary organisations, without Commonwealth aid. Those organisations made every effort to expand the scope of their operations, and in 1970 the Commonwealth introduced the principal Act to provide a stimulus to the organisations in this very worthy aim. That the intentions of both the organisations and the Commonwealth have been met may be gauged from the current scope of the program. At 30 June 1980, 671 separate services were being funded, involving the provision during the 1979-80 financial year of over 8.35 million meals. The total subsidy provided in 1979-80 was $2.493m. This may be compared with approximately 100 services delivering almost 800,000 meals annually before the legislation was introduced. It may be of further interest to honourable members to note that since the inception of the Act almost 60 million meals have been delivered.

These achievements have been made possible only by the efforts of voluntary and local government organisations. Co-operation between the Commonwealth and these organisations is vital. This Bill does much to facilitate the furtherance of this very real partnership. We know that voluntary organisations are faced with increasing overhead expenditure, and although it is still possible to obtain public donations towards the cost of a tangible project such as a building, it is much more difficult to raise community funds to meet operational costs. This Bill will materially assist organisations to meet operating costs. However, the subsidy is not intended to cover the full costs of operation, in recognition of the importance of the continuing contribution from the community itself and from those who receive meals. The Bill increases the subsidy for delivered meals from 30 cents per meal where a vitamin C supplement is provided, and 25 cents for every other meal, to 45 cents and 40 cents respectively. It is anticipated that these increases will involve additional Commonwealth expenditure of $ 1.29m in the 1980-81 financial year. Total estimated expenditure for the year is $3.94m.

As honourable members will readily appreciate, this program, as well as being of great significance within the community, is most favourable in cost effectiveness terms, and is critical to maintaining people in their own homes. I am sure that all honourable members will recognise the importance of giving every encouragement for community-based services, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank those voluntary organisations and workers who provide their time to make this service to the community as successful as it is. This Bill will further encourage voluntary effort in assisting aged and disabled members of the community to remain in their own homes, an aim which is most appropriate for 1981, the International Year of Disabled Persons. I commend this Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Dr Cass) adjourned.

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