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Tuesday, 29 May 1973
Page: 2788


Mr CORBETT (Maranoa) - This Bill is designed to provide 12 weeks' maternity leave on full pay for Commonwealth Government employees. The Australian Country Party accepts the position as outlined by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch), when he spoke on behalf of the Opposition, that these benefits are provided for Commonwealth employees to enable them to prepare on full pay for confinement and to have some 6 weeks on full pay following the birth of the child to make satisfactory arrangements for a return to work. Because of these purposes we do not oppose the Bill. There is every justification for providing these benefits. By all means let us give adequate assistance to pregnant women in the period prescribed in the Bill. But let these benefits be spread over all our pregnant women who need and deserve such assistance and not merely over the privileged section of the work force as defined in this Bill.

My concern is not that the benefits are being provided for Commonwealth employees but that only Commonwealth employees will enjoy these benefits. Following the very substantially improved benefits proposed for Commonwealth employees under the Compensation Bill, it is fair, I believe, to ask the question: Does this Government intend to make one section of the work force a very privileged section of the community and disregard the claims of other sections of the work force for similar benefits? I submit that the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) and the Government are showing no concern for employees outside the Public Service as far as this benefit is concerned. That is clear from the remarks contained in the Minister's second reading speech on this Bill, which I can quote. This remark came as a result of question by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The Minister said:

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked whether there would be any flow-on. The answer is no, there cannot be a flow-on to private employers. It is impossible to have a flow-on. Indeed, if any attempt were made to bring about a flow-on to private employers as a consequence of this, the Government would oppose it. If the matter came before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission the Government would be prepared to intervene and officially to oppose it.


Mr Wilson - The honourable member for Phillip wants it to flow on, though.


Mr CORBETT - That is the point that he was emphasising. The honourable member for Phillip said that he would come to some point in reply to an interjection, but we did not hear much about it, although he did mention the International Labour Organisation. However I shall continue with the quotation from the Minister's second reading speech. He continued:

It would be contrary to the ILO Convention. It would be something which would be detrimental, I would think, in the long run, to employees themselves if it did flow on. The short answer to the interjection which, in a way, I am glad the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made, is that there will no flow-on to private employers.

I think that surely must clearly demonstrate that the Government is not concerned with the employees or women generally outside the Commonwealth Public Service in the provision of these benefits. I believe that this blatantly discriminatory attitude against the work force outside the Public Service is to be deplored. Despite what the Minister said I consider that maternity benefits should be paid to all women who need and deserve them. A scheme should be established through contributions by industry and the Government which would enable this to be done in a way which would have the least detrimental effect on the economy.

This brings me to a particularly important aspect of the benefits to be provided for the work force generally. The fact is that we must have a priority of application of benefits. We have to create those benefits and maintain them within the limits of sound economic principles. I also consider that a much more equitable method of providing maternity allowance would be to make that allowance at the same rate to all women who are in need of it rather than at a rate determined by the actual rate of pay received by the woman involved. The provisions in the Bill would obviously favour a woman receiving a higher rate of pay by comparison with a woman on a lower rate of pay. Surely this is the type of principle the Government has been advocating down the years. Yet when it has the opportunity to implement such a policy it does not. It neglects this opportunity. I see that the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) is nodding agreement to this proposition.

An extremely important adjunct to maternity allowances for those mothers who want to resume work is the provision of more child minding centres. I know that this has been mentioned previously, but this aspect of the problem of working mothers must be resolved in order to enable them to come back into employment after they have received the benefits set out in this Bill. Because this factor apparently has not been taken into consideration it draws attention to the ad hoc piecemeal approach to legislation which provides benefits to sections of the community. It is a careless approach to an important aspect of government. It is careless to the point of irresponsibility. This irresponsibility is highlighted by the fact that, as was mentioned previously by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, no mention has been made of the cost to the taxpayers to provide the benefits envisaged by this Bill.

I do not believe that we would necessarily reject a proposal because of the costs involved, but if we are to debate any Bill adequately - I mentioned this previously in the debate on the Compensation Bill - I think we should have some assessment of the cost of the proposals. Irrespective of whether there is some cost saving in relation to the reemployment of women who had been in employment, the cost to the taxpayers should be plainly spelt out. I believe that the Government should be condemned for not going more deeply into this aspect so that the Parliament could consider it. A figure of $3. 3m was revealed to the Parliament only as a result of questions asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. I say again that this is something of which I believe the Gov. cernment will have to take cognisance. I appeal to the Government when it brings down measures to give more consideration to what the cost will be to the taxpayers so that the Parliament and the people will know just what amount of money will be involved. I repeat, because I do not want that remark thrown back at me, that we on this side of the House would not be prepared to reject a measure simply because it was costly, but I think it is fair enough to say that we should know what the cost to the taxpayers will be.

