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Thursday, 3 April 1941

Senator BROWN (Queensland) . - Several days ago I received a telegram from a friend of mine, who is the father of eleven children, all of whom are under the age of sixteen years. Under this scheme an extra £2 10s. a week will be added to that family's income. Undoubtedly that father has earned this benefit, which will now enable him to meet many obligations which he has hitherto been unable to meet. He informed me that he had been badly dunned by people to whom he owed money. Consequently, he is happy to think that he will now be in a position to feed and clothe his children and. to meet his obligations. That is also the point of view of thousands of other fathers in this country. Those of us who have had to struggle for a crust know very well that an extra few shillings makes towards happiness in a home, especially where there are a number of children. On the other hand there are the gentlemen who have been sending us telegrams protesting against the method by which it is proposed to finance this scheme. They were not opposed to the scheme itself. Personally, I am not very worried about them, because I know very well that the cost will be passed on. As the result of this scheme there will be a gain to the workers, although it will not he so great as those who wholeheartedly support the measure imagine. I believe that the workers in the aggregate will not gain very much. Indeed, when we allow for the increased cost of living which must take place during the next twelve months, it is questionable whether the workers as an economic class will gain anything at all. However, it will mean a gain to those workers who have children. In the past, political parties have found it very difficult to face the task of introducing child endowment. Many honorable senators opposite have contended that the single man should be asked to provide the aid needed by the married man in order to support his children. Naturally, that proposal was bitterly opposed by those who were to be taxed; therefore, political parties, which depended very largely on the votes of single men, have hitherto declined to carry out a project of that kind. The effect of this scheme will be that whilst single workers will still only be able to purchase what they can now afford to buy, married workers will receive, in addition to their present wages, the allowances to be paid under this scheme. I do not say that that is wrong. If we face the position frankly, we must admit that we should deal with human beings at least as sensibly as, say, a man would deal with his cattle. If a man owns a larger number of cattle than his neighbour, he makes provision for the additional number. However, society has hitherto refused to provide food, clothing and shelter for those families numerically greater than others. It has so far insisted that married men should be paid only the same wage as the single men. Now, as this legislation shows, we recognize that it is right and just that a greater income should be received by parents with children than by single men.

Some theoreticians contend that legislation of this kind makes for the servile State, whilst others claim that it brings us nearer to the co-operative or socialistic commonwealth. Personally, I believe that this bill has been forced upon the economic ruling class of this country, because it is essential, in order to placate the workers and keep them in a state of quiescence, to afford them some relief in the difficulties which confront them. In war-time, as Senator Cameron has so ably pointed out, the dominant economic classes of society are prepared to bring about these reforms, although they would not dream of doing so in peace-time. We know that in a time of war the minds of men tend to become plastic, and it is then possible to bring about reforms which cannot be effected in a time of peace. When on the one hand social conditions are normal, the people as a whole are inclined to be conservative. At the same time vested interests exercise tremendous power and it is very difficult to secure reforms of this character. On the other hand, in a time of war governments generally are more than ready to do something of this kind, because they recognize that such reforms are long overdue, and, in any case, are essential in order to pacify the people and give them to understand that capitalist democracy is capable of such reforms. I hope that this legislation is an earnest indication of further social reforms, in respect of unemployment and widows' pensions. If we are to convince the people that a capitalist democracy is capable of looking after them as effectively as totalitarian governments, it is incumbent upon this Government not to rest on its oars but to introduce further reforms of this kind. I hope that the Government, should it remain in power, will continue this good work, and accepting the ideas of Senator Darcey, and those who support him, will utilize means other than taxation to finance such reforms. I feel convinced that circumstances will compel such reforms. I am very pleased to note that honorable senators opposite have abandoned their psychological outlook of a few years ago. I recall that when legislation to provide relief for the unemployed was introduced .into the Queensland Parliament political colleagues of honorable senators opposite described that measure as the "Loafers' Paradise Bill". In addition, as the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) pointed out last night, the maternity allowance established by the late Mr. Andrew Fisher was described by a predecessor of honorable senators opposite as a sop to profligacy. A few years ago men who hold the Tory view-point of honorable senators opposite were bitterly opposed to all kinds of social reform. I speak from long experience as a union organizer. I know the attitude that was taken up only a short while ago by employers of labour generally, and supporters of honorable senators opposite,. on all such matters. I am pleased to learn that, even at this late stage, there is a recognition of the rights of the mothers and the children of this country, and I trust that as a result of constant agitation and pressure by honorable senators on this side of the chamber the Government will, in the near future, take steps to supplement this necessary social reform.

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