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Friday, 8 May 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) . - This bill will have the support of the general community. Its objects are laudable and, in my opinion, the arguments that have been advanced in support of it are overwhelming. The objections to the measure which have been raised by some honorable members are the same as those which have always been raised against the general principle of pensions. I am concerned with two or three aspects of the bill. For the first time since federation, Parliament has decided to treat as human beings those aboriginal natives who are living under civilized conditions. It would be appropriate if, as a symbolic gesture, we passed this measure standing and with our heads bowed, because the white race in Australia has an awful record for its treat ment of the native population. The failure of the Commonwealth Parliament over a period of 40 years to recognize full-blooded and half-cast aborigines as human beings has probably no parallel in any country. We have no reason to be proud of our treatment of our aboriginal population. We have illused them and have even emulated the English colonists of America by bringing the coloured natives of other countries here in order to exploit- them. For many years the " black-birding " of kanakas was practised in a part of this country, and the very few remaining kanakas in Queensland are living evidence of a period in our history of which we have every reason to be ashamed. These few survivors of that awful traffic are a challenge to our vaunted Christianity and are an ever-present reminder of the shocking specimens of so-called white humanity who ill-used them for many years. They were brought to Australia in circumstances that were as revolting as the circumstances attendant upon slave trading in the most unenlightened days of other countries. At one time, when the conscience of the people began to assert itself in opposition to this traffic, agitation was commenced in Queensland for the establishment of a republican form of government there in order that the persons who were making money out of this trade in human flesh could break away from the Empire and thereby be free to continue their nefarious practice. Fewer than 100 kanakas are in Queensland to-day. I regret that it has taken so long for us to give to these people some recognition of their value as citizens and to recompense them in some way for the ill usage to which they were subjected years ago. Most of them are 70 or 80 years of age. It would almost seem that at the eleventh hour, when they are practically on their death-beds, we are offering to them some sort of apology for the way in which the so-called magnificent white race in Australia treated them and their fellows long ago. Full-blooded aborigines are not very numerous in Victoria, but there are a number of half-caste aborigines in my electorate. Although many half-caste and quarter-caste aborigines from Fitzroy are members of the Australian Imperial Force, and, although others fought in the Great War, until this bill becomes law their parents and grand-parents will not be eligible for an old-age pension. It is with pleasure that I also notice that in the bill provision is made that an aboriginal who is physically handicapped may become eligible for an invalid pension.

There is one aspect of the regulations governing invalid pensions to which I direct the attention of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway). I think that dwarfism should be regarded as a disability within the meaning of the act. Although some dwarfs may be physically and mentally alert, I do not think it right that the department should regard dwarfs as being subject to the same considerations as people of normal stature. I have taken up with the department the case of a young woman who is a dwarf and whose father is a soldier. He is obliged to maintain the girl, and to pay high prices for special shoes for her, and although she can help about the house, by no stretch of the imagination can she be considered a person capable of engaging in competition in a work-room with her fellows. Her capacity is greatly reduced and she is handicapped by her unfortunate physical deformities. There are not many dwarfs in Australia, hut I consider that they should be treated in the same way as blind people - as a class apart. They should not be made to prove that they are incapable of performing ordinary work that can be done by their more fortunate brothers and sisters who have not been handicapped from birth. Had time permitted I should have liked to have said something in reply to the speeches made by Opposition members regarding the increased cost of pensions - whether we should pay increased pensions only in times of prosperity, whether pensions should be increased in war-time, and so on. It is admitted that the number of pensioners is increasing and that, thanks to the advance of medical science, they are living longer. Admittedly, the annual pensions bill in relation to the annual value of production, both primary and secondary, is becoming disproportionately greater. One important reason is that the birth-rate in Australia has fallen considerably in recent years. I believe that actuaries and others who are interested in making comparisons estimate that the Common wealth has lost hundreds of thousands of citizens who otherwise would have been horn, had the birth-rate from 1931-32 to 1941-42 been maintained at the rate in the previous decade. If this and succeeding governments are to deal with the problem of the increasing pensions bill in conjunction with the necessity for increasing production in both primary and secondary industries, something must be done to ensure that Australia maintains an adequate working population. "We need more wage-earners and producers to provide the revenues from which to pay pensions. I said recently, in another debate, that in my opinion everything possible should be done to increase the population of Australia within the next generation or so to 20,000,000 or 30,000,000 people. The Government should encourage the birthrate and not ignore the awful evils that confront it in connexion with this problem. Drastic action should be taken with the abortionists who are killing off unborn children, and it should be the duty of a government in a professedly Christian country such as Australia to restrict the advertising of contraceptives. For too long have we ignored these evils, and now we find that after only 150 years' occupation of this country we, as a white race, are almost bleeding to death. In other words, there has been practically no increase of the population of Australia in recent years. I hope that the Minister for Social Services will take early action to rectify some qf the anomalies I have mentioned. I wish the bill a speedy passage through this House, and I trust that it will not be delayed in the Senate. I shall then expect the early introduction of complementary measures. "When all the social security bills that have been mooted become law, this Parliament will be able to say that it has done something to promote the social security of the nation and for the establishment of social justice in the country.

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