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Wednesday, 31 July 1946

Dame ENID LYONS (Darwin) . - I confess to a feeling of very great disappointment. I came into this Parliament nearly three years ago. In' the first speech that I made, I professed what might be termed my political faith. I remember particularly pointing to the need for the encouragement of youth in this country; the need for the encouragement of the birthrate. I mentioned certain factors in our domestic economy which militated against that desirable objective. I referred particularly to the basic wage and its operation, and said that it was too meagre. I claimed that it was assessed on a wrong basis, that . it should be determined according to the needs of a man and his wife - or, shall I say, a man and a dependant;, in other words, a double unit - and that the children should be a charge upon the general community. I believed that if I waited long enough, when the war was over and the financial position showed some signs of making it feasible, this Government would take steps to ensure something of that kind. But I have looked' in vain -for that reform in the measure that is now before us, providing, as it does, for certain things that are very well worth, while,, but excluding other things of very much more importance. The Government proposes certain measures which will mean an increase of income for a large number of old-age pensioners, and will make it possible for other persons to become eligible for the pension. With that, I am heartily in accord. But I suggest that, having regard to the future, it is much more necessary to concentrate upon the other end of the scale, and that far better results would accrue if .we did so. It is" generally agreed at the present time that the basic wage does not adequately meet the needs of even the smallest family. That is a matter of general opinion. But it is also, as I see it, easily demonstrated from statistics, because of one particular fact: The regimen that is used to determine the variation of the basic wage includes a certain number of items.' I particularly draw attention to the fact that the basic wage is not assessed on those items; but from time to time the variation is decided upon them, because they are regarded as a means for obtaining an indication of the variations of the cost of living. Each of the items appearing thereon represents a group of commodities that are necessary to the living of a family. I point out, however, that there is one group of foods which, next to dairy products, are regarded as the most important preventive foods that may bo given to children. They are represented by one item, and that item does not help us in any way to get a true picture of the cost of the group. I refer to fruits and vegetables, which every dietitian in the world to-day insists mustform a part of a well-balanced diet, particularly for young people. The only item in the " C " series which represents that group is potatoes; and for very good reasons. Throughout the last several years the price of potatoes has been maintained artificially at a low level. Therefore, the increase of cost in that particular group of foods has never entered in any way into a variation of the basic wage and the cost of living. Until the basic wage is revised, many people in this country will not get the right quantity of foods to maintain them in health. Every survey that has been made in the last few years shows that to be true - that there are thousands of undernourished children in this country.

Mr Mountjoy - That has always been the case.

Dame ENID LYONS - That has always been the case. It has been, and still is, partly due to the fact that the people have not been sufficiently well instructed as to the kinds of food that should be consumed. It' is also true that people on the basic wage have not the means to provide a sufficiency of those foods. So, I look to the time when the basic wage will be revised. This Parliament has no power to do that. But it has in its hands a power which could have been, but has not been, used to clear the way, at any rate for some improvement - that is, by extension of the child endowment to cover the first child. In respect of every family, that would have the effect of raising the basic wage by 7s. 6d. a week, without, as happens under the present system, giving to a large number of people with no family responsibilities a rise equal to that obtained by those who have assumed such responsibilities. I am perfectly well aware that, at the present time, one of the difficulties that we face is the circulation of too much money relative to the volume of goods that may be purchased. I suggest, however, that the sort of goods which would be purchased by the family man, as. a result of my proposal, are not, for the most part, in the class of. goods that I have mentioned, namely, those that are in short supply. We are not short of food, but we are short of the organization that will ensure its proper distribution. Money diverted into the hands of the mother of a family would be expended in legitimate channels and would not have the same impact on the national economy that any other increase would have. All spending will be in legitimate channels and we shall not have the inflationary tendency that follows when money is put into the hands of persons lacking proper responsibility. Some people will say that this is not the proper time to introduce a reform of the kind that I advocate. Obviously, the Governmentbelieves that it is not. However, the Government can find money for a thousand other things, and this is something that we cannot afford to neglect, because it is really an insurance for the future. We are now creating a tremendous hospital organization, the cost of which will be staggering, and we think we are doing something splendid ; but if we founded our social services on the wellbeing of the children there would be no need to assume such a staggering burden for health services. An extension of child endowment is the first reform that any government with a sense of responsibility should undertake. It would ensure a better family life in the future for children born into thehomes, a better chance of getting help for mothers who have to carry out the duties connected with the raising of children, and a better chance, also, for the men who, in the future, should be expected . to produce still larger families. We are all the time dying but for population, and the neglect of this end of the age scale can be no longer excused. I repeat that I am bitterly disappointed that the Government has not seen fit to do what I suggest. I will not rest until this matter of child endowment, which was- introduced by a government representing parties on this side of the House at a most difficult period of our history, i3 extended as it ought to be. I have believed up to the present that the time was not opportune to make a move. However, the time is now ripe, and unless the Government takes appropriate action it will be condemned by the people who put their faith in it in the past.

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