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Friday, 4 October 1912

Senator VARDON (South Australia) . - I cannot allow this measure to pass its second reading without saying exactly what I think about it, and also explaining why I offer it a straight-out and uncompromising opposition. I ask myself the question whether there is any demand for this Bill. The question of social amelioration is being considered in many countries, and quite rightly, too, but the schemes are all more or less on a contributory basis, which I believe to be better in character than this proposal. Take the Insurance Act which was passed in Great Britain only last year. In its comprehensiveness it is a heroic measure. The whole intention of that legislation is humane from beginning to end, but it is not a charitable scheme ; it is contributory from start to finish. It calls upon the employer, the workman, and the Government to make contributions towards the system.

Senator Blakey - And the doctors have gone on strike against it.

Senator VARDON - That is only an incident; whether it is fair to the doctors or not does not touch the principle of the thing at all. The system was made contributory, The employer pays part; the employ^ pays part, and the Government give a subvention.

Senator Givens - Does not everybody pay part under this scheme? Does he not contribute to the Consolidated Revenue ?

Senator VARDON - Suppose that the Apt in Great Britain had been passed without providing for any contributions, could you not say exactly the same thing?

Senator Givens - Yes, and, in my, opinion, it would be a much better Act.

Senator VARDON - That may be the honorable senator's opinion, but it is not mine. I believe in the principle. I believe in a contributory system under which the workman pays something, the employer pays something, and the Government give a subvention. Under the English Act the contribution comes to something like is. per week. The Government pay 5d. and the balance is distributed between the employer and the employ^, though not always equally. Sometimes the workman pays 2d. and at other times 3d. or 4d. The amount he pays is not always the same, but there is a contribution from each party.

Senator Stewart - What about those who cannot contribute?

Senator VARDON - They are provided for as well. A maternity allowance is also provided under this contributory system. There is a very fine description of the Act published by the Daily Mail of London. One writer says -

Insured women, married or unmarried,' will receive "in confinement" 30s., which may be paid in cash or in kind. Observe that " confinement " is not denned ; the presumption is for. a wide construction of the term, to include pre-viable delivery.

This proposal does not go so far as that.

The wives of insured men, although not themselves insured under the scheme, will also receive the maternity benefit.

If a woman is as an employed contributor insured, she will receive sickness benefit as well as maternity benefit, which amounts to a double maternity benefit [i.e., £3), whether her husband is insured or not. (Sub-section 6.)

Maternity benefit becomes payable after the insured woman, or the husband of the uninsured woman, has paid contributions for 26 weeks. (For voluntary contributors the waiting period in this respect is 52 weeks.)

The mother has the right to decide whether she will be attended by a doctor or by a properly certified midwife, and she will have tree choice of doctor or midwife.

An insured woman receiving maternity benefit has not to pay her contributions while away from work in consequence of her confinement.

It will be seen that in their Act the Imperial Parliament have made very good provision for the women in all maternity cases. It also provides for social relief in many other directions. It is as complete a measure as it could be made at present. It covers, as far as possible, every case of need. This Bill, however, is confined to only one portion of the community.

Senator Stewart - We will extend it by-and-by ; we will nationalize the medical profession.

Senator VARDON - I know that Senator Stewart has magnificent ideas-

Senator Stewart - They will all come true some day.

Senator VARDON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And if he only lives long enough to see them put into operation, Methuselah's age will be nothing compared with his.

Senator Stewart - Somebody will.

Senator VARDON - There is a reason for this measure. The Labour party took away the postal vote from the women in maternity cases. They find that they made a very grave mistake, and have become unpopular in consequence. They want to recover that ground, and so this Bill is brought in with the idea of bringing the women into line again.

Senator Stewart - Hear, hear ! Nothing like it.

