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Friday, 15 May 1942

Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Prime Minister) [2.151. - The House is grateful to the Opposition for the strong supporting speech delivered by the honorable member for Parramatta (Sir FrederickStewart) to the second-reading speech of the Minister for Social Services (Mr. Holloway). It is a happy occasion for me, as the head of the Government, to see a measure of this nature launched in the House. In 1927 the then Prime Minister, Mr. Bruce was good enough to ask me to serve as a member on the royal commission appointed to survey the problems of family allowances, wage standards and so on in Australia. It is true that the royal commission took a considerable time to prosecute its inquiries and to furnish its report. The subjectmatter of the inquiry was much wider than pensions for widows with dependent children; it included the whole question of family allowances and general conditions arising in the domestic life of the community from the working of our economic system. The minority report to which I subscribed did not ask fora general plan of family allowances, but the second signatory to the minority report, Mrs. Muscio, of Sydney, thought that there should be included, as an integral part of the legislation, provision for widows who had dependent children.

I recall that as a private member 1 moved a motion in this House on the 6th December, 1934, in which I asked thai legislation be introduced to give effect to what I considered to be an imperative need in the social programme of a civilized community. I do not doubt that in time of war - perhaps more so then than at any other time - the importance of family life brings itself home to every intelligent citizen. It is for the defence of family life that the present war is being waged; it is also for the preservation of social life in time of war that the degree of agreement between the Opposition and the Government has been obtained. That is reflected in the- all-round support of social legislation which the Parliament has given in recent weeks. But we should look at this as a real problem both in time of peace and when we are at war. It is undoubted that the stature of the nation, as developed in time of peace, represents the quality it must invoke when war is brought to it. We cannot do better than use the material at our disposal; whatever the standards of the nation may be, improved standard.cannot be conjured out of the air when war comes. They have been developed as a result of national evolution, and that evolution is generally regarded as being due to the way in which the families of the nation have been dealt with in the social structure as a whole.

It is unfortunate that each year in Australia a number of comparatively young married men die. Statistics disclose that in the age-group between 20 and 40 years there are 16,000 such deaths annually. It is in that category that widows and children without a breadwinner are to be found. The widow's position excites the compassion of all. Let me picture what usually occurs. A young woman falls in love with a young man; they marry, and, according to statistical records, in the course of from two to five years children are born. During that period the husband is not able under any arrangements we like to contemplate to make adequate provision for the future of his wife and children. If he be of the best type - and I presume the majority are of that type - he is usually engaged in buying furniture and saving to secure a deposit for the purchase of their home, and for other costs incidental thereto. He does not wish to forgo all the social amenities that he and his wife enjoyed prior to marriage, and it is desirable that they should not do so. It is out of the question for the nation to expect that, unaided, the husband should be able to safeguard his wife and children against the contingency of his death, for on his death the family income ceases. If he does take out an endowment policy at that time, normally it would be inadequate cover, and in any event it is almost certain that on maturity its value would be required to discharge the debt on their home. In the circumstances, we have the spectacle of a young girl just coming to womanhood who probably had earned her livelihood before marriage. She has given up her role as a wage-earner and has become a housewife. That transition is of great national value. She has become a mother of a family and no longer is she self-reliant. Whatever theorists may say about it, she becomes in fact dependent upon the r earning capacity of her husband, and her future life is linked up with whatever be his ability in that respect. When that source of income is cut off, not only does the widow become obliged to assume the role of breadwinner for herself and her children, but where there are children she also has to accept the heavy obligation of nurturing them. Her obligations as a mother do not diminish, but to those obligations are added the role of breadwinner. That is nationally undesirable, and, in effect, it is detrimental to the welfare of family life. It forces the widow again to become a competitor with other women in the economic world, hut her competition cannot be as free as that of women against whom she would be contending for a livelihood. She has interrupted the continuity of her earning capacity; the world has moved on and in all probability she has been to some extent outmoded. There is a further human factor to be considered. She has undergone not only a physiological revolution by marriage and child-bearing, but she has inevitably accomplished for herself an entirely new relationship to the world at large. She is a changed woman, both as a wage-earner and as an individual. The burden of becoming a wageearner in addition to her maternal obligation is too grievous a load for any nation to impose upon her. The price that she must pay is also the price which her children must pay. They suffer in consequence and where the children of a nation suffer, inevitably the nation itself is weakened.

I conclude by identifying myself with this measure. I believe that it is the hope of the majority of the people that the Commonwealth will increasingly accept the responsibility for social services, thereby creating uniformity and equality in the advantages of this class of legislation, and at the same time assuring that the financial responsibility will be borne fairly by the community as a whole. I believe that the Parliament which is representative of the nation must itself be satisfied that the components that make up that nation have a fair share of the help which it is possible for Parliament, in its wisdom, to provide. Many countries have gone ahead of us in this respect. Australia was once in the vanguard in the matter of social legislation. That is not so to-day, but we are now overtaking the leeway to which a variety of causes have contributed. I offer ray congratulations to the Minister for Social Services upon the introduction of this bill. I should like to express to the chief spokesman for the Opposition on this measure the pleasure with which I heard his speech, and I should like also to pay tribute to ray former colleague on the royal commission, Mrs. Muscio, for the splendid work she has done. I share with her gratification at the consummation of the work we set out to do.

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