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Thursday, 3 October 1912

Senator WALKER (New South Wales) - I am sure that I can speak for all members of the Senate when I say that we sympathize with the object of this Bill. I also congratulate the Vice-President of the Executive Council on having given us an excellent description of the measure and its tendency. The only point connected with administration that strikes me is that it might be well for the Government to employ State agencies to distribute the money, because the States have means of ascertaining much more readily than the Federal Government can do where the applicants are situated. It would be a simple- matter for the States to furnish a return of how many mothers there were monthly within a State, and then the Government could hand over the proper sum of money for distribution.

Senator Givens - Why resort to that roundabout method of doing the business?

Senator WALKER - For the reason that the Federal Government have not the necessary machinery. I totally dissent from those who would attempt to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate children in a measure of this description. Perhaps it might be well, however, where a mother has a second or third illegitimate child, for the money to be paid over to a maternity home. We all know that many unfortunate girls are seduced under a promise of marriage. Surely after a first experience of that sort, a woman ought to have some check kept upon her. There are many persons who seem to hope that Federation will end in unification. I am rather sorry that this measure appears to be a step in that direction. It undertakes functions which properly belong to the States. It trenches upon the sphere of State legislation. Another point that does not seem to be considered is what is to be paid to a mother who has twins. Surely she should receive ^10 instead of £5.

Senator Givens - She does not want two doctors and two nurses to attend her because she has twins ; this is not a bonus for babies, but for maternity.

Senator WALKER - If a mother is so prolific as to give birth to twins, surely this Bill should pay special regard to her. Something has been said about this being a Christian measure. I point out, however, that sub-clause 2 of clause 6 prevents a maternity allowance being paid to women who are Asiatics, or are aboriginal natives of Australia, Papua, or the islands of the Pacific. I hope that in Committee an amendment will be made to modify that clause. In Queensland at the present time there are some kanakas who were given certificates of exemption when the great bulk of the kanakas «were deported. A little while ago I was staying in the Blackall Range, and came across a married couple, of whom the woman was as black as she could possibly be, though she was born in Queensland. She is a well-educated woman. She can read and write, and keeps the books of the farm on which she is employed. She has children, and why should she be deprived of the maternity allowance?

Senator de Largie - Why should not the State Government look after such a woman ?

Senator WALKER - She is able to earn her own living, and is a valuable person on the farm.

Senator de Largie - Then she does not want any assistance under this Bill.

Senator WALKER - Ministerial supporters profess that they do not desire to make a distinction between rich and poor in respect of the maternity allowance. I heartily congratulate the Government 011 identifying themselves with this excellent idea, and on taking a .step to prevent some of the misery which is attendant upon unfortunate women, especially those who have to endure a first confinement. I still think that we could improve the machinery by utilizing the States for distributing the allowance, because State officers know more about » their population than Federal authorities can possibly do.

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