Senator VARDON - I am glad that the honorable senator acknowledges the truth of what I am saying. The Labour party are endeavouring to recover the ground which they have lost. That is, I believe, the full and true reason for the introduction of this measure. Of course, I know that our honorable friends on the other side are declaring that it is humanitarian legislation - that it is brought in with a desire to help the poor women, and so on - and those who oppose the Bill are accused of being Pharisees and hypocrites, having no soul or humanity about them. I believe that the Pharisaical spirit is altogether on the other side. I can imagine one of my honorable friends opposite piously crossing his hands over his breast, and saying -

Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men, or even as this poor Liberal. I never pay tithes if I can help it. I always endeavour to place the burden on the other fellow. I did rob. the mother of her vote in her time of need, although I profess to have given her the franchise; but 1 am now endeavouring to deceive her with this maternity allowance. Fray do not condemn me as a hypocrite.

Senator Stewart - We will get that framed.

Senator VARDON --I hope that the honorable senator will get it framed, because it is absolutely true.

Senator Givens - It is no wonder that previously you paid a high compliment to your imagination.

Senator VARDON - I do not think that I paid a high compliment to my imagination, but I think that I am carefully and truthfully stating the case, so far as the other side is concerned. We are told that this has always been the idea of the Labour party. Although a Labour Conference was held so recently as last January in Hobart, this was not put on the platform. It was not put out as something which the Labour Min.istry were to have brought into operation immediately. They were not even commissioned to adopt this bit of patchwork legislation in any way.

Senator Stewart - Do you call it patchwork ?

Senator VARDON - Yes, it is patchwork to put a little patch on our social conditions without boldly taking the whole into consideration.

Senator Givens - We are going to build the house a brick at a time.

Senator VARDON - An amendment was proposed in another place - and I am glad that a similar amendment has been submitted by the Leader of the Opposition here - setting out that - no provision for maternity which does not form part of a national insurance scheme, providing for sickness, unemployment, and medical attendance, as well as maternity, and subsidized by an appropriation to the extent necessary to make the benefits immediate and adequate, will be effective, satisfactory, and consistent with the spirit of the Federal Constitution.

I thoroughly agree with that amendment. .

Senator de Largie - It is so much humbug.

Senator VARDON - I have just quoted, the humbugging prayer of my honorable' friends. I have already said that this Bill is a piece of political hypocrisy. It touches only one part of a great social question. There is no place in the world where the people are better able to undertake a contributory system of insurance than they are in the Commonwealth.

Senator McGregor - I have heard the honorable senator say that half-a-loaf is better than no bread. He is going back upon that statement now.

Senator VARDON - I am not. I will show the Vice-President of the Executive

Council that I am prepared to grant a whole loaf wherever it may be wanted. I ask myself the questions, " Why is this Bill brought forward? " and " Is there any urgent need for dealing with one particular phase of it?" I say there is no general need for the measure. At present necessitous cases are largely provided for by the States. In South Australia we have a l ying-in home for poor women and for single women. It is controlled by the Destitute Board, and it provides a home for the mother and child for at least six months, which is a better provision than that which is contained in this Bill. The Church of England have a Home of Mercy at Walkerville-

Senator Stewart - Does not that encourage immorality ?

Senator VARDON - No; I hope that the honorable senator will not ask me these silly questions. He is generally so sane upon all matters that I am surprised at him.

Senator Stewart - If the granting of a maternity allowance is likely to encourage immorality, surely the prospect of a home for six months will encourage it still more.

Senator VARDON - The Church of England has a Home of Mercy at Walkerville in which every attention is given to the inmates. The Roman Catholic Church has a similar refuge in the Fullarton district, where it does all that it can to relieve necessitous cases. The Salvation Army undertakes the same sort of work. The Maternity Home at Rose Park is an institution in which women who can afford to pay something for the attention which is bestowed upon them receive very considerable help. In addition, there is the District Trained Nurses' Society, which is doing a really fine work. Its members are the ministering angels of the State, They recognise no creed, no political party, and no religious shibboleth. The only question which they ask is, " Is there any need of pur assistance?" If so, it is granted immediately. Nearly every centre in South Australia is supplied with nurses in this way. Adelaide, Port Adelaide, Unley, the municipalities of Norwood, St. Peters, Gawler, Port Pirie, Yorke's Peninsula, and a great many others are all supplied with them. The society is supported largely by private contributions. To my mind it represents the organization of the "ministering angels." It was Scott who wrote -

O woman ! in our hours of ease,

Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,

Variable as the shade

By the light quivering aspen made;

When pain and anguish wring the brow,

A ministering angel thou !

