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Thursday, 8 July 1920

Mr MATHEWS (Melbourne Ports) . - The contention of the honorable member for Melbourne (Dr. Maloney) that it is the duty of the people to provide an allowance for the destitute in the community is not new. I admit that in common with other suggestions for legislation of a beneficent character it is viewed by many people in a very peculiar way. Such a proposal, it would appear., is for many reasons bound to meet with opposition. It is regarded by only a few as a matter with which they are concerned, because only a small proportion of the population maybe said to be really destitute. After all, humanity is very selfish, and people are disposed to view a proposal to deal with conditions which are not brought immediately under their notice as something which should not be considered at all. Arguments of this kind were advanced against the establishment of oldage pensions, and practically every attempt to place beneficent legislation upon the statute-book has met with the same kind of opposition. Proposals of this kind are frequently ridiculed, and I know that some persons who may not go so far as to ridicule such a motion as that now before the House, because they would not desire to be considered heartless, have ridiculed the provision for oldage pensions. That legislation was continually the subject of ridicule until it was properly understood. Honorable members are aware that it was the practice of many to refer facetiously to the "baby bonus," and the maternity allowance, which is its proper name, is in some quarters still referred to by that and similar contemptuous appellations. We know that when theFisher Government introduced their legislation for the payment of the maternity allowance meetings in opposition to it were held all over Victoria. This opposition was instigated by certain wealthy people in the community, and also, to their lasting disgrace, by many women in Australia, who were free from all fear of want at the time of their performance of the duty of maternity, and by others who used means to evade that duty. These people referred to the maternity allowance only in terms of ridicule. Those who favoured the proposal were asked why the general body of the community should pay a mother £5 to assist her in bringing her child into the world. There is not a man or woman in the country who does not know that every child horn is an asset to the community. The aged, no matter how wealthy they may be, must be aware that they cannot continue to live on their wealth unless there are others growing up in the community to produce the commodities they require to sustain life. All the laughing and gibing at the maternity allowance should have been strongly condemned. We are told to-day that the payment of the allowance has not brought about what was desired by those who supported it. We shall no doubt be told that the adoption of legislation to give effect to the motion now under consideration will not bring about what is desired by the mover of it. So far as the people I represent are concerned, the maternity allowance has been of assistance in thousands of cases. It has meant that the mothers have been given a better chance of health, and their children have been given a better chance than the chil- dien were ever given before. The argument with respect to the increase in the birth-rate makes a strong appeal in the electorate I represent, and appeals forcibly to me, because in that electorate we have the highest birth-rate in any part of Australia.

Every argument used as to the benefit of legislation of this character is met by some persons with contempt. On the subject of destitution, I have heard teetotal lecturers, for instance, assert with brazen effrontery that drink is the cause of 95 per cent, of the destitution in the world to-day. It is because of their infernal ignorance that they make such a statement. They can never have studied economics, or they would make no such assertion. As a matter of fact, under the present economic system, if the world were teetotal, destitution would bc as rampant as it is to-day--

Mr Prowse - Question.

Mr MATHEWS - The honorable member .questions that statement. All I have to say is that if the workers of today did not spend money upon alcoholic liquors, they would receive so much less in wages. It is only because they require means to satisfy that desire that they have been enabled to secure 'increases in their wages.

Mr Prowse - Do they put all their wages into beer?

Mr MATHEWS - When the honorable member asks me that question, I reply that they have as much right to drink beer or whisky as the honorable member has to drink water, so long as they do not endeavour to compel him to drink beer or whisky. The honorable member is like a few more to whom legislation of this character seldom makes any appeal. We generally find that people who take this stand on the question of the consumption of alcohol are narrow-minded, and try to make out that it is the cause of destitution. There are in our midst to-day men and women who have never been guilty of excess in the consumption of alcohol and are yet in want and destitute. Every honorable member should know, whether we like it or not, that our present economic system produces destitution. We know that under it, for every person who becomes richer, some persons become poorer. I do not intend to give honorable members an address on the economic system, but every student of economics must be aware of the truth of my statements.

