Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (20:29): I welcome the opportunity to second the amendment to the motion moved by my friend and colleague the member for Parkes. Meals on Wheels is a cause that is very close to my heart. There is no disputing the fact that this organisation has played an absolutely vital role in our community for more than 60 years.
I commend Meals on Wheels Australia for not resting on their laurels but continually looking at ways that they can do things even better. Their initiative to research new ways to improve the nutritional status of elderly Australians should not – and cannot – be sidelined.
I was very disappointed to hear that there has been a distinct lack of support by federal, state and territory governments on the proposed nutrition project. This is despite the Balnaves Foundation in New South Wales agreeing to fund $200,000 of the project’s costs.
Unfortunately, while waiting for any indication of support from the federal and state governments, that funding commitment has now expired. I have to say: what an absolute waste. This is typical of a government that is determined to splurge billions of dollars it does not have on projects with little or no relevance to the average person but yet cannot support an absolutely vital project such as this.
In my electorate of Leichhardt, the Cairns, Marlin Coast and Port Douglas-Mossman branches of Meals on Wheels together produce more than 1,100 meals per week. Over the year, that is more than 57,000 regular meals.
Chris Schreyer, volunteer coordinator at the Cairns branch, told me that Meals on Wheels plays a huge role. Of course we know this. She said that for some people it is just a social visit, while for many others it is the only reason that they can stay in their own homes.
Rosemary Klein, from the Marlin Coast branch, said that the service is certainly vital to many people in the region who are ‘getting on’ a little in years and know they can no longer cook for themselves but do not want-or, in many cases, cannot afford-to move into a retirement home or an aged-care facility. They are really keen on staying in their own homes. Rosemary told me:
“The social support element of our service cannot be underestimated. If people have surgery and go into the hospital, our service is vital in order for them to be released into their homes earlier, so they can recover in their own environment.”
Unfortunately, when older people are on their own, the incentive and ability to cook their own meals is one of the first areas that appears to suffer. This is why nearly one-third of frail patients admitted to hospital are malnourished and a further 60 per cent are at risk of malnutrition.
I myself have done volunteer work over a number of years with Cairns Meals on Wheels. Recently I volunteered with Douglas Shire Meals on Wheels and saw firsthand just how these clients appreciated knowing that someone is keeping an eye on them while their families and friends are often away.
In my electorate it is no secret that older people, whether self-funded retirees or pensioners, are struggling to make ends meet. Cost of living pressures are a real issue, not only in my electorate but right across Australia. In my area for example, home insurance is going through the roof and food and electricity bills are starting to sky rocket. To get a very generously portioned meal at a subsidised price goes a long way towards helping reduce their financial stress.
I would also like to acknowledge the vital role that Meals on Wheels volunteers play in our communities, as without them the service would not be viable or possible. Day in, day out, these volunteers are up at the crack of dawn, preparing, cooking and packaging filling meals that are delivered to the clients in their homes. There are all sorts of onerous requirements now on many of these volunteers. They often say to me, ‘We come here to help serve meals, not to fill out applications for police checks and a whole range of other things.’ These are people who pay for their own fuel and give willingly of their time. We need to support them and make it easier for them to continue to volunteer.
In closing, I strongly urge the government today to support Meals on Wheels Australia’s nutrition project. Good nutrition is a vital ingredient for a healthy body, a happy mindset and an active lifestyle, so I call on this government to commit to providing some meaningful assistance to the most vulnerable sectors within our community.
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