It is due to Dr. Lendon and the late Dr. Campbell that this splendid institution was established, and I look upon it as the organization of angel women. The work which they are doing is an educational one. They teach the people the value of fresh air, of sunlight and ventilation, of proper food, and of the care of infant life. It is work of an eminently practical and commonsense character, and to my mind is worth a great deal more than is the proposed miserable maternity grant of £5. Then I object to the allowance because it is an indiscriminate one. It invites every one to come along and dip their hands into the Government bag.

Senator Givens - Is that not what we do in regard to our educational system ?

Senator VARDON - That is all right. I pay my taxes, but I send my children to a private school and pay for their education. At the same time I would like to see education free and open to all, from the primary school to the University. That, however, is not a parallel case to the one which we are discussing. In regard to the proposed maternity allowance, we simply say, " Come along. Dip your hand into this Government bag. Here is a horn of Cornucopia. . Come along and take£5 when you want it." We do not apply that principle to old-age pensions.

Senator Needham - We ought to do so.

Senator VARDON - Why do we not apply it to old-age pensions ? Simply because we cannot afford to do so. If we were to give everybody an old-age pension we should have to increase our taxation very largely. Why not apply exactly the same principle to this allowance? Why not say that we will give it to necessitous cases, but that we will not give it to everybody ?

Senator Givens - I would do that tomorrow if I could. It is not my fault that it has not been done.

Senator VARDON - I know that. There is no need for this indiscriminate, universal maternity grant. I believe in giving it in necessitous cases.

Senator Givens - Under the honorable senator's scheme, before any woman could obtain the allowance she would have to proclaim herself necessitous.

Senator VARDON - So has any person who wishes to receive an old-age pension. There are thousands of men in this State who can afford to pay all the maternity expenses of their wives without having to deny themselves even so much as a cigarette or a cigar, or a bottle of ginger-pop or a soda and whisky. Why should we desire to shower £5 notes upon them? I notice that the Attorney-General, in speaking upon this Bill, said-

In all this legislation there should be no distinction at all. . . . We are to assume that no citizen will apply unless he or she wants it.

I think 'he will find that he has assumed what is not a fact, and that a great many persons, simply because the money is available, will be ready to dip their hands into the public Treasury.

Senator Givens - I do not call it dipping one's hand into the public Treasury. I would not have the slightest hesitation in" advising my wife to apply for the grant.

Senator VARDON - The Bill is calculated to sap the very independence of our people. I do not want the State to 'do for men and women what they are well able to do for themselves. If we want a strong, virile, self-reliant community, let our men and women be taught to do all they can for themselves, and to rely upon the State as little as possible.

Senator Needham - The honorable senator does not refuse to accept delivery of a letter at his own door ? '

Senator VARDON - What do we pay our taxes for?

Senator Needham - Why does the honorable senator not undertake the work himself ?

Senator VARDON - To nonsense of that * description I cannot reply. A contributory system of insurance is the right system, and would encourage in our people all those manly qualities that we desire to inculcate in them, such as grit, independence, thrift, and self-reliance. I oppose the Bill because if will weaken our national character, and teach our people to depend upon a motherly Government for everything that they want. At the present time, we know that they are doing a great deal for themselves by means of friendly societies.