I do not personally agree with many contentions advanced by some who belong to the Labour movement. I do not agree, for instance, with the contention that the worker pays all taxation. I know that if a worker gets £3 per week, and 30s. of that sum goes in taxation, the employer would take very good care that if all taxation upon his employee were removed, he would only get 30s. a week in wages. Under our existing economic system, no matter what wages a man gets, he cannot with surety make provision against destitution. We are asked why the workers are not thrifty, but "thrift" is a word that is bandied about without consideration of what it really means. If wo were to inquire into its real meaning, we might suggest that no man need waste 6d. in getting his hair cut. There is no reason why he should blacken his boots, or why he should wear decent clothes. He might live in a hovel, if he pleased. There is no reason why he should have carpets on his floor, curtains on his windows, or glass in his windows. The logical deduction from the arguments of those who commend thrift is that a man should spend nothing, and we know the effect which that would produce in the community. Many reasons except the true one are advanced for the destitution in our midst. It is a well-known fact that the wealthier countries are the greater is the destitution in them. There is just as much destitution in the great, wealthy country of America, in proportion to population, as there is in any other country in the world, because all alike are working under a faulty economic system. Whilst I do not agree that this motion represents a panacea for all the evils of our economic system, I agree with those who think that if it were put in operation it would act as a deterrent upon those who are responsible for the creation of destitution. If those who make the wealth were compelled to pay for the destitution which they cause, they would take care that all people were given employment at fair and adequate wages. Is there any honorable member who does not realize that, under a perfect system of civilization, there need be no destitution? Admittedly, even in such a state of society, there would still be men and women who would require to be treated in hospitals. Just -as the community to-day disciplines certain people in our midst, so would the' community, under that perfect system, demand that those whose actions created undesirable effects should be placed in hospitals - not in gaols, as some people advocate. Do honorable members think that any man or woman willingly become. destitute? That many do fall into poverty is indisputable, but if we inquire as to the cause, we may find that it is a weakness which, in its essence, is a disease. Some look with contempt upon the unfortunate drunkard; they ought to praise God that they are immune from the evils of alcoholism. Many people have never been able to realize that drunkenness if a disease, and not a crime.

Mr Prowse - Then, why sneer at me, when I try to prevent drunkenness? "Why ask me to pay for it?

Mr MATHEWS - No man or woman in the community keeps anybody else. The community keeps the honorable member, as it keeps all of us. He would be walking the streets naked and foodless but for the energies of other members of the community. We all are keeping each other.

Mr Prowse - Some people do not play their part.

Mr MATHEWS - I trust that the honorable member is playing his part in civilization. May the time never arrive when civilization is controlled by the men and women who preach teetotalism to-day ; they are hard and narrow in all their views. If they but knew it, they are the real cause of destitution, because, if they were desirous of preventing drunkenness and other evils, they would join hands with us on this side. But they are generally to be found voting against us. If in an election a teetotal Labour candidate is opposing a Nationalist brewer, the heads of the teetotal organizaton vote for the brewer every time. I tell the honorable member that teetotalism is not the panacea for destitution. I admit that some people have become destitute through drink, but they represent only a small percentage of the total number of destitute in the community. There are some who believe that the single tax is the panacea for all evil - that by concentrating all taxation upon the land we shall do away with destitution. That is nonsense. Others tell us that we have only to place a high enough duty on imports to make everybody' in the community prosperous. They say that there is always plenty where there are smoking chimneys. Do we not know that in all manufacturing countries there is destitution ? More misery and sickness are caused by fear of destitution than by anything else. The phantom of want preys on the nerves to such an extent that people are unable to continue at their employment for the modest pittance they are receiving. I believe that it is the duty of civilization to provide for every member of the community so that there shall be no destitution. Just a3 it is the duty of the State to make provision for the dependants of those who fell in the great war, and for those returned soldiers who have 'been maimed or ruined in health to such an extent as to be unable to earn a livelihood, so it is the duty of the Government to care for and keep from want those who have fallen or been injured in the great battle of life. There are people who look at. me with horror when I voice that doctrine. But I believe that men and women who have been fighting in the industrial field, and, who, through lack of proper nourishment and inability to continue at their occupations, have fallen by the wayside, have just as great a claim upon the assistance of the State as have the soldiers and their dependants. Those who cannot see the justice of that argument are wilfully blind. We shall never even approach a proper state of civilization until we realize that every unit in the community has a right to food, clothing, and housing. Surely we are not asking too much when we urge that it is the duty pf the Government to provide relief - not in the form of charity, but as a right which a human being should be able to claim from civilization to-day. Honorable members may differ regarding the causes of destitution. Some may condemn destitution, but they are utterly wrong if they regard the cause as any other than the economic system under which we are working to-day, whereby the more some people increase their wealth the less others possess. We marvel to-day why our old-age and invalid pensions legislation was not inaugurated years earlier. In years to come we will marvel that we did not provide against destitution years earlier. Undoubtedly we do not pay enough by way of old-age and invalid pensions. .The sum of 15s. now given is only of use to those whose support is contributed to by their own kith and kin.

Mr Mackay - But surely it is their duty to do so.

Mr MATHEWS - I deny that it is the duty of their children any more than it is that of the whole community. In giving their pioneer labours to the world these old folk, whom we help to support with a dole to-day, have done as much for the general community as for their own immediate family. The responsibility of providing against . their old age, therefore, is as much that of the general community as of their own children. Suppose that the whole community went in for race suicide and there were no children. Who would keep us in our old age? In days gone by, in Victoria, the aged and invalid poor were not paid pensions, but their children were forced to contribute to their upkeep. Those in the community who are not related to aged dependants have as much right to contribute to the support of the old and infirm as the actual members of their families. In the future people will wonder that our civilization could have so long permitted destitution to continue instead of providing against it out of the Consolidated Revenue of the country.

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