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Monday, 12 November 1973
Page: 3133

Mr WENTWORTH (Mackellar) - There are many things about the Government's social security program with which, naturally, I find myself in great sympathy for the simple reason that they represent a continuance of the activities and the attitudes which were initiated under a previous government. I would be the last person to criticise many of the things that have been done. I would rather talk about some of the things which have not been done and which I hope will be done in the very near future. The Government introduced a proposal - which I certainly commend - to pay special allowances for what are called double orphans. It is a peculiar phrase. I do not suppose any orphan is anything but a double orphan. It was a good proposal. However, in my view, it did not go far enough and it did not touch the main heart of the problem. In saying this, I speak with disappointment because I hoped that the previous Government would do something more in this regard. It is a good thing that the Government is doing something for children who have lost both their parents. In the past this responsibility has fallen within the provision of the States and their child welfare departments. Perhaps the States have done as much as they could in this field, but because they have been short of money they have not done as much as they should have done. So I commend this proposal.

Another related group that should be helped are widowers with dependent children. I suppose that one has to extend the definition of widower to include deserted husbands and divorced men whose children are still dependent upon them. But I speak primarily of those who have lost their wives through death. It is an appalling situation that nothing has been done for these people. We have nothing equivalent to a widow's pension. I wonder whether the women's liberation group might think of doing something along these lines. If one talks about equality of the sexes, something has to be done for those men, whose wives have died, have dependent children and find it difficult to carry on.

Then we have not a new class but a class which is unhappily becoming much more common, and I speak statistically, not morally, of the deserted father. Not very long ago it was fairly uncommon for a woman to leave her husband and abandon him with the children. This, unhappily, is now becoming much more common, and something should be done for men placed in that situation. The proposal that I make is quite a simple one. We should start by paying what I would call a motherless child's allowance. It would be paid to children who have lost both parents. Sure, they are motherless. This proposal to some extent, has been covered by the Government's scheme.

A motherless child's allowance could also be paid in respect of children who are in the custody of their father either because their mother is dead or because she has deserted the family home and has left the children uncared for. This would be a matter of some consequence. If my memory is correct, this proposal would cost up to $15m a year. It is not entirely a trivial matter, although it is not a very great one in terms of government expenditure. In my view, this is about the worst gap in the whole of our social service structure. There are other gaps, and some things are more massive, but let us do something for these people. I am ashamed to think that we have done nothing for them yet. I am not trying to score a point off the present Government because I am afraid I would be scoring a point off previous governments in this regard. It is an appalling gap in our whole social service setructure

I do not think that it is appropriate just to pay a widow's pension to widowers. It is true that with the existing tapered means test and the increase in the 'free area' to $20 it is still possible for a man to earn something. A man traditionally is the breadwinner. I do not think it is right to put him in the position of having to stay at home in order to receive the widow's pension or whatever one likes to call it. Perhaps some kind of housekeepers' allowance could be paid or some help could be given to board out the children so that they could come home at weekends. People will want different things. I do not think that the Government would want to impose a set pattern on all these men, but I suggest to the Government that this is an area in which we could be moving and in which we could be investigating. I hope that it will be more than an investigation. I hope at least that a motherless child's allowance will be introduced in the near future and that later it will be supplemented by a housekeepers' allowance or something like the mother's allowance that is given. This allowance could be given, in my view, free of means test because the widower, as distinct from the widow, would not be receiving the normal widow's pension. It is a terrible hardship for a man who has lost his wife - even by desertion and much worse if he has lost her by death - to find that he is placed in a financial position in which he has to break up his young family and perhaps lose contact with his dependent children. If he is lucky he may have a mother,- a sister, or a relative who will come to his rescue, but even in that case some kind of extra financial assistance should be available. If there is to be a breakup during the week days at least there should be provision whereby under such circumstances the family could be reunited at the weekend. I commend this suggestion to the Government.

I would have liked to have spoken at much greater length on some other matters but time does not permit. I reiterate what I said before and that is that the most massive problem that lies in front of us - not the most acute but the most massive - in the field of social services is, I think, help for the young couple with a forming family. I refer to the position of a couple starting a marriage with 2 incomes coming into the family. They have no children. There is a change in that position when the first child arrives. The wife stops working, or should stop work. She should be in a position to choose to live at home. At that time, when their income diminishes, the needs of the family increase. We have not in the past, I think, had sufficient vision to see that something must be done about this situation. If our social structure is to become secure we must think not only of the young people but also primarily of the young people with a forming family. Other people are perhaps not so badly off. But young people with a forming family are a class of people who are due for real assistance when the social security program is expanded, as I believe it will be. I do not believe, of course, in the welfare state as such. The welfare state has -

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drury) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Sitting suspended from 6.13 to 8 p.m.

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