Private Members' Business - Meals on Wheels

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (20:41): I also want to take the opportunity tonight to participate in this important matter before the House moved by the member for Shortland, recognising the work that Meals on Wheels does in our communities and indeed has done for a very long time. As the member for Paterson said, all communities would be well aware of the Meals on Wheels services. They have a long, well-established reputation and are greatly valued. In fact, before being elected to this place, I got a job working in Sydney. I had been doing some volunteer work over the years, mainly, I have to say, for organisations associated with my children, and I was a bit disappointed that, having to commute to Sydney, it would be difficult to continue some sort of community volunteerism and involvement. I was working in a job where I had a flex day a month and it was drawn to my attention that Meals on Wheels might be a good option because you can actually commit to doing it just the one day a month if that is all you have available. I thought it was a great idea to get out at lunchtime on my day at home and go round and do that. It was an hour or 1½ hours once a month. So I enlisted as a volunteer with Meals on Wheels for a couple of years before I was elected to this place.

It was a service that I had been aware of and had valued as a general member of the community. But once you actually do it you get a whole new appreciation for how significant and important it is, and the motion by the member for Shortland reflects that. It is about providing nutritious food to people who are frail, elderly or isolated and unable to access the family connections and so forth that some of us would take for granted to provide that sort of support regularly, or indeed they may have just decided to be a bit more independent and to find ways to provide for themselves without putting that pressure on their families. There are a whole range of reasons for which people choose to use that service.

But it is more than the provision of meals; it is the fact that somebody comes into the home and engages with them. When you have the little red bag sitting in the car with all the hot meals waiting to be delivered you are conscious of the next person down the line, waiting for you to turn up at the front door, and so sometimes you have to be a bit careful not to get caught up in too many conversations with the people you are delivering food to. They are often people who not only want to have a bit of a chat but also have amazing life stories and tremendous experiences to share. I have to say, that for those couple of years it was one of the most pleasurable volunteering activities I have ever been involved with. I absolutely commend all those in our community who do work as volunteers in the Meals on Wheels service.

It was interesting for me as we gathered at the back of our local club where the meals were put out from, that probably two-thirds, if not more, of those who were volunteering with me in that service were retirement-age people themselves—the 'young ones', as they like to call themselves. I was chatting to some of them one day and they said that perhaps at that point in life you get a greater appreciation for the role of volunteers in keeping people in their own homes for longer and that this was something that they saw as a useful community service and something that they would appreciate later in life.

I think that is a great thing about volunteering. People understand that we strengthen our whole community. It is not just that you are doing something for someone else; as a community we all rely in different ways on people participating beyond the paid job, and this is seen in all sorts of volunteering activities. As I said, from my own experience it starts with your kids. You do the sports organising, or you do the fundraising for the drama group or whatever they are involved with.

I think we engage in very effective ways as volunteers in our community. If we want to sustain people in their homes to have a healthy, happy period of ageing, we want to make sure that they can do that in the best way possible. Meals on Wheels is a tremendous service, absolutely worthy of the support and the comments of all of those so far in this debate, and I am sure that those who will contribute later will acknowledge how important and how valued a service it is and our great appreciation for the wonderful volunteers in our communities that make things possible day in and day out. And to those who organise and provide the professional support to them as well, it is a tremendous effort all round.