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Friday, 15 May 1942

Dr PRICE (BOOTHBY, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) .- I support the general principles of the bill for a number of reasons. It is designed to help a really deserving and, in some cases, poverty-stricken section of the community; women who, through no fault of their own, have seen misfortune fall it only upon themselves but also upon their dependent children. The Joint

Committee on Social Security reported that these people are in a particularly unhappy position and form a large proportion of the applicants for assistance. As the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) stated, this proposal will strengthen the family tie which, fortunately, is still the basis of our Christian society, for, only too often, a family disintegrates when its financial circumstances are weakened by the death of the father and breadwinner. Honorable members can recall many instances where a family, following the demise of the male parent, has separated. The children have been boarded out and the mother has been obliged to seek employment, perhaps as a domestic servant, for the purpose of earning money to support them.

This proposal is most important from the standpoint of maintaining the nutrition and health of families, and in preventing some of them from becoming centres of moral and physical infection in the community. Recently, honorable members received from the Legacy Club in Sydney a little pamphlet which contained some distressing examples of the results of under-nourishment and ill health in New South "Wales. Having studied the subject of under-nourishment and ill health among small, isolated white settlements in tropical areas, I can bear witness to the great harm which can come to a community that allows the health and nutrition of a section of its citizens to fall below the average. Safeguards are particularly necessary in a country where the birth-rate is falling and the proportion of older citizens is increasing. We may succeed in holding Australia this time, in spite of our blindness to the preparations which more prolific countries have been making against us for years; but, sooner or later, Australia will be overwhelmed by the increase of the population of our neighbours unless we can adequately increase our white Australian population. Anything that we can do to protect and develop Australian children is of the utmost value on the grounds of humanitarianism and is vital on the score of sheer biological necessity.

The destruction of private charity is another reason for' the introduction of this legislation. I do not propose to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the system of maintaining institutions by private philanthropy, which is now disappearing, but new social ideas, the pressure of war taxation and all the effects of the war will force the State to take over a great deal of that work. Hospitals, orphanages, and homes for unmarried mothers, which have been wholly or partly supported by private philanthropy, will ultimately become the responsibility of the State.

The Joint Committee on Social Security reported that this class of legislation called for early action on the part of the Government. The committee, which stated the case fairly and moderately, recommended a Commonwealth noncontributory scheme for widows in necessitous circumstances, and dependent, children, providing for the payment of a pension of £1 ls. a week for the mother and 10s. a week for an orphan or one dependent child under the age of sixteen years. I remind honorable members that this kind of social service has been introduced in countries with more advanced social systems than that of Australia. For example, Great Britain has a contributory scheme under which a widow and her children receive a pension if th

I have enunciated a number of strong arguments in favour of the principle of the measure. My criticisms are prompted by exactly the same reasons as those which I advanced against the manner in which the Government increased invalid and old-age pensions. I agree with the opinion of the Joint Committee i«n Social Security. Although it recommended a non-contributory scheme for widows in distress, it admitted the psychological advantages of a contributory scheme and the bad effects of the " means " test. Those points were emphasized very ably by the honorable member for Flinders (Mr. Ryan). Moreover, the Joint Committee on Social Security urged in its first and third interim reports that the Commonwealth should consolidate social legislation in a social security act embracing a complete plan of social service. Such a plan, probably organized with a combination of contributory and non-contributory systems, as in Great Britain and the

United States of America, is now essential to the Commonwealth. It is essential that that be done before this Government has made a long series of hand-outs, which will make the introduction of an up-to-date plan difficult, if not impossible. It is essential because of the increasing average age of the population, and the burden that is going to be thrown on us by old-age pensions. It is essential because of the decreasing proportion of our people of working age. The people of the working age of this country will soon be supporting the injured and the invalids and the dependants of the fallen of two great wars. They will be supporting a very high proportion of old-age pensioners and widows and children. They will also be supporting a very large number of those who up to the present have been supported by private philanthropists. The best method by which social security can be financed is still a subject of very serious dispute and discussion. I join issue with the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) who, in an able speech, recently advocated entirely noncontributory schemes of pensions. The uniform taxation proposals now before Parliament are designed to decrease the taxing of lower incomes, although, under various suggestions, lower incomes are expected to contribute to social services. On that point the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) was very interesting. He referred to his minority report as a member of the royal commission on child endowment and family allowances in 1929. It is interesting to note that the right honorable gentleman recommended the payment of widows' pensions and child endowment but said that, in order to obtain funds for the purpose, the statutory exemption from federal income tax should be reduced to £200 and that the grades of tax on higher incomes should be steepened. In other words, his idea in that report was that there should be a contributory scheme by means of taxation. I submit that in the circumstances and in the state of our scant knowledge of the financing of social service, it is equally foolish for the Labour party to assert that it is irrevocably opposed to the contributory system as it would be for the

Opposition to say that it was opposed to non-contributory. That being so, I would ask the Government to hold up this policy of hand-outs until it has procured competent advice on three matters : First, it should obtain counsel as to a social security act which, as the joint committee recommends, will form a legislative frame-work for a complete plan. Secondly, it should obtain advice on a complete social security plan which will cover health, unemployment and other social security plans as well as other problems which are being investigated in other countries and which countries such as Great Britain and the United States of America have already put into effect. Thirdly, it should investigate through competent authorities the best means of financing social security with particular regard to the fact that the age of our population is likely to increase and that the proportion of our active workers is likely to fall. I am delighted that the party now in Opposition introduced child endowment. Unless this question is dealt with scientifically and systematically our children who will carry the burden will not arise and call us blessed! Indeed, they may well say that we have visited our sins of generosity upon them to tha third and fourth generation.

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