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Thursday, 4 April 1968

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - I refer to the 1967 Budget in which special provision was made whereby the Commonwealth would give assistance to deserted wives. I also make reference to the fact that in my speech on the Budget last year I congratulated the Government on this move. On 31st August I asked the then Minister for Social Services when this new plan would be implemented. Unfortunately, there are still deserted wives, and they are still a problem. Recently in my home State of Queensland I saw newspaper reports wherein social workers were claiming that deserted wives in Queensland were half starved, that some were slowly starving to death. It is hard to imagine that we would find husbands starving to death, but I have been assured that this too happens at times.

During the recess I visited the Palen Creek prison farm and spoke to a number of husbands who had deserted their wives and who had been in prison for failing to pay maintenance. Their attitude was that they would rather be on that prison farm or in gaol than pay to support their wives.

Mr Cope - They have courage.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - The honourable member opposite says they have courage. I notice that he has not the courage to sit on his own seat but must sit with Government supporters at a moment like this.

I feel that we should all deplore the attitude of these men. Perhaps they are motivated by the fact that their wives have had affairs, if I may use that expression, with other men. I feel it is a matter of principle to them that they should not pay. But the fact of the matter is that the children of these marriages must suffer while these men are so dogmatic that they will not pay. This is a matter which society has a responsibility to ensure is corrected as soon as possible.

It is 8 months since the Commonwealth Government made its most generous offer to assist the States to meet payments to deserted wives for the first 6 months of the desertion. Eight months have passed which have recorded empty tummies, worry and concern because of lack of money. It is up to the States to present a unified case so that the Commonwealth can legislate to implement this assistance. A lot of difficulties appear to be encountered by the States in coming to agreement. I was rather amazed recently when the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Askin, said 'Leave the States along' after the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) had made some remarks. The Leader of the Opposition had suggested that some powers should be taken away from the States. It is amazing that the Labor Premier of the State of South Australia remained silent on this matter. But this is only a point of history now. We have a situation now where the Leader of the Opposition is hovering around like a hawk ready to swoop on cherished rights that are held by the States.

The failure of the States to come to an agreement on Commonwealth assistance for deserted wives and wives of prisoners will be judged by the public. There is nothing surer than that. The ball now lies at the feet of the States and they have to kick it, and kick it right through the goal, because this is a matter of extreme urgency. I am sure that procrastination is causing so much added and unnecessary hardship in view of the Commonwealth's most generous offer.

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