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Thursday, 3 July 1941

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . - I support the bill, although I find myself in much the same position in regard to it as I was placed when the measure dealing with youth employment was introduced into the Senate some time ago. I regard the provision of £20,000 as absolutely inadequate to do more than touch the fringe of the problem, especially in view of the fact that so many of our people of all age3, from young babies to adults, are suffering from the effects of malnutrition. Every honorable senator realizes what an enormous task confronts those responsible for a campaign of national fitness. As the bill is drafted, it appears that it will benefit only certain sections of the community. In his secondreading speech the Minister for Aircraft Production (Senator Leckie) said that the measure had a twofold purpose; first, to provide organizing expenses and, second, to grant subsidies to universities for the establishment of diploma courses. If the Commonwealth acted in complete co-operation with the States, organizing expenses in connexion with a scheme of this kind could be considerably lessened. As the Minister is no doubt aware, many of the States, including Tasmania, have their own national fitness organizations and are already doing much more than the Commonwealth Government proposes to do when this measure is placed on the statutebook. What is the purpose of these diploma courses? Are they to be provided for the education of doctors to specialize in nutrition and diet, and in the proper care of children, for the education of dentists to provide a free clinical service to the community, or are these courses to be provided for the training of instructors in physical training?

Senator Large - In physical jerks.

Senator AYLETT - That is a better description. The Minister has not enlightened us in regard to these points. For any physical fitness campaign to bc successful it must make provision for safeguarding the health of expectant mothers.

Senator Gibson - That is a most important point.

Senator AYLETT - Unfortunately we can do but little to improve the physical fitness of the great number of people who are suffering from the effects of malnutrition at an earlier period of their lives, hut by educating the people in regard to diet and nutrition we can save future generations from the curse of malnutrition. I agree with Senator Courtice that every effort should be made to cooperate with the State Governments. The

Tasmanian Government has already instituted a free medical scheme for all children in certain areas, and, in addition, it has established dental clinics in many centres. If these facilities were extended throughout the length and breadth of Australia there would be a great improvement of the physical standard of the people generally. All the physical jerks in the world cannot do much to improve the physical standard of those who are suffering from the effects of malnutrition. Dealing with malnutrition and diet recently, Sir John Boyd said -

The Committee of Scientists appointed by the League of Nations to investigate nutritional needs reccommended for each child 2 pints of milk a day, I egg, or its yoke, a certain amount of fruit and vegetables, together with few commonly used foods. The committee stated that if such a diet were made available to every person it would ensure the disappearance of' all disease, ill-health and poor physique clue to faulty diet.

Instead of bringing in this scheme it seems that the Government would have done more good by taking steps to ensure that every child in the community is adequately fed. The foundations of the scheme should be laid in the cradle. To-day we are spending tens of millions of pounds on the training of soldiers for war purposes. To our dismay we have found that one-half of those called up for military service have been rejected because of the effects of malnutrition in their earlier years. In this measure we are hut putting the cart before the horse. If we are genuinely desirous of making this a nation of physically fit men and women we must first of all wipe out the slum areas that exist in every city and country town of any size in the Commonwealth. In addition, we must take steps to improve the conditions of those tens of thousands of workers who are endeavouring to bring up their families on less than the basic wage. With prices soaring as the result of the war, what hope has a man on the basic wage of buying the necessaries of life for himself and his family in sufficient quantities to enable them to develop healthy and sturdy bodies? The Government should tackle this problem in a national way. It should first explore all the possibilities of the extension of existing State schemes.

Unless that be done there must be inevitable overlapping. Already some of the States have financed fitness campaigns without any assistance from the Commonwealth. During the depression years and right up to 1935 we heard nothing about physical fitness campaigns in this country, although at that time thousands of our children were practically starving. The Government should now awake to a realization of the fact that the physical unfitness of many of our people to-day is due in a large degree to the treatment meted out to them in their years of adolescence. The Government must go right to the bottom of this problem. Reforms of this kind must start with the infant, because only by providing proper housing and food, and medical and dental clinics for the care of our children can wc give them a chance to develop into healthy men and women. If this war should continue for many years, or should it be followed by another war, just as this conflict litis followed upon the war of 1914-lS, we shall, undoubtedly, have brought home to us the necessity for providing millions of pounds, in order to ensure a high standard of physical fitness among our people. Only by that means shall we be enabled to make full use of our available manpower in our fight for freedom. In such circumstances neither this nor any other Government would bc so negligent as to tolerate conditions similar to those existing in the past, and which really explain the rejection, to-day of so great a percentage of young men who are presenting themselves for enlistment in our armed forces. Had a proper national fitness campaign been inaugurated even twenty years ago, we should not now be paying the penalty in that way for our neglect of this duty in the past. The physical standard of these rejects is due solely to malnutrition in their adolescent years, and the responsibility for that evil must be attributed to bad government.

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