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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 273

Mr LEO McLEAY(11.32) —I wish to raise two matters today. The first relates to the perilous situation that a number of Meals on Wheels organisations in Sydney, and I would imagine in Melbourne, are in at present. Meals on Wheels organisations provide a most important service to many home bound pensioners. Indeed, the Meals on Wheels service provides many pensioners in my electorate with their only decent feed during the week. For that reason the organisations are in need of significant financial support from governments and in need of significant community support from people within the areas that they serve.

Some of the Meals on Wheels organisations in my electorate of Grayndler at present are experiencing both severe financial difficulties and difficulties with community support. Many of the inner city working class areas in Sydney and , no doubt in Melbourne as well, are facing a crisis in this regard. The pool of volunteers that those organisations have normally been able to draw upon is starting to dwindle. The Marrickville Council, for instance, is one of the municipalities in my electorate which conducts a very large Meals on Wheels service. It is an inner city suburb of Sydney with a rapidly aging population and an extremely high poverty rate. The incidence of car ownership in that area is extremely low and the pool of volunteers that the Meals on Wheels service can draw upon is restricted, whilst the pool of people who are beginning to apply for Meals on Wheels is rapidly widening.

In my view there are a number of reasons why this volunteer pool is decreasing. As I mentioned earlier, there is a low incidence of car ownership in the inner city areas of Sydney. However, there is also an increasing circle of poverty among pensioners who own their own car. I feel there is a need to move away from the concept of worthy charity as the way that governments and communities have looked at Meals on Wheels services in the past, and to start to put them on a rational footing. I believe there is a necessity to ensure that there is still a high level of voluntary assistance in the schemes. We have come to the stage in 1983 where we are going to have to provide some financial support to those volunteers. The Marrickville Council, for instance, as I instanced before, has a very large Meals on Wheels program. It has applied to the Commonwealth Government for a grant of $23,000 to assist in keeping its service going. It estimates that the $23,000 will allow it to subsidise the drivers who provide their vehicles at the rate of $10 per week. Ten dollars is not a great deal of money. But to many of the pensioners who are assisting the scheme in Marrickville it is the difference in whether they can afford the petrol to make their car available or not. The Council also wishes to subsidise the runners, the people who hand the meals out, to the tune of $3 a week. This is a very small amount of money but it is an incentive for people to take on this most worthwhile work. I think we, as a Government and as a Parliament, should be assisting that service.

I am sure-as Marrickville Council is sure-that there are many people in the Marrickville area who have the time to contribute to the Meals on Wheels services but whose restricted income will not stretch to meet the costs of their involvement in the service. Without the support of governments to assist volunteers to meet out of pocket expenses the future of the Meals on Wheels service in Sydney, and in the Marrickville area in particular, is threatened, with the accompanying high risk of those people who now receive meals being institutionalised. When one considers that the cost of providing assistance to Meals on Wheels is less than one-tenth of the cost of providing an institutional bed in a nursing home or hostel, one realises not only that it is very good for the people involved but also that it makes extremely good sense for governments to subsidise these activities. To subsidise them in worthwhile areas, such as Marrickville, to the tune of assisting the volunteers would be one way of ensuring that those schemes do not disintegrate.

I also draw to the attention of the House a matter that is causing many of my constituents difficulty when they are acquiring passports. My electorate has one of the highest migrant contents of all electorates in this country. Consequently , many of my constituents, because of family commitments, require to travel out of Australia quite frequently. While I applaud the recent moves by the Government to tighten up the regulations relating to the issuing of passports to Australian citizens-the intentions behind the tightening of those regulations was most laudable-a minority of otherwise worthy and upright citizens in my electorate are being discriminated against. The Government has reduced the number of categories of people who are eligible to certify that persons making passport applications are who they say they are. The object of this certification is to ensure that the persons who are signing the certificates are able to attest quite honestly to the fact that applicants are the persons they claim to be. However, when we look at the rather truncated list of those who are eligible to sign this certificate, we find ourselves in some difficulty. For instance, an atheist or lapsed churchgoer who is a healthy person with good teeth and no criminal record is unlikely to know any of the people who are listed as being eligible to provide the certificate.

Mr Simmons —They know their local member, though.

Mr LEO McLEAY —I will come to that in a moment. If the honourable member has been signing the certificates, he will be in trouble too. The people who are eligible to sign those certificates are judges, dentists, clergymen, doctors, et cetera-not the normal type of people among whom the working people of an electorate such as mine would circulate. As I have said, if they are lapsed churchgoers, if they are healthy, if they have good teeth or if they have not had any trouble with the police or with judges, they do not know any of these people. This has caused great difficulty for many of my constituents. In desperation they have come to me and asked me, their elected member of parliament-as the honourable member for Calare has just suggested-to sign these certificates for them. They take the view that, if the Government has caused them this problem of not knowing anyone who is eligible, I ought to get them out of it by signing the certificate. Quite frankly, while I can accept the fairness in their argument, I am unwilling to sign those certificates because I do not know the people. So we have a catch-22 situation where people who should be able to receive a passport because they are Australian citizens and wish to travel overseas are placed in the rather invidious position of being unable to know many or all the categories of people who are now eligible to sign the certificates. While, as I said, there is a great need for the Government to tighten up the regulations in relation to the issuing of passports, there is also now a need to review the new system, in view of its operation, so that these people who are falling through the net can have their problems resolved.

Finally, I quickly raise the position of two of my constituents, Mr and Mrs Mraz, who came to Australia from Czechoslavakia on visitors visas late last year . In February this year they applied to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in Sydney for consideration as refugees. They were interviewed in March with the assistance of an interpreter provided by the Department and were informed that it would take about two to three weeks for the recording of that interview to be transcribed after which it would be sent to Canberra for consideration. On 16 August this year I was approached by the Mrazs as they had heard nothing further from the Department. When I contacted the Department, I was informed that the tape had been impossible to transcribe and that they would need to be re-interviewed. However, the Department had not bothered to tell them that. The Department then told me that it would take a further six to 12 months before a decision was reached. I know that the refugee section of the Department has been particularly busy lately, but why did it take six months to arrange a re-interview and how long would it have taken if I had not approached the Department? People who have applied for refugee status in this country are unable to work because of their official status as visitors and they are experiencing hardship because their families resources to support them are becoming strained. They are suffering emotionally because of the uncertainity of their future and they are informed that this uncertainity could go on for another 12 months. I ask the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) to take this matter under urgent review and to try to resolve the problem of the Mrazs now.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable members time has expired.