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Thursday, 10 November 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- I am pleased that Senator Vardon has brought this matter under the notice of the Minister (Senator Russell). I desire to supplement what he has said. I remind the Minister that, while the estimated revenue for this year from taxation is not quite 3 per cent, more than was. received last year, the estimated cost of the Department is 18 per cent, above last year's expenditure.

Senator Russell - Is that for Australia as a whole?

Senator PAYNE - Yes. I obtained these figures a few evenings ago. At a later stage, I hope to have an opportunity of enlarging upon this matter. I mention it now in order to give the Minister an opportunity to obtain information to place before honorable senators when the Estimates* are being discussed.

Senator Russell - I understand that the taxation officials are a long way behind in their collections.

Senator PAYNE - But an increase of over 18 per cent, on the expenditure of last year seems, to be out of all. proportion.

Senator Russell - It must not be forgotten that some portion of that amount is due to increased wages, as the result of Arbitration Court awards..

Senator PAYNE - Some proportion, no doubt. But the Minister should make an investigation, and supply honorable senators with the information I have asked for in order to allay any feeling there may be outside this Parliament, especially among those who have to find the wherewithal to pay, that extravagance is being indulged in.

I desire now to mention another matter, namely, the administration of the Act for the payment of maternity allowances. The people are expecting some pronouncement by the Government as to future operations of this particular, branch of the Treasury Department. The time- has arrived, in the opinion of the majority of the people, for the Government to set their house in order. The Act which was passed several years ago was more or less in the nature of an experiment, those who supported it expressing the hope that the expenditure of such a large sum of money would be of material benefit to the community.

Senator Duncan - Is the honorable senator advocating the abolition of the allowance ?

Senator PAYNE - I have never advocated that. Surely any honorable senator may criticise the administration of a Department without laying himself open to the charge of being an opponent of the principle ?

Senator Duncan - The money is being paid as Parliament intended it to be paid - £5 to each mother.

Senator PAYNE - Yes; but I think that the experience of the Commonwealth has been a very painful one. I am glad to know that, in the majority of cases, the payment of the maternity allowance has afforded valuable aid to the mother and child, but in a large number of cases, the minority it is true, it has been paid to people in comfortable circumstances, and who have no need whatever of any assistance of this nature-. I. am. not opposed to the principle of giving assistance in cases where it is needed. If this £5, which is paid on the advent of every new immigrant to Australia, is not sufficient to meet the needs of any particular case, I would advocate making the amount £10.

Senator Benny - Do you. not think that every Australian baby is worth £5 ?

Senator PAYNE - I think good Australian babies are worth much more than that. But that is not the point of my argument. We are spending something like £750,000 per annum in maternity allowances. What for t

Senator Duncan - It is a pity we are not' spending a couple of million pounds per year, because it would mean so many extra babies for the Commonwealth.

Senator PAYNE - The honorable senator would be quite right if, by the expenditure of that extra money upon the advent of so many more good Australian immigrants, we could also guarantee a reduction of infantile mortality. In such, circumstances it would be money well spent. I am opposed to the payment of this allowance irrespective of whether the recipients require assistance or not for the child. At present it is paid without discrimination. The intention of the Act waa to insure proper medical care and attention for the mother and child, but when it is paid to people in comfortable financial circumstances it is not serving its true purpose. Why should I, as one individual in the community, have to put my hand into my pocket and help to pay a maternity allowance to people who have no need of this assistance? I know it has been said that any attempt to confine the payment of this allowance to certain sections of people only would mean an inquisitorial investigation into the circumstances of the applicant. But do those who raise this objection forget that every application for an old-age or invalid pension means an inquisitorial investigation in order that the Department may be assured that the income of the applicant does not exceed a certain amount, and a very small sum at that? If it is fair for an inquiry to be made concerning any application for a pension, what objection can there be to a similar investigation prior to the payment of a maternity allowance? I want to make my position quite clear. I am not standing as an opponent to the continuance of the bonus. I am an advocate of its continuance, and, if necessary, I would have it made more liberal in certain cases. But I am not an advocate of its payment to people who do not need it. I think that the whole matter should be thoroughly investigated. We might get better results by making portion of the money available for the maintenance of some bush nursing scheme or the establishment of clinics, which might be helpful to the mother and child, and in necessitous cases it might be advisable to pay a sum exceeding £5. I am entirely opposed to the payment of this allowance for all time to people who have plenty of this world's goods, and, therefore, have no need to dip into the pockets of the taxpayers, and take something with which, perhaps, to buy a present for the mother or child. We should see to it that the mother and child get the requisite attention, and endeavour, so far as possible, to reduce the infantile mortality rate. I intend, on every opportunity that presents itself, to protest against a continuance of the present system. There is more than .a modicum of truth in the statement that practically every mother claims the bonus to-day. There are, I believe, a few exceptions, but the great bulk of those who are well able to meet all maternity expenses lodge their claims with the rest, and receive it. This is not in accordance with the principle underlying the proposal.

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