There are 400,000 members of these societies in the Commonwealth, and Mr. Knibbs assures us that if we want to ascertain how many persons are affected by such societies we must multiply that number by four. Consequently, there are 1,600,000 people, or more than one-third of the population of the Commonwealth, who are touched by the operations of friendly benefit societies, and who receive help from them whenever they need it, not as a charitable dole, but as a matter of right.

Senator Givens - - There are plenty of members of friendly societies who do not receive aid.

Senator VARDON - I am a contributing member of three friendly societies, and I have been so for more than fifty years. The fact that I have never had to take anything from them-

Senator Givens - That vitiates the honorable senator's argument:

Senator VARDON - Not in any way. Although I have not had to take anything from them, I am at liberty to make a demand upon their funds as a matter of right.

Senator St Ledger - The honorable senator helped them to help themselves.

Senator VARDON - I have contributed to a fund upon which I can draw in case of need. These societies insure their members against sickness and death. They provide medical attendance for their members and the families of those members at a very small cost. They also make provision that reduced fees shall be paid in cases of confinement. The Government of New South Wales grant a subvention to these friendly societies. They do it on the principle of helping those who are endeavouring to help themselves ; and that is a thoroughly sound principle, which ought to be adopted by every Government at all times. Another aspect of the case is this : It has been shown that what we ought to do is not so much to look after the mother in her time of confinement, as to look after the child during the first twelve months of its existence. What did the Governor-General's Speech say at the opening of this Parliament? It regretted the fact that every year nearly 9,000 children died in this Commonwealth under one year of age. Ought it not to be our task to try to remedy that state of things ? An honorable senator said last night that the child! is the greatest asset the State can have. So it is ; and for that reason we ought to devote every care to the preservation of the child when it comes into the world.

Senator Needham - We are doing that now.

Senator VARDON - I do not think we are doing so by means of this Bill. I have read with great pleasure and profit a paper read by Dr. Hone, of Adelaide, before the Medical Association of Australia, where he treats of this very matter. I should like to read a few short extracts from what he said, because his observations are so thoroughly apropos to the occasion. He said -

As far as the Commonwealth is concerned, only a very small amount of infantile deaths are due to circumstances connected with the time of birth. Most of these' children are doomed to die either by prenatal causes or from their subsequent environment. In the former case a subsidy at birth is ineffectual, because it is too late: in the latter case, because it is too little - unless the environment is alcoholic, when it is too much. What would be said to a proposal to bestow on shipping companies a bonus of j£j a head for all immigrants leaving England if it were known that one in every ten of those immigrants would die within twelve months of their arrival here, and there were no stipulations with the companies as to selection in England, or conditions of life on the voyage? Yet, this is on all fours with the present proposal.

Again, Dr. Hone said -

In attacking infantile mortality, we often confine ourselves to the problem of pure food and milk supply, forgetting that oxygen is just as much a food for baby as pure milk. In the past there has been no need for us to worry much .about this. < Through the foresight of Colonel Light we have had given us for all time abundant air spaces in and about our city, in our public squares and parklands; and we do not yet adequately recognise the debt which we and our successors owe to the founder of the city for this wise provision. But in the suburbs the case is different. There is practically no provision for any such air spaces.

We should all look upon pure air as a great factor in preserving infant life. Speaking of causes of infantile mortality this writer says -

Turning to an analysis of the chief causes of infantile mortality we find that by far the greatest proportion of deaths are comprised under two heads - and that these two alone give 55 per cent, of the deaths, 30 per cent, being constantly due to prematurity, congenital debility, and malformation, and 25 per cent, to diarrhoea and enteritis. Bronchitis and pneumonia, so fruitful a source of deaths in colder climates, only account for 5 to 7 per cent., and here, again, we are reminded of the favorable natural conditions we enjoy. It is characteristic of all countries that the largest proportion of infantile deaths come under the first head. Up to a very few years ago,- any thought of reducing this proportion was looked upon as outside the range of practical politics. However, the marvellous rise into prominence during the last few years of the science of eugenics, the latest born of the sciences - still only an infant itself, but with no appearance of congenital debility - is compelling us to revise this long accepted doctrine. It may be early yet to talk dogmatically on the subject, but the report during the twelve months of the Sub-Committee of the

S.   A. Branch of the British Science Guild has. brought the matter into prominence locally, and henceforth this has to be dealt with.

