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Thursday, 3 July 1941

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) . - I agree with many of the views expressed by the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Leckie) in his second-reading speech. My main criticism of the measure is that it does not go far enough. The Minister said that Commonwealth money was allotted for two main purposes, (a) organizing expenses; (fc) subsidies to the universities for the establishment of diploma courses. This measure mentions none of the things which must be done in order to make our people physically fit, namely, the provision of adequate food, clothing and shelter for our people, particularly our children. No provision is made in the bill for that purpose. I am very surprised at that omission, and I hope that the Minister, when he is replying to the debate, will give reasons for it, particularly as the attention of the Government was directed to the necessity existing in this regard by the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness. I take the following from the minutes of the fourth session of that body held at the Institute of Anatomy, Canberra, on the 9th and 10th May, 1940 :-

On the 8th May the six organizers who had been appointed by the States met in conference willi the Director-General of Health as Chairman, and, having considered all phases of thu work, passed a series of resolutions. These resolutions were later considered by the Commonwealth Council. On the 9th May, the council met the organizers for an informal discussion of the points raised on the previous day and for a general discussion of the administrative problems met during the campaign.

The six organizers present were: Victoria. Dr. A. G. Scholes; Now South Wales, Mr. G. Vining: South Australia, Mr. B. F. G. Apps:

Queensland, Mr.E. V. Harris; Western Australia, Mr. J. O'Donoghue; and Tasmania, Mr. R. VonBertouch.

Those gentlemen apparently had met and discussed the position of national fitness. Among other things they recommended -

It is recognized asa basic principle that any campaign Tor national fitnessmust have continual regard to the medical condition of the people.Such provision should be made for the partially disabled and the partially unfit as will assist their return to physical efficiency. The very large section of the population which, while suffering no recognizable specific defect, are yet of a physical standard lower than normal, must be provided with activities ona less strenuous level than the normal standard of physical exercises. There is also a large class of subnormal physical standard whose condition is to be remedied rather by economic or nutritional means than by physical culture - to which they are unable readily to respond. This implies that, if this campaign is to he successful in terms of "national fitness", medical services should be available to the apparently healthy but physically subnormal population on a very much more extended scale than at present. Particularly is it necessary that instructors or leaders of physical culture classes or courses should have readily available the services of medical men. To some, but not nearly an adequate, extent the State medical services provide this for schools. There is. however, still much to be done in this direction, and the Council recommends that the State Councils review this matter as one of immediate practical importance in this campaign. The National Health and Medical Research Council is also invited to consider this matter.

That report emphasizes convincingly the point made by the Leader of the Opposition ('Senator Collings) and myself, namely, that before national fitness can be achieved to the degree mentioned by the Minister in his second-reading speech, the people must be provided with food, clothing, housing, and all other things necessary to build up their physical structure so that they may undergo physical training. I am astounded that the Government has not given consideration to this matter. That is not the only suggestion that has been put forward. In the report of the fifth session of the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness, held on the 4th and 5th November, 1940, attention is drawn to the same, matter. Paragraph e of resolution 4 of that council states -

(c)   Increased health grant for wider tuberculosis examination service, dental service, Royal Life Saving Society, milk distribution, school meals.

That council has boon in existence since 1939but it appears that little notice is taken of its recommendations. Paragraphf of resolution 4 states -

(f)   It shouldbe noted that every improvement in housing conditions is a factor in raising the standard of national fitness.

It can be seen, therefore, that there is more in the problem of national fitness than the mere allocation of money for organizing expenses, subsidies to universities, &c. According to a report which appeared in the Melbourne Age on the 18th June, Dr. Dale, the Health Officer for the City of Melbourne expressed the following opinion: -

Children livinginthe inner areas of the metropolis are of inferior physique compared with those living in the outer suburbs.

Charts showing heights and weights of children disclose that although there has been a noticeable improvement on the . 191 2-1921 standard, those in the inner industrial areas are definitely inferior in physique. There is evidence of widespread malnutrition and deficiency disease. The average condition of boys now living in a boys' home in Victoria, is deplorably below the standard that could be attained.

Therefore, in the view of the Commonwealth Council for National Fitness itself, and of Dr. Dale, the City Health Officer of Melbourne, these children who are expected to become physically fit arc not even properly fed. I should like to know whether the Government; has considered that matter. Has the Government made any provision to ensure that that deficiency of food, clothing and shelter is made up? If not, national fitness is an impossibility. I do not know whether itis the intention of the Government that the Social Security Committee should go into that matter and make recommendations, but I consider that it is necessary to draw attention to that phase of the position, and in doing so I should like to elaborate what the Leader of the Opposition has said in regard to the relationship between cause and. effect. The subnormal and under-fed children mentioned in Dr. Dale's report and in the report of the National Fitness Council, are the result of inadequate wages, unemployment, poverty and slum conditions generally, and unless the Government attacks this problem first the £20,000 will be practically wasted. Unless the Government is prepared to do something to remove the underlying causes of starved physiques, and the conditions which have made children incapable of responding to training, the money can do little good. I do not think that argument can be refuted. Therefore, while I support the bill I think that we are entitled to expect a great deal more than it provides. Just to give an idea of what can be done by proper feeding I direct attention to the position of the unemployed in Melbourne before the war started, when thousands of people were suffering from the effects of insufficient food, clothing and housing. Some of the unemployed joined the various services, and after a few months of good food, clothing and housing, medical and dental attention, most of them improved almost beyond recognition. I know that to be true from my own personal knowledge, having known the men before they enlisted and having come into contact with them frequently since. It seems therefore, that national fitness requires first of all as a suitable foundation and basis, a guarantee by the Government that the children will be provided with adequate food, clothing and shelter and, as the report of the Council for National Fitness suggests, medical and dental attention. ' I do not wish to go beyond that point. I doubt whether it is necessary to emphasize it any further. If the Minister will tell us what the Government intends to do in the direction I have indicated, we shall be in a position to assess what the result of the campaign will be. If nothing is to be done, the £20,000 will merely provide a few people with fees for writing reports. From a national point of view it will do no practical good, and we shall continue on a catch-as-catch-can basis until the position becomes so acute that drastic action will bc necessary. When war broke out, it was found not only in thi3 country but also in. almost every other country, that the men who were to be called upon to fight had first to be fed. If we are wise we shall benefit from that experience, and while the opportunity offers take the . children in hand and see that they are properly looked after. If that be done national fitness will be possible, but if it be not done there will be no hope of achieving national fitness.

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