Surely it is not too much to expect that any government will give an outline of the proposal to provide benefits and the order of priority in giving those benefits. In other words, we want a planned approach to the provision of benefits and we want to know the cost of each of them so that we can get an idea of what sort of benefits are most needed, what the cost will be overall and how funds will be provided to meet the costs. This would give members of the Parliament an opportunity to evaluate all the proposals in relation to the overall effect on the economy. Whether we like it or not, whatever benefits are provided should be in accordance with the funds which are available to meet the cost of providing them. We cannot just hand out benefits. Probably we would all like to do that. We must relate benefits to keeping the economy on a sound basis. Surely this need not be emphasised very greatly in the tight of world conditions which exist today. We have seen m recent times the examples of economies m countries which have disregarded those principles. They are in very real difficulties today. 1 venture to suggest that unless this Government takes more notice of the fundamental economic principles which apply world wide, our own Australian economy, sound as it is, may also get into, very real difficulty. The Australian economy was in a very sound condition when this Government took over, but its supporters do not tell us that although they are fond of saying what has happened over the past 23 years.

I want to say in reply to the criticism which has flowed constantly from members of the Opposition that over the past 23 years the previous Government provided continuing benefits. Honourable members should look at the benefits which applied in 1949 and look down the years to see the continuing benefits which have been provided. When this Government goes out of office, despite whatever reckless spending it may have indulged in, there will still be a need for continuing benefits to be provided, and if the rate of inflation is to be overcome they will have to be provided at a faster rate than was ever previously considered to be necessary. This is the other factor to be taken into consideration when we are looking at how any measures that this Government brings down affect the economy because we cannot avoid inflationary problems. We cannot put our head in the sand in relation to that aspect.

It is very easy for governments to hand out benefits without regard to economic consequences, but the cold hard facts are that unless inflation is controlled to some extent - and it can be controlled to some extent by limiting Government expenditure to a level indicated by the observance of sound economic principles - whether we like it or not the benefits provided under any of these types of measures will be rapidly eroded and we will have to start again to bring about a position which this Bill seeks to achieve.

Another aspect of maternity allowances that seems to have been completely disregarded by the Government is the position of the nonworking mother or the average housewife, if one likes to put it that way. Surely there is justice in making allowance for the problems that maternity brings to this section of the community. The application of a standard rate of allowances, which I have mentioned previously, would simplify the provision of benefits to these deserving mothers. The Government should be looking at other measures, such as increasing child endowment to enable all children to have as near as possible equal opportunities to utilise whatever talents he or she may possess. Does the Government have no concern for the needs of farmers' wives and the wives of primary producers generally? Surely this is a very deserving section of the community.

Only those people who have travelled through drought stricken areas when the great stress of economic hardship was added to the normal hardship of pregnant women and mothers generally would realise the difficulties which these women have had to face. Many of these women work under very difficult conditions, especially in times of drought, aggravated by low prices for products which so often precludes the employment of labour to carry out essential work for all categories of properties and primary producers generally. This is just another aspect of this matter which seems to me to have been completely overlooked by the Government. We can do a great deal more for them. If we provided maternity allowances at a standard rate for all people who could show that they needed and deserved them something could be done in this direction. That is the appeal I am making to the Government.

I know that this Bill proposes to give a week's leave to the father. I believe that this is a desirable provision. I believe that in many cases where the mother has to go into hospital it is necessary for the father to take care of the children. I do not object to the provision of a week's leave for the father. I believe that this is desirable, but at the same time I mention that, whether or not these things are to be provided in preference to other benefits being made available, we should bear in mind that we have to keep those benefits within the limits of a reasonable economy. These are the sorts of things that we have to take into consideration. Insofar as allowing a father to have a week's leave to care for his children, I do not object to this provision as such.

I point out that all these things are at cost to the community and as such they have to be taken into consideration. I have covered most of the ground that I wanted to deal with in connection with this Bill. As I said, we on the Opposition side, which includes the Country Party, are not going to oppose this Bill because of the benefits that it will bring to that section of the community which we serve. But I draw attention to the fact that this Bill does not give benefits even to more deserving people who could have been provided for if the Government had given consideration, which I thought it would give to the rest of the community as well as Commonwealth Government employees.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.







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