I think that is entirely right. The looking, after the child during the first twelve months of its existence will do more for the community than any maternity bonus.

Senator Needham - What about the nourishment of the mother before the child is born?

Senator VARDON - She is not helped by this Bill.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - She will know that she is going to get the allowance.

Senator VARDON - If the allowance were ^50, it would not help the mother before birth.

Senator de Largie - Could she not realize on the money beforehand ?

Senator VARDON - She does not, know what is going to happen with regard to herself. She does not know whether she will get the money or not. I do not believe that the women of the Common- wealth want this allowance. The States are already doing a great deal in needy cases. I shall not discuss the constitutional aspect of the question. Frankly, I do not care whether the Bill is constitutional or not. If I thought that what was proposed was right in itself, I would vote for it, and chance its constitutionality. I am not opposing the measure on constitutional grounds, nor am I going to say whether it will encourage illegitimacy or not. Certainly it will not discourage illegitimacy. I thoroughly agree with what Senator St.. Ledger said last night, that if you are going to start this sort of business you will have to adopt a different attitude towards women. Instead of making the woman bear all the burden, ostracising her, and condemning her, whilst allowing the man who has wronged her to go scot free, you will have to put the man on the same level, ostracise him, and punish him. We do something of that kind in South Australia, because there, the putative father, if he can be found, is brought up and made to provide for the mother. We want equality before the law for men and women in these affairs, and should not leave the woman to bear the whole burden whilst the man is very often looked upon as a hero.

Senator Needham - The Commonwealth has no power in that direction.

Senator VARDON - I think we have some power, although I admit that there is a difference of opinion about it. I d© not say that the mother of an illegitimate child, who is in distressed circumstances, ought not to be looked after just as much as any other mother. But if we want to do that we should alter the law in another manner. In this Bill you are saying to the woman who is living in open adultery : "We will give you a maternity allowance;" you are saying to the harlot : " We will give you a maternity allowance;" whilst you say to the Asiatic woman : " We will give you nothing." This raises a somewhat curious position. Take the case of an Asiatic woman married to a European. On the birth of a half-caste child no allowance can be paid under this measure.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator think that is desirable?

Senator VARDON - No, I do not; but look at the position that is being brought about. An Asiatic man may marry a European woman, and a half-caste child may be born. In that case the maternity allowance may be paid. Is that fair and just?

Senator Needham - Does the . honorable senator say that this Bill encourages women who are living in open adultery ?

Senator VARDON - Has the honorable senator any common sense at all ?

Senator Needham - But the honorable senator said that.

Senator VARDON - I certainly did not. What I did say was that the Bill will give a maternity allowance to a woman living in open adultery, or to a harlot, whilst not to a well-conducted Asiatic woman.

Senator O'Keefe - Does the honorable senator think that the allowance will make any difference in such cases?

Senator VARDON - I am not saying that it will. I am simply pointing to what the Bill does.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator would not give the allowance to any one.

Senator VARDON - Why does not the honorable senator be truthful ? I am opposing this Bill, but I am not opposed to the relief of necessitous cases in any shape or form. I shall vote for the amendment submitted by Senator Millen,., and if that amendment be rejected, I shall vote against the second reading of the Bill, even if I have to cross the floor by myself. If I am held up before the electors, as I probably shall be, as lacking in humanity - if I am misrepresented as a man who would deny relief to a woman in her necessity -

I shall have to bear such statements with as good a grace as possible. Whatever the effect may be upon myself - even if it means my going out of political life - I shall not regret my vote. I shall go down with my flag flying. I intend to stand by my conscientious convictions in this matter, and those convictions lead me to oppose the Bill.

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