Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) . - I direct the attention of the Minister for Social Services and Minister for Health (Mr. Holloway) to the anomalous position in Victoria in respect of child endowment payments to children in charitable institutions.

When the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Holt), as Minister for Social Services, introduced the child endowment bill last year, he said that children in charitable institutions would receive child endowment; further, that it was not the intention of the Commonwealth Government that any State government should deprive an institution in receipt of child endowment payments of any amount that it previously received by way of a grant from a hospital and charities fund. Unfortunately, in

Victoria, despite the statement of the Minister and the intention of the Government of that day - which I believe to be the intention of the present Government - the Charities Board of Victoria i? deducting from its annual grants sum? approximately equal to the amounts which such institutions are receiving by way of child endowment. Under the bil! which this House passed to-night, even government institutions will in future receive the benefit of child endowment payments. Action has to be taken by means of legislation or regulation in order to restrain the Charities Board of Victoria from proceeding to defeat the objects of Commonwealth legislation and show a profit on the activities of the Commonwealth Departments of Health and Social Services.

The Child Endowment Act 1941, provided for the payment of 5s. a week to non-government institutions, such a.» orphanages and the like, for each child under the age of sixteen years, living a3 an inmate therein. Prior to the beginning of the current financial year, th, Charities Board of Victoria had been authorizing the payment of grants o1' varying amounts to many of these institutions. Shortly after their receipt t-t the first payment under the Child Endowment Act the board, in November, 1941. forwarded a letter to a number of institutions, in the following terms : -

You are aware that your quarterly instalments of grants from hospitals and charities fund have not been released this financial year, and no doubt you appreciate the desire of the Charities Board to review the effect of payments under the terms of the Child Endowment Act of the Commonwealth of Australia before doing so.

Now that information is available showing the approximate payments which your committee should receive from child endowment funds, the Charities Board has decided that it will not in future recommend regular grant? from hospitals and charities fund.

The Charities Board does not wish it to be understood that assistance from hospitals and charities fund is now entirely withdrawn: on the contrary, if your organization is experiencing any financial difficulty and submits full information stating the reasons or wishes t.o obtain help for any special purpose, the board will at all times be .prepared to give careful consideration to any application made.

The effect of this letter was the cancellation of the grants previously made, although there was an attempt to qualify the board's decision by suggesting that, if financial difficulties were experienced in the future, "careful consideration would be given to any application that was made ". Two or three days after this letter was forwarded, a public protest was made by Mr. Cremean, M.L.A., at a function held at Broadmeadows Foundling Hospital. In consequence, Mr. McVilly, the secretary to the board, prepared a reply which was given to the press by the chairman of the board on the 24th November, 1941. The following is an extract from it, published in the Melbourne Herald of that date: -

The grant from the fund to the institutions in question exceeds £25,000, a year, and it scorns to the board that it would be inexcusable to ask the taxpayers to provide this sum annually unless there is ample evidence that it is needed. At present there is none-

Of course, in the eyes of the board, there was no need, when the Commonwealth Government was making the necessary provision -

The Charities Board is charged by Parliament with distributing the Hospitals a.nd Charities Fund, to take into account the financial position of any institution and the money likely to be contributed during the year, other than from the fund, and probable expenditure. We do not understand that Parliament desires us to allocate to any organization money which is not required for it* purpose.

On the same date, the Victorian Ministry gave consideration to the matter, and decided that all applications for charities grants should be considered by the board on their merits, but that no account should be taken of child endowment payments when such consideration was being given. The Minister for Health and Social Services, in December, 1941, forwarded to Mr. Cremean, M.L.A., a letter in which he expressed entire disagreement with the attitude adopted by the Charities Board of Victoria. He went on to state that de Commonwealth Government was considering the extension of child endowment payments so as to cover the children in State institutions, but that the action of the Victorian body offered little encouragement to proceed with such a proposal. The full text of the letter was as follows : -

It must come as a very great shock to our Victorian people to read that the authorities controlling the Victorian Charities Board intend to discontinue the payment of grants to those institutions where the children are receiving the Commonwealth child endowment.

For myself, knowing what splendid work the Charities Board has done in co-operation with those Christian institutions which provide payments for children, thus bringing sunshine, health and some degree of pleasure to hundreds of our future men and women, I cannot help contemplating the unhappy results which assuredly must follow such a decision. Such an action would nullify that which, I am sure, we are desirous of doing towards improving the economic and social security of all our people, especially of those in the greatest need of our help.

If we in Australia really desire to gradually but surely increase the social security of the people, surely the only way is by all Federal, State and semi-public bodies working in harmony with each other so that real progress can be made. If we fail to do that, and I am sure we will not, then all out efforts at improving the lot of our worst placed people will be unavailing. It is particularly undesirable that any one particular body withdraw its support or fail to continue what it has been doing because some other authority tries to improve the conditions a little further.

Child endowment was meant to improve the lot of all children by adding to the wages of a family where there was more than one dependent child under the age of sixteen years. It has been accepted that the basic wage is sufficient to cover a family unit of three. Therefore, the child endowment was to be in addition to what the family received by way of income previously.

In addition, the Federal Government decided that child endowment should be' paid in respect of all children in certain approved institutions and in cases where State aid is being paid to foster-mothers. These payments have been regarded by every one as an additional means of assisting those in needy circumstances, but they have not been regarded as sufficient to meet the real needs of the family, or of the homes in which they receive shelter.

In effect, child endowment was added in these cases in the manner it was, because it was felt necessary to give at least some amount of social security. If one authority reduces its assistance by an amount equal to the child endowment, there would be practically no social improvement at all, and much of the good it was anticipated would be done, will remain undone.

