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Thursday, 3 October 1912

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The VicePresident of the Executive Council must not reflect upon the members of the otherbranch of the Legislature..

Senator McGREGOR - I did not intend to reflect upon them. I merely mention the matter with a view to showing how, in the course of a few weeks, publicopinion has so acted upon those who wereinclined to oppose this legislation that they are now almost silent upon it. Regarding the assertion that the measure will encourage illegal practices and fraud, I ask honorable senators to look carefully through it, and they will then see that every necessary precaution has been taken. 1 am sure that the Government will be only too pleased if, even at this late stage, any honorable senator can show a weaknesswhich cannot be met, to listen to any argument.

Senator Needham - Senator McColl will challenge the reasoning, surely. Hehas decried the measure in the country.

Senator McColl - Senator McColl will speak for himself.

Senator McGREGOR - I am only dealing with statements which I have heard-

Although what appears in the press may have some influence, yet it is not always reliable, and we can only judge by the actions of honorable senators here. The Government are anxious that this legislation should be given effect to as speedily as possible, and the reason for their anxiety is obvious. It does not make a great deal of difference whether a Bill, for the survey of a .railway is passed to-day, to-morrow, or next week. A Bill to amend the Bounty Act is almost in the same position; in the case of all legislation of an ordinary character a delay of a day or two makes very little difference. But I would remind honorable senators that 80 or 90 per cent, of the people of the Commonwealth are looking to this Parliament to decide the fate of this measure. Seeing that there are being born in the Commonwealth about 300 children every twenty-four hours, they will realize that every day's delay will make a great difference to many a needy mother; and if the delay is increased by weeks, it will mean a grievous disappointment, not only to hundreds, but to thousands- for every State in the Commonwealth bears its proportion. Those who have had to labour for their living must know the conditions of the majority of the people in these cases. Both in the Old Country and in Australia I have been associated with the working classes all my life, and I know that where large families have been the rule of the clay, every time a great anxiety was placed, not only on the mother, but on the father, as to how they were to get over the difficulty, and very often the worry caused to the poor mother in her serious condition was- more injurious to her than the actual birth of the child. It is for the purpose of giving this relief just at that particular time that the Government are anxious that this legislation should be carried as speedily as possible.

Senator Millen - Is that why you waited for two and a half years before you brought it in?

Senator McGREGOR - I do not think it is fair that an insinuation of that kind should be made against the present Government by representatives and senators who have been in the Commonwealth Parliament for eleven years, and have never attempted to do anything in this direction. I hope that it is not an indication that, even at this eleventh hour, when the legislation is brought in, we shall not have the assistance of the honorable senator , to carry it into operation as speedily as possible.

Senator de Largie - Their cry is that we have no right to bring it in, even now..

Senator McGREGOR - I believe that Senator Millen, when he is properly appealed to, will be found to have as much sympathy as has any one of us. I feel sure that he and the other senators on the Opposition benches will not raise any unnecessary obstruction to the passage of this legislation.

Senator Needham - He does not want to destroy votes at the next election.

Senator Shannon - Is this a votecatching Bill?

Senator Needham - He says that it is, and you say that it is.

Senator McGREGOR - I shall leave the people to judge Members of Parliament with respect to their actions. I do not think that we need be unnecessarily cruel to each other by making insinuations which, very probably, when sifted, will be found to have no foundation. I was pointing out, when I was interrupted, the seriousness of any delay. Once you raise the hopes of any section of the community ; once you give encouragement for hope to any individual, the sooner you bring about the realization of such hopes, the better it is for the Legislature and the people themselves. Every one must acknowledge that. Some objection may be raised to the attempt of the Government to proceed forthwith with this measure.

Senator Millen - Do you propose to proceed straight away?

Senator McGREGOR - Certainly. 1 would remind the honorable senator that when the Prime Minister finished his second-reading speech in another place they carried the measure right through, without a break, and that is all that we ask here. If the Leader of the Opposition in another place was prepared to get up at the conclusion of the Prime Minister's speech and take his part in the debate, I feel sure that Senator Millen, with his ability and versatility, will not give second place to any legislator in Australia.

Senator Millen - You will admit that there was a big gap between the time of introducing the Bill and the time they went on with it.

Senator McGREGOR - I feel sure that if the honorable senator desires a few minutes for preparation, he has only to give a wink to Senator St. Ledger, who is always prepared to occupy the time of the Senate to the best advantage. There are other members of the Opposition who, during the last few weeks, have been studying this measure, and giving expression to their opinions at little tea parties and other functions of that kind. I feel confident that they will be ready to plunge into a discussion straight away. As the debate was initiated and carried right through in another place, and the Bill passed through its third reading without delay, I hope that no objection will be raised to its speedy passage here. I might, if I chose, deal with many other minor objections, which have been raised in connexion with this legislation. But, as I have indicated that it is our desire to get through with the Bill as quickly as possible, it would be of no advantage to the Government or the Senate for me to attempt to" stone- wall " it at any length. I shall content myself with explaining that it is a very short measure, consisting of twelve clauses, of which only two or three are really debatable. Like every other measure, it has a short title. Clause 2 provides that the Bill shall be brought into operation by proclamation. When the necessary officers are appointed, and when the regulations are framed, and everything is ready, a proclamation will be issued, and the people will receive the benefit of this legislation. Clause 3 deals with the officers for administrative purposes. We all know that there must be a Commissioner, an Assistant Commissioner, and a Deputy Commissioner in different parts of the Commonwealth to carry out the administration of the Act, and their appointment is provided for. Clause 4 provides for an allowance of £5 to the mother of every child born in the Commonwealth, or even in a vessel travelling from one port in the Commonwealth to another port therein, or any Territory in connexion with the Commonwealth. I feel sure that no one can raise much objection to this, although it is really one of the vital clauses. Clause 5 deals with the cases where the allowance can be granted. It also provides that the allowance may only be given to white women. It does not extend to Asiaticsor aborigines. The aborigines are wards of the State, and this legislation, like other legislation that we have passed, does not apply to Asiatics. It applies to every mother who, on the presentation-

Senator St Ledger - And that, by the way, is the Christianity which you were preaching a short time ago.

Senator McGREGOR - I dare say that it may not be perfect Christianity.

Senator St Ledger - I should think not.

Senator McGREGOR - The allowance is to be paid to every mother on the birth or registration of a live child. In case the infant should die before twelve hours, a medical certificate must be furnished showingthat the child was a viable child. That is a precaution against malpractices or fraud ; it is also intended to protect the legitimate mother. In a case where the doctor's certificate cannot be obtained, the discretion of the Commissioner may be exercised. Of course, every precaution will be taken to see that the measure is administered in a legitimate manner. The time within which a claim may be made is limited to three months. The Government do not think it wise to keep a contingent liability hanging over the Treasury for a longer period. A person who does not. make application within three months cannot afterwards sustain a claim. Provision is also made, where the mother of a child dies, for the Commissioner, within his discretion, to pay the amount to representatives of the mother. The three last clauses of the Bill provide for penalties against fraud. They impose a penalty of £100, or twelve months' imprisonment, for obtaining a maternity allowance which is not legally payable, or for making false or misleading statements. There is also a penalty for aiding and abetting. Clause 12 provides for power to make regulations. There are only twelve clauses in the Bill, and not more than two or three of them are debatable. Honorable senators can, I am satisfied, within a few hours make up their minds as to the direction in which they wish to vote. The Government will feel very pleased if they have the assistance, not only of their own supporters, but of members of the Opposition, in carrying the measure into law as speedily as possible.

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