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Wednesday, 23 May 1973
Page: 2515

Mr WILSON (Sturt) - I rise to support this legislation because of my concern about the need to provide adequate benefits to the children who, in other contexts, are sometimes described as fatherless children. Already the legislation of the Commonwealth, through broadening for social security purposes the definition of the term 'widow', provides for families other than those where the family is fatherless as a consequence of the death of the father. This legislation now extends the supporting mother's benefit to another group which previously had not received that assistance. Those who will be in receipt of the assistance are those who have been under extreme financial pressure. The young mother, in the circumstances under which this Bill will provide a benefit, has had difficult choices to make as to how she would care for her children and give that child the proper mothering it deserved. Should she go out to work in a full time capacity or should she stay at home and live under extreme financial difficulties in order to provide the mother care that she thought her child deserved? The point I wish to make is that by looking to legislation to cover special areas of need there is the extreme danger that in endeavouring to remove discrimination, as it is put, against particular groups with special needs we will in fact create a massive discrimination against those who form the normal groupings within the community.

I wish to express my grave concern about the increasing financial pressures being imposed upon the single income 2-parent families. These days a young married woman usually works until she has her first child. During the period in which she is working she and her young husband have the opportunity of living on 2 incomes. They adjust their expenditure patterns accordingly. They try to anticipate the burdens that will be placed upon them when they undertake the rearing of a family. When the first child arrives the young mother is faced with an extraordinarily difficult choice. Should she continue to work to provide her husband and her child with the financial resources that 2 incomes will bring into the household or should she stop working and provide mother care to her child.

Whilst I support this legislation for what it will do for the children of fatherless families, I do urge the Government to look into the establishment of a far more comprehensive family benefits scheme whereby young mothers with very young children can, in effect, be paid to be at home providing the care that they wish to give to their children so that, instead of the community having to pay for substitute mothers, the natural mother of the child can provide care at home, certainly during the infant and pre-school days.

We will find that by tackling in a piecemeal fashion the problems concerning the provision of benefits for children we will impose great pressures on the normal family in the community and that by putting those pressures on that family we will cause greater difficulties in the future because of the inability of the normal family to face the financial burdens that are imposed upon it when the first and second children come along and the mother chooses to stay at home and care for those children. In supporting this legislation, I do draw the attention of the House to the importance of it being looked at in a wider context than merely the setting of the special need groups. We now have a situation where a widow or a person in receipt of this supporting mothers benefit will receive an income considerably more in excess of the acknowledged poverty levels than similar 2-parent single income families with dependent children. This discrimination between the different family groupings within the community is likely to cause severe difficulty for the future generations of the community. 1 believe that we need to review our assessment of the period of dependency of children. We have thought in the past that a child is dependent for a period of 16 years and we have tended to adjust all our benefits on the basis that having started at birth they should continue throughout that period. I think we need to look at them in a more sensible fashion and to adjust the benefits at levels according to the needs of the families to enable them to spread their earning capacity in a way which permits them to provide their children with a reasonable standard of living at all stages of the family's development. Whilst I would have liked an opportunity to develop further the thoughts I have expressed, because of the pressures of time in relation to the debates this session it is not possible for me to examine in more detail the many aspects of the concepts I have advanced for the attention of the House. But I do want to place on record today the need for us to examine the deserving demand of the families of the nation in order to place them in a position where they too can have financial benefits to provide their children with the home care and mother care which are so essential to their educational development.

There is one other aspect of this legislation to which I wish to direct attention for it does give me some concern. That is the circum stances under which the benefit ceases to be payable. 1 do express concern that, because of the definition in the legislation, there may be undue inquiry into the private affairs of people. If the benefit were across the board - available to the children of all families - such an intrusion of the private lives of people would not be necessary.

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