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Thursday, 3 April 1941

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) . - The object of this bill is the greater care and protection of child life. That is as it should be ; but in my opinion the bill does not go far enough in that direction. Possibly, in the light of further experience, it will be improved. The bill has been rendered necessary mainly as the result of a diminishing birth-rate and the imperative need of a greater supply of man-power for our workshops and for the battlefield. We cannot shut our eyes to that fact. The birth-rate has been steadily diminishing, and the advent of war has made imperative a supreme effort on our part if we are to survive this conflict. Intelligent men, regardless of party, realize that to be the position, and have stressed it over and over again.

The hill will be found, much sooner than many of us imagine, to be inadequate to accomplish the objective we now have in mind. It has been rendered necessary also because of a growing realization that a virile and trained manhood is the nation's greatest asset. The real asset of a country is not money, land, gold, timber, or any other product; the asset which creates all other assets is a virile and trained manhood and womanhood. There is a growing realization of that fact. I feel thankful for it, because it will be followed by what this bill endeavours to do, namely, the provision for greater care to be taken of that valuable national asset. Hitherto, no great effort has been made in that direction. Any one who has read the industrial history of not only Great Britain hut also of Australia, knows of the brutal exploitation of child labour over many years, the criminal neglect of governments in that respect, and the appalling poverty of parents. The Labour party has fought against those evils not for 40 years but for decades. Now we find that a change is taking place. If the population of Australia were as great as that of India, or China, or some other countries, and man-power was as cheap here as it is in those countries, we would not be considering a child endowment scheme to-day. "When conditions change in those countries as the result of the inevitable reactions to exploitation and neglect of poverty, and their birth-rate diminishes to the same degree that it has diminished in Australia, we shall find that the governments of those countries will establish child endowment schemes; in the words of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings), they will make a virtue of necessity. This bill is merely a palliative. Prospective parents have still a vivid memory of the last Great War, the period of comparative prosperity which followed it and the subsequent long period of unprecedented suffering and misery caused by unemployment. On a previous occasion I directed attention to the appointment by the British House of Commons in 1938 of a royal commission to inquire into the conditions under which people live in what are known as the black areas in England. That commis- sion reported that those conditions were not anything like as good as conditions in those areas 50 years ago, and that the slums which had come into existence there as the result of poverty and the aftermath of the last war were as bad as any to be found in Asiatic countries. Those memories are still vivid in the minds of prospective parents, when they think of what is happening to-day. We are now engaged in the greatest war the world has known; it is bound to involve the destruction of millions of lives. Consequently, parents and prospective parents are asking if the aftermath of this war will be similar to that which followed the last war, when promises were made in the names of governments that the world would be made safe for democracy and a place fit for heroes to live in, but the very antithesis occurred. Prospective parents cannot but bear these things in mind. They are wondering whether, as was the case over twenty years ago, this war will be followed by a terrible aftermath. The last war was followed, first, by a period of prosperity while the damage that had been done was being repaired in order to enable countries to carry on. That involved the speeding up of production. I remind honorable senators that wars always cause acceleration, and as a result of this war, vast improvements and extensions are being made, particularly in those secondary industries which are assisting us to make a maximum war effort. At the end of this war we shall find that our industrial development has greatly exceeded that which occurred in pre-war years. Therefore we shall be in a position to increase the productivity of the human unit to a degree far greater than was possible before, but side by side with that progress, we may have, as we have had before,, appalling poverty. Prospective parents cannot study such problems as intelligently, closely and critically, as can honorable senators, but there is that feeling current that the position may not be as the Government says that it will be, but possibly very much worse. Such fears always have a detrimental effect on the birth-rate. A diminished birth-rate always follows from a general feeling of insecurity, doubt and danger. That happened during the last war, and it will occur again. It has now been admitted by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court that the basic wage is insufficient to provide for a family unit of five. We on this side of the chamber have been saying that for many years. Senator Keane has emphasized that wages do not represent the value of the wealth produced by the workers either individually or collectively; wages represent the remuneration which is paid in accordance with the influence of the workers in the community. The Labour party has held for years that the present rate is insufficient, and consistent with whatever opportunities we have had, we have brought the matter under the notice of governments and arbitration courts. As Herbert Spencer once said in one of his fine philosophical writings, no one can escape the consequences' of his acts. Regardless of the laws passed, or what is said in Parliament, a government cannot escape the consequences of its acts. Employers are much more concerned in making profits than in the preservation of child life. Although in their own homes, employers may be ideal fathers, in the factories where they control the children of others they ar;e usually the very opposite. At home they do their best for their children; but in the factories they exploit to the limit the children of others. No one can escape the consequences of his acts. Employers have by means of legislation and propaganda victimized those who would organize strikes, and by other means have controlled food, clothing and shelter, which are necessary to maintain and stimulate the birth-rate. Our diminishing birth-rate is the result of such a policy. All these things to which I have referred are in the minds of millions of prospective parents to-day. The Government should take a long-range view, of the position, and try to realize, as I would like it to realize, that the aftermath of this war will be very different from that of the last war.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - The honorable senator must connect his remarks with the subjectmatter of the bill.

Senator CAMERON - I am endeavouring to point out that fears and uncertainties in the minds of prospective parents will have the effect of restricting the birth-rate. The object of this bill is to assist to increase the birth-rate, if possible, and to provide for greater care and protection of child life. Unless the Government goes as far as it should go in this matter, I am certain that the results which it desires will not be achieved. For example, the school leaving age should be raised. In Victoria, where it is fourteen years, it should be raised at least to sixteen or eighteen years iu order that children may be physically and mentally equipped to engage in the battle of life. To-day, prospective parents are thinking of dead-end occupations and the difficulties of placing children in continuous employment.

Senator Leckie - Does the honorable senator think that this measure will help at all?

Senator CAMERON - It is a move in the direction of social progress. I du not suggest for a moment that it will not help. What I do say is that it will not. help to the degree that will ultimately be found necessary. I hope that in the light of our immediate experience, the Government will realize that a great deal more should be done. During this war, more so than in the last conflict, we should act up to the Christian maxim that life is sacred. We should provide for the maximum care of our children and we should also provide the maximum facilities for them to be trained. This bill provides for the payment of 5s. a week in respect of all children after the first child. While we admit that that is something, it is, in fact, insufficient. Prices are increasing and will continue to do so. The effect will be a progressive reduction of the purchasing power of the 5s. to be granted. We are prepared to support the Government to a degree, but there is still room for improvement, and a need to add continually to the structure until it is such that child life is as secure as it can possibly be. Children should not be allowed to enter factories until they reach an age at which the work will not affect their health. Our main objective should be the greater care and protection of our child life. If that be provided we in Australia, having opportunities far greater than peoples in other parts of the world, should give a lead to the Empire, so that after the war we can say we have laid the foundations of a future order of society in which unemployment, poverty and misery that have been so prominently associated with our social life in the past, will be unknown.

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