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Tuesday, 19 May 1942
Page: 1344

Mr CALWELL (Melbourne) .- This clause is deficient in another respect, apart from those mentioned by the honorable member for Dalley (Mr. Rosevear) and the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark). Provision should be made so that a woman whose husband is an inmate of a gaol or penal establishment may receive financial assistance. There is no good reason why a woman whose husband is an inmate of a hospital for the insane should be treated differently from a woman whose husband is an inmate of a gaol. In many countries such women are placed both in the same category. Some years ago, when I was a member of the Victorian Public Service, I was appointed investigating officer for a select committee of the Victorian Legislative Assembly that made inquiries regarding the granting of widows' pensions and child endowment, and I had an opportunity to ascertain the condition under which many unfortunate families live. Some harrowing stories were told before the committee, and about 40 cases were submitted by the Children's Welfare Department to me to investigate. The conditions under which families were being maintained constituted a striking tribute to maternal affection under the most adverse circumstances. I can recollect hearing of women whose husbands were in gaol being compelled to work in order to maintain themselves and their children. In some instances they went to work at an early hour and left their children huddled together in school sheds from 7 a.m. until school commenced at 9 a.m. After school hours the children were left to play in the streets until their mothers returned from their work in the factories or shops. Women should not be treated as social pariahs, merely because their husbands have committed crimes against the State. If a husband is forced to go to gaol, and pay the penalty for his misdeeds, surely punishment should not also be visited upon his dependants. The Bible records that the iniquity of the fathers shall be visited upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation ; but there is no justification for a Labour government causing the iniquity of the erring father to be visited on his wife and children. If the Minister will not adopt my suggestion I shall submit an amendment to provide that a woman whose husband is in gaol shall receive the benefits of this measure.

In another part of the bill it is provided that a widow who has had five years' residence in Australia immediately prior to the date of her claim for the pension shall be eligible for the benefit of this legislation. I am not opposed to that provision, but I visualize the possibility that payment of the widow's pension may be made in future to many unfortunate European refugees who may settle in Australia. It might so happen that a woman who could scarcely speak English would be eligible for a pension under the bill, whereas an Australianborn woman with Australian-bora children would be denied the benefit of the legislation, because her husband happened to be in gaol. I do not believe that such a discrimination would be supported by the people of this country. Under the Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act a person must have resided in Australia for twenty years before being entitled to the pension, but in respect of widows the residential qualification is to be reduced to -five years. I agree with that proposition, but we should not make an exception in the case of the unfortunate Australian-born woman whose Australian-born husband happens to be in gaol. As was mentioned by the honorable member for Darling (Mr. Clark), the wife of an invalid pensioner would be far better off financially if her husband were dead. The invalid husband will receive 25s. a week, and will be expected to maintain his wife and himself on that sum. Of course, it is impossible for a wife who has an invalid husband to leave him unattended. If he died his widow would immediately become eligible for benefits to be provided under this bill. It is desirable in the interests of society that a mother should be with her young children, and that they should not be forced to roam the streets or be sent off early in the morning to school while the mother goes out to earn her living. Experience has shown that lack of parental control is often responsible for children turning to crime at an early age. Where the home influence is strong, there are fewer potential criminals. We do not want to see our gaols filled ; we want them to be empty. What a government saves by refusing assistance to destitute mothers it often pays out later in the maintenance of prisoners.

We have made provision for a divorced wife when she is the innocent party. I do not object to that, but I fail to see why the divorced wife of an erring husband should be placed in a better position than tho undivorced wife - if I may use the expression - of a man who has broken the law of the land, and has been sent to gaol.

Mr Falstein - Provision is made even for a de facto wife.

Mr CALWELL - That is so. If Parliament can take cognizance of the fact that many unmarried people offend against the law of morality by living together-

Mr Falstein - In sin.

Mr CALWELL - Yes, in sin, as the honorable member for Watson states, then surely we can make provision for a legally married wife whose husband, perhaps in a fit of passion, has broken the law and is imprisoned as a result. It is quite possible for men in these troubled times to be sent to gaol for political offences, and as the law now stands, their wives would be compelled to suffer for the opinions of their husbands. There are in this House to-day several honorable members who, at one time or another, have committed political offences against the law, and have been prosecuted. I ask them to think what might have happened to their wives and children if they had gone to gaol instead of paying fines. What would be their reaction to-day if they were not members of Parliament and heard that legislation was being passed that made no provision for cases similar to their own ? The legislation of at least one State in Australia provides that a woman whose husband is in gaol may receive some assistance from the State. In other States, there is no such law, and I believe that, whether there is any State provision of the kind or not, this bill should be amended so as to make eligible for pensions women belonging to the last two remaining classes unprovided for, namely, those whose husbands are in gaol, and who have young children in their care. I do not know whether the Minister has been sufficiently impressed with my arguments to be able to state now that he is prepared to agree to my proposal, or whether I should at this stage move an amendment to give effect to it.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Prowse).The honorable member would not be in order if he did move such an amendment because, if carried, it would increase the appropriation.

Mr CALWELL - Then can you advise me what further steps I must take in order to secure the Minister's consent to my proposal? I have stated all my arguments as succinctly as possible, and I should now like to know whether the Minister intends to accept my proposal.

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