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Wednesday, 17 May 1939

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- When I was speaking during the secondreading debate on this bill I gave various reasons for my opposition to the proposal of the Government to grant an annuity of £1,000 per annum to the widow of the late Prime Minister. I said that, having regard to all the circumstances, the proposal then advanced was a preposterous one. Now I find myself opposed to the amendment before the committee proposing an annuity of £500 for Dame Enid Lyons. My opposition to both proposals is based on the belief that all applications for assistance of this kind should be treated ou an equable basis. This Parliament should not be asked to deal differently with the case of one widow as against another;, it should bc guided by a principle which should be applicable to all. I cannot see any great deal of difference between the provision which should be made in this case and that which should be made in another. Every honorable member knows that there are very many other deserving widows in the community whose deceased husbands have rendered valuable service to the Australian community, and, having fallen on bad times, have been unable to make provision for the support of their dependants after their death. This Government has not, in the past, displayed any desire to grant any monetary assistance to these people. I have had forwarded to me by some person, who evidently believes that the attitude of honorable members generally in regard to this matter is not justified, a cutting from a newspaper accompanied by a photograph depicting, three children asleep in bed at the Travellers' Aid Society Hostel. The cutting reads -

Three little girls stepped ofl* the train from Shepparton at Spencer-street 3'esterdsiy with a note from their mother, a 39-years-old widow, asking the Travellers' Aid Society to take care of them pending her arrival by push bike to-day or to-morrow.

After four years of hard struggle to provide for her children, Mrs. Taylor -sold her furnishings for a pittance at auction, and lind scraped together the fares for her children in a brave effort to make a new home in Melbourne.

She hail only enough for her children's fare so will ride the 113 miles on the push bike that has served as her transport to casual jobs us cook, help and house assistant.

What I desire to bring to the notice of the Government is that, although honorable members read of cases of this sort in the daily newspapers and know that they occur frequently in every State of the Commonwealth to-day, no action is taken by this Government to provide any relief for these unfortunate people; but when it comes to a proposal in respect of a particular case in which some honorable members are directly concerned they do not hesitate to talk about the necessity foi: giving "warm and generous consideration " to it. Warm and generous consideration should be given to every proposal that comes before this Parliament for its consideration; but if. is apparent that members of this Government are content to reserve their warm and generous consideration to a particular case in which they themselves are interested. Honorable members know of innumerable cases of hardship in the cities and country towns to-day. We all know of cases of unfortunate women, many of them barely able to spare the time away from their washtubs to attend the funerals of their husbands, forced to return to the washtub for the rest of their lives to eke out a bare existence. I say that those circumstances should not exist here. What has the Government done to put an end to them? It has given those people any amount of sympathy, but it is not sympathy that they want; they want just treatment. During my secondreading speech, I referred to what the Government was doing for the people in need of assistance in the Australian Capital Territory. When we point to the conditions existing in the States, we are told that it is. a matter for the State governments: - that it does not really concern the Commonwealth. Well,, so far as. the people in the Australian Capital Territory are concerned, the Government, cannot escape responsibility for them. Here in this Territory to-day an unemployed man, his wife and eight children', receive fi 10s. 2d. a week on. which to. live, yet in this bill it is suggested that a- widow and her family need £20 a week.. All I can say is that the Government: takes a distorted view of these things. Honorable members opposite are fond of praising, our democratic institutions, so let them now see that equal treatment is meted out, irrespective of the station in life of the recipients. The Government introduced and had passed a national insurance hill "providing for the payment of 12s. 6d. a week pension to a widow and 3s. 6d. a week for each dependent child. If we are to have widows" pensions they should be made to apply uniformly. We should not say to one widow, " You enjoy a different standard of life from the rest of the community, and you must receive a widow's pension at a higher rate". I do not believe in that. Every member of the community should- be able to live like a civilized human being, and to educate his or her children in such a way- as to give them an equal opportunity with any other child. This Government, however, does not subscribe to that opinion. When dealing with the widows of workers, it has usually only sympathy to give them, or, when it does provide a pension for them, it takes care that the husband, while alive, hap. contributed to it. Even then, under the National Insurance Act, the payment of a widow's pension is so hedged about with conditions and restrictions that not many would benefit. It is said that this is a special case. Well, why is it? Why should it be treated as a special case? I do not recognize that the widow of the late Prime Minister or her dependent children are in need of a greater quantity of food than are the dependants of a worker killed in the course of his employment. I cannot see that they should he treated any differently. As a member of the Labour party I believe: that every consideration should be given to applications for assistance, no matter from what quarter they are received. All such applications should be considered on their merits, and the first consideration should be the need of those whom it is proposed tq help. Knowing the. ability of the late Prime Minister and the business capacity of his widow, I am not yet. finally satisfied that they did not make adequate provision for the maintenance of those dependent upon them. It is true that a committee of this House met for a short period, and made a cursory examination of the situation, but I am not satisfied that it made a thorough exploration. Because I am not satisfied on that point, and because I believe that the Government's proposal is preposterous, I intend at the appropriate time to vote against the Government's proposal for a pension of £1,000, and I decline also to support the amendment providing for a pension of £500, which I believe to be excessive, but I would support a proposal for granting to the family, after an adequate inquiry into its circumstances, such aid as might be deemed necessary, though certainly not to the excessive amount proposed by the Government or in the amendment.

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