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Wednesday, 22 August 1973
Page: 218

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) (Minister for Social Security) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time. During the previous session of Parliament, in the short time which had elapsed since this Government was elected to office, I introduced 3 major Bills. Honourable members will recall that the first Bill increased the rate of age, invalid and widows pensions, retrospectively to last December, and also provided for substantial increases in unemployment and sickness benefits. The second Bill gave effect to another of the Government's election promises and provided for the continued payment of age, invalid and widows pensions to Australian pensioners proceeding overseas. The third Bill introduced a completely new benefit known as the supporting mother's benefit to assist unmarried mothers and married women who are no longer living with their husbands to adequately care for their children.

The Bill before the House today is one of a series of further measures which I will be introducing during this session of Parliament to assist the provision of a comprehensive program of welfare services for the people of Australia. This particular Bill is concerned with the provision of meals on wheels services. There is tremendous value to be gained from meals on wheels services. It is an established premise of caring for the elderly that they should continue to live as independently as possible in their own homes for as long as it is humanely feasible for them to do so. In many cases, the meals on wheels service makes this possible where otherwise elderly folk would be forced to move into an institution for no reason other than to receive general oversight in case of an accident or rapid deterioration in physical capabilities. This independence is one of the tangible facets of the quality of life which must be fostered by the community. The vegetating effect of dependence engendered by institutional life increases the rate of both physical and mental deterioration.

The major aim of the meals on wheels service is to supply the person concerned with one nutritious meal on at least 5 days a week. But the service goes far beyond that. Its value cannot be measured only in terms of calories and proteins. For many of our elderly citizens the voluntary helper delivering the meal provides the one regular social contact for the day upon which they may depend. This contact ensures that frail or isolated people receive a daily check on the state of their health and provides them with an entree to many other welfare service that are available in the district. Meals on wheels helpers frequently report that an elderly person is in need of some further service. The nutritional aspect is, however, particularly important. Elderly people often reduce the range and variety of the diet necessary for good health, either by reason of personal choice, physical ailments, inertia and failing judgment, or by just the sheer financial inability to purchase an adequate diversity of fresh foods with the vitamin content intact.

The purpose of delivering meals to such people is to guard against this tendency and most meals on wheels services are believed to do this successfully. A possible reservation is that the preparation of food in large quantities tends to destroy a large percentage of the vitamin C content. For this reason it is desirable for delivered meals to include a vitamin C supplement. This could be provided in tablet form but there is more to eating a meal than just ingesting nutrients. A meal is part of our social way of life and should be enjoyable as well as nutritious. This becomes much more important when the meal is one of the major events in a daily routine. Fresh fruit or juice is therefore a preferable source of vitamin C because it also adds other worthwhile values and diversity to the diet.

All elderly people receiving meals on wheels are not necessarily suffering from a vitamin deficiency, of course. However, some have been known to suffer from such a marked deficiency as to exhibit clinical symptoms and require medical treatment.

Mr MacKellar - Mr Deputy Speaker, I direct your attention to the state of the House. (The bells being rung)

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order!I ask the Serjeant-at-Arms to bring the honourable member for Paterson back to the chamber. (Quorum formed.)

Mr HAYDEN - In between these 2 extremes is the major segment of the aged community whose vitamin deficiency is not sufficiently acute to cause them to display obvious clinical symptoms, but is sufficient to reduce their enjoyment of good health and their resistance to illness, particularly the winter ailments.

Most of the countries of the Western world support some form of delivered meals service to their elderly, invalid or needy citizens. This country is not backward in this respect, for in metropolitan and country areas throughout Australia some 354 voluntary organisations are providing a meals on wheels service with financial assistance from the Australian Government.

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