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Thursday, 3 October 1912

Senator McGREGOR (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) . - I move -

That this Bill be now read a second time.

Honorable senators who have been following what has been done in another branch of the Legislature, and the correspondence, leading articles and other matter which has appeared in the daily press, not only of Victoria, but of other States as well, will by this time be fairly familiar with the legislation proposed in this Bill. All who have studied the history of the past must know that, from century to century, and from year to year, the position of women in the world, as civilization has advanced, has received greater attention. As time goes on, there is ever this plain and increasing disposition to do something to improve the lot of the female portion of the community, and particularly of those who are embraced in the motherhood of the world. There is an increasing desire that they should be given consideration, assistance, and compensation for the great trials, difficulties, and dangers they have to encounter. In the early ages, the position of women in the world was a very disagreeable one. But civilization is altering that, and the higher the civilization of any country, the more important part in the life of that country do women play. Therefore, I do not think it need occasion surprise that it has fallen to the lot of the Labour Government in the Commonwealth to introduce this Bill, which provides for a maternity allowance. Of course, there are persons in the world who object to legislation of almost any kind. They would like the world to stand -still. Their position is secure, and no alteration could improve their condition. But that is not the position which is occupied by the great mass of humanity. There are others, again, whose objections to legislation of a humanitarian description are more defined. The objections which they urge against a measure of this kind are of a varied character. Some declare that the more we do to assist people in trial and difficulty the more we shall be liable to sap the fibre of the nation, and to make its units weaklings who are always anxious to lean upon the Government for support. But what has been achieved by legislation already is sufficient to show that that is not the result in all circumstances, and, very possibly, under any circumstances. A great deal has already been done in Great Britain and other European countries, and even in Australia, to provide against hardship and suffering. Humanitarian legislation has been enacted in Great Britain, Germany, Denmark, France, the United States, and Australia. Its effect has certainly not been to make the community less able to bear any of the burdens which the duties of citizenship may impose upon them. In all these countries, the people are as sound to-day, from a patriotic and national stand-point, as they ever were. Consequently, there is nothing in the argument that such legislation will have a tendency to weaken the race. Then there are others who object, not altogether to humanitarian legislation, but to this particular Bill, because they hold that the scope of its operation is too wide. They urge that we should hedge it round with such restrictions that there could be no possible interference with the present moral state of the community. I am very sorry to see sections of the people who are connected with religious bodies - persons who are no doubt honest, upright, and sincere in their demonstrations - declaring that, because the Bill makes no distinction in favour of the married state, the Government are doing something to imperil the marriage tie, and to encourage an immoral condition of society which may ultimately prove to be detrimental to the citizens of the Commonwealth. I venture to differ from these good persons. I believe that they are wrong. It does not matter whether they belong to the Council of Churches, or whether they are merely voicing their own opinions, they do not exhibit that broad practical outlook which characterized the Founder of their religion. If we compare their professions with the expressions used by the Founder of Christianity, we cannot fail to come to the conclusion that their attitude is a wrong one. Everybody will acknowledge that the position of a mother who has had the advantage of being married is very different from that of the poor unfortunate young woman who may have been deceived and wronged by some unscrupulous individual. When Our Saviour himself was teaching us the way we ought to go, one of his first declarations was, " They that are whole need no physician, but they that are sick." Those who are in a more favorable position in life are not as likely to require assistance as are persons who are differently circumstanced. We also know that when the sinner merited the sentence of death, and was brought out to be executed, the first words of the Founder of Christianity were, " Let him that is without sin cast the first stone," whereupon nobody attempted to proceed with the execution. Wo know, too, that when later that poor sinner appealed to him, his reply was. " Go thy way and sin no more." That, I think, is the extent of the retribution which religious persons ought to attempt to inflict under circumstance'! such as we are now discussing. Then, I might call history to witness that in the past a number of women who have fallen have been reclaimed, and have risen to the highest positions in the world. That is evidence of the fact that indiscretions of this kind must not be regarded as placing women altogether outside the pale of justice and of human sympathy whenever that sympathy can be of benefit to them. To those persons who are so particular in their objections with respect to legitimacy and illegitimacy I would like to address a few words. I do not desire either now or at any time that any citizen of the Commonwealth should be able to say that the Labour Government did something which would tend to destroy the morality of the nation, or to weaken the righteous institutions that exist in a civilized country like Australia. But in the experience of this world, how many young women have been placed in unfortunate circumstances by reason of their own deliberate choice? Very few, if any. In fact, 1 do not believe that there are any cases in which they have sinned deliberately. Their indiscretion is probably the result of some promise which they have believed. Those who raise objections of this kind should go a little further. Let us suppose that a woman is fortunate enough to obtain a husband, and that within a few weeks of her marriage a child is born. According to the opinions of some of these good people she ought to be entitled to this maternity allowance. I say that no more guilt attaches to another young woman who is less fortunate, but probably equally good, if not better, who finds herself in a similar condition, her seducer having deserted her, or perhaps having died in the interim. Consequently there should be no need to argue this question at very great length. I desire to make one other assertion in order to show that poor young women in this unfortunate position pay a very heavy toll to nature for their indiscretions. There are nearly double the number of deaths amongst young women who give birth to illegitimate children that there are amongst women who give birth to children in wedlock. Consequently it would be inhuman' to exclude the former from humanitarian legislation of this description.

Senator Needham - And if they live they pay another toll to society.

Senator McGREGOR - This Bill is intended to preserve the women of the country, so that they may further fulfil the duties which they owe to the nation. Incidentally it must accomplish something in the way of protecting the infant life of the community. Other arguments may havebeen adduced against the Bill, but I think I have dealt with the principal one. When it was first submitted to the other branch of the Legislature there were Members of Parliament and individuals outside of it who were in a hurry to express views, which, when challenged, they were reluctant to give effect to. Thus it came about that when a vote was taken -upon, the Bill not one of its opponents had the courage to call for a division.

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