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Tuesday, 16 October 1973
Page: 2141

Mr KERIN (MACARTHUR, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I draw the attention of the Minister for Health to the Budget proposal to phase out the issue of free milk to primary school children. Can the Minister inform the House of the health and medical reasons behind the decision, the views of State Health Ministers on the proposal from a health and medical point of view, what criteria will be used for a continuation of the scheme in some areas and whether the decision was in any way prompted by waste of milk involved in the scheme?

Dr EVERINGHAM (CAPRICORNIA, QUEENSLAND) (Minister for Health) - There are 3 aspects of the question that has been asked by the honourable member for Macarthur. The first concerns the health aspects associated with the phasing out of the provision of milk to school children. The sort of evidence that was brought forward at a recent conference that I had with State Ministers on this question has been generally available for some time. In fact, New Zealand discontinued its scheme in 1967 and Britain discontinued its scheme for all children over the age of 7 years in 1970. A Cabinet welfare committee report came before my predecessors in 1970 suggesting that it be phased out in Australia. There were various reasons, mainly political, advanced by my advisers as to why it was not done then.

Mr Anthony - That is not fair. It was rejected.

Dr EVERINGHAM - There were various reasons given.

Mr Anthony - Who can make a political judgment? What public servant can say?

Dr EVERINGHAM - In deference to the sensitivities of the Leader of the Australian Country Party I will withdraw the point that I made' about political decisions. 1 will say that the reasons given were mainly concerning the dairy industry.

The nutritional position is roughly this: When the scheme came in over 20 years ago there was some evidence that there were areas in Australia where children were deprived of protein and calcium. Evidence has been sought to confirm whether this is still the case and all the evidence indicates that this is not so. It is true that there are odd families in financial crisis - largely families that have been left in this crisis because of the failure of Commonwealth Governments in the past to cope with this crisis. They have left it to the States. In those families there is positive starvation. It is not a question of calcium and protein deficiency; it is a question of those families not having enough money to buy food. The Coombs Task Force and the Cabinet have agreed that it is far better to save this Si 2m - the cost has grown in 20 years from $3m to $12m - and make some provision for families in need than to try to force milk down the throats of those who do not want it. Of course, the schools that have have r st benefited by this have been those schools that have been able to put in refrigeration and make the milk attractive to the children; they have a good percentage of consumption. But there are some poor schools, and in some States it is left entirely to the parent organisations to provide refrigeration. Some of them cannot do this, and they would receive only 50 per cent of the funding for this under the Commonwealth scheme. So, a lot of milk has been wasted in areas where the best case could be made for continuing to provide it. The State Health Ministers have been told that we will consider the needs of special schools and classes on their merits and they have agreed to report to me along these lines by the end of this month.

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