I am sure the Charities Board will remember the appeals which were made by members of all parties when the Child Endowment Bill was under discussion, that all State or semiState institutions should not withdraw any of the assistance and undermine the good work that they were doing prior to the inception of the endowment payments.

Early next year I hope to arrange a discussion with State governments on all matters regarding social security and that we will agree to dovetail our efforts in such a way that the maximum good is done for all members of the community.

In the meantime, I trust that the Premier of Victoria, Mr. Dunstan, and the members of the Charities Board will continue the very excellent work that they have been doing in the past and permit those receiving State aid to retain the advantage of the federal child endowment, which really means a very great deal to the individuals concerned.

Let me say this too, that the Commonwealth Government has been giving consideration to extending the child endowment grant to inmates of all State institutions, but I can say with certainty, that if charitable grants are to be withdrawn as a result of child endowment payments, it would be no use the Commonwealth Government proceeding further in this matter.

With best wishes and hoping for a favorable review of the proposed action.

Mr. Cremean,M.L.A., made further personal representations to the Premier of Victoria, Mr. A. A. Dunstan, and the latter discussed the position with Mr. McVilly. As a result of these representations, the Charities Board, in December, 1941, again considered its decision, and a circular letter was forwarded to the affected institutions. In this, reference was made to the previous letter ofthe board, dated the 18th November. The board's attitude wasreaffirmed, and forms were forwarded on which the institutions had to indicate the amounts they had received from various sources. The first source stated was child endowment. Judged by the whole of the evidence, it is obvious that the Charities Board of Victoria has set out to defeat the objects of Commonwealth legislation. A further letter was forwarded by the board on the 12th January, 1942. It contained a questionnaire relating to the possible costs of more intensive mothercraft, kindergarten, and other training. These institutions are not in receipt of very large funds, and arc always in financial difficulties. They had intended, with child endowment payments to provide more of the amenities of life for the unfortunate children who were in their charge. They have been prevented from engaging in more intensive mothercraft, kindergarten, and other training, by the niggardliness and contemptible meanness of the Charities Board of Victoria. Upon receipt of the replies, the board decided to revise its policy to some degree, as follows : -

(a)   To makea grant to institutions to cover actual increases of expenditure for the current year, over their budgetary estimates; and

(b)   If an institution adopted the policy of providing additional amenities for its children, such as more kindergarten training, &c., the board would consider, at the end of the financial year, the payment of one-half of the increased wages cost, only, created by such a policy.

Needless to say, the result of this alleged revision of policy has been that this year the board will pay out only a fraction of the amount that it paid by way of grants to institutions in 1940-41. In addition, institutions that havesome regard for their financial position are not likely to provide extra amenities out of their reserve funds, on the rather nebulous promise that a small proportion only of theextra cost involved would be met by way of grants. Broadmeadows Foundling Hospitalisagood example of the effect of the board's policy. In 1940-41. that institution, which is the largest of its kind in the Commonwealth and caters for more than 250 children, received a grant of £2,500 from the Victorian Government. Child endowment payment.? probably amount to about £2,900 for the year. Had this amount been received in addition to the year's ordinary income, proposals were afoot to give to the children more individual attention, which is a powerful factor in fostering their mental development A big extension of the hospital's kindergarten work,and of its mothercraft work also, was contemplated. The grant has been reduced from £2,500 to £400. Although this would have met ordinary increases, costs have risen so sharply, recently, as to make it certain that it will not serve 50 per cent. of its purpose. This means, of course, that the children in the institution will have to forgo the amenities which child endowment would have provided if the Victorian Government grant had been maintained at its old rate. It is apparent that the Charities Board of Victoria does not understand the reason for which child endowment is payable; that is, to enable provision to be made for the child concerned, in addition to that which is possible from the existing income of the child's guardian. The board considers child endowment to be merely a subsidy to the State Government, and puts itself in the same position as would be an employer who said to his employee, "I have been paying you £5 a week. I notice that, in future, you are to receive £1 a week as child endowment. Therefore, Ishall reduce your wages to £4 5s. a week.But as, with the addition of child endowment, you will, in future, receive a total amount of £5 5s. a week, you should be quite happy with the position. In fact, we shall both be happy, as you will be receiving 5s. a week more than previously, and I shall be saving 15s. a week". If the Victorian attitude is correct, the Commonwealth should not pay child endowment to institutions. Would not a good deal of time and trouble be saved if a direct grant of the amount were made to Victorian consolidated revenue? Unfortunately, the Charities Board of Victoria almost completely dominates many of the Victorian charitable institutions, because of " the power of the purse ", and it is well known that many of those institutions have been bluffed by the board into agreement with its proposal. This position is accentuated by the fact that the board pos- sessees sufficient powers - such as those of rigorous inspection, &c. - to make itself a complete nuisance to the institutions. Mr. McVilly is developing such Hitlerian tendencies that he is almost claiming the right to make the appointment of secretaries to all the hospitals in Victoria. It is obvious that something has to be done to destroy the power of the Charities Board of Victoria to frustrate the purposes of this Parliament. It has been making a profit of anything up to £15,000 a year out of child endowment since these payments were begun by the Commonwealth. I believe that I am entitled to ask what the Minister proposes to do. I am sure of his sympathy and of his disagreement with the attitude adopted by the board; but it is one thing to have sympathy, and another thing to do something. There is sufficient regulatory power which the Government might use in order to prevent the board from continuing its present practice. Is the Minister prepared to gazette an appropriate regulation to compel the board to continue to pay to these institutions the grants that it paid prior to the inauguration of a Commonwealth scheme of child endowment?

Suggest corrections