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Thursday, 3 October 1912

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I am somewhat surprised that this Bill has been received with so much calmness by my honorable friends opposite. I expected that the Leader of the Opposition would be game enough to follow the Vice-President of the.Executive Council in the debate.

Senator Walker - Senator Millen was kind enough to let me speak first, because I am not very well and may have to leave.

Senator NEEDHAM - Had Senator Millen shown a desire to follow Senator Walker I would have given way. I am glad that we have one convert to the Maternity Allowance Bill in the person of Senator Walker. I venture to think that the measure is one of the most important that has yet been discussed in this Parliament. Furthermore, no Bill that has been fathered and thought out by this Government has received more condemnation in Parliament, in the press, and in the pulpit than has this proposal to grant ^5 to the mother of every child born in Australia.

Senator Walker - Not every one; there are a good many exceptions.

Senator NEEDHAM - The exception: for the most part are such as are necessary for maintaining our White Australia policy. Strange to say, those people who have condemned the Bill in Parliament have not had the moral courage to attempt to defeatit. I am reminded of what the poet said about those who came to scoff remaining to pray. When the Bill was introduced by the Prime Minister in the other branch of the Legislature, the Leader of the Opposition received it with maledictions. But when the Bill left the other Chamber it had the benedictions of Mr. Deakin bestowed upon it. I always like discussion to take place in matters of this kind, and when public men condemn a measure in public, I like them to have the courage to vote against it when they have an opportunity.

Senator St Ledger - I have read Hansard, and I do not understand that the Leader of the Opposition gave the Bill his benediction.

Senator NEEDHAM - - He did when the measure left another place.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator had better try to understand what he said.

Senator NEEDHAM - I will not dispute about the meaning of the King's English with Senator Millen. Senator St. Ledger and Senator McColl have been visiting various centres of this State, and have criticised the measure. Senator McColl, in particular, has described it as a vote-catching Bill, a dirty political dodge, and a measure that will encourage immorality. I am replying to the honorable senator in a place, where my words will !« taken down. I wish the honorable senator was in his place now. If he has been correctly reported in the Australian press, he said that this Bill was a vote-catching Bill, a dirty political dodge, and that it would encourage immorality. 1 wish to know what is the value of such statements. Presuming that the honorable senator was correctly reported, 1 would ask whether lie was serious when he made them. Is that the idea the honorable senator has of Australian womanhood? Is not such a statement a gratuitous insult to the womanhood of Australia? Can Senator McColl, or any other man in Australia, stand up and say conscientiously that £5 is the price of what is dearer to the womanhood of Australia than life itself, namely, honour, chastity, and virginity? Surely we have a higher standard for Australian womanhood than that. Is it to be left to public men to say such things? We have seen similar statements repeated in a section of the Australian press. Let me say here and now (hat there is one exception I should make. During the time the Bill has been before Parliament two articles appeared in the Age which remove that newspaper from the section I have referred to. In those two leading articles the Age. put the position very well. I come now to the attitude of the Church. I have said that in the press, in the pulpit, and in Parliament, this Bill has been condemned. The Council of Churches have condemned it.

Senator de Largie - They are a very insignificant part of the Church.

Senator NEEDHAM - I do not care whether they are insignificant or not. I wish to lay emphasis on the fact that this measure has been condemned from the pulpit. No honorable senator can deny that.

Senator Walker - Some of the churches have since objected to the ^statement of the deputation from the Council of Churches.

Senator NEEDHAM - If it were proposed that this maternity allowance should be given only to the mother of a child born in wedlock, then the Council of Churches would not condemn it. I ask Senator Walker to say whether that is the true doctrine of Christianity.

Senator Walker - No, certainly not.

Senator NEEDHAM - We know it is not. We have read of the Divine Founder of Christianity. We have Tend of a Magdalene. The Council of Churches have evidently forgotton that such a woman ever existed. Did the Divine Founder of Christianity condemn the Magdalene?

Senator St Ledger - He did not exclude Asiatics, anyhow.

Senator NEEDHAM - I ask Senator St. Ledger to follow my argument intelligently, if he can. I am now speaking of the condemnation by the Council of Churches and by public men, including Senator McColl, of the grant of a maternity allowance to the mother of an illegitimate child.

Senator McColl - Can the honorable senator find that I said that anywhere?

Senator NEEDHAM - I shall tell the honorable senator what he said. I shall repeat for his edification the statement I made when he was absent from the chamber. I said that if the honorable senator has been correctly reported in the press, he said that the maternity allowance is a dirty political dodge; that this is a vote-catching Bill ; and that it encourages immorality.

Senator McColl - No ; I did not say that it encourages immorality. I will tell the honorable senator what I did say. I said it was a " low-down" political dodge, but I never said that it would encourage immorality. I am not going behind what I said.

Senator NEEDHAM - We are agreed upon two points. The honorable senator admits that he said it was a low-down political dodge, and a vote-catching Bill ; but he denies that he said that it would encourage immorality. If so, the honorable senator has been misreported.

Senator McColl - It is the last thing I would think'of saying.

Senator NEEDHAM - I was saying that the Divine Founder of Christianity did not refuse the Magdalene. That is well known to those of us who read our Bible, and it should be known to those who preach so much about it. Why should the poor unfortunate woman who has been betrayed, and has not had the sacred sacrament of matrimony to assist her prior to the birth of her child, be further dishonored ? Why should her lot in life be made much worse by excluding her from the proposed maternity allowance? I challenge honorable senators on the other side to give a reason why she should be excluded. As Senator McGregor has very well said, births sometimes take place before the recognised time after marriage. Some persons, in this matter, would make a distinction between a case where a man who has been guilty of betraying a woman has tried to redeem his manhood and save the honour of the woman, and a case in which the betrayer has refused to redeem his manhood. If, apart from any political view, we consider the matter from the true Christian stand-point, no argument can be adduced against the granting of the proposed allowance of £5 to the mother of the child born out of wedlock. With respect to the principle of the Bill, we have been told that we are going to rob the race of its self-reliant spirit. We have been told that, because we propose to assist the mother of a future Australian citizen in the moment of her supreme need, we shall take from her that self-reliance of which every Britisher is so proud. I hope that, during the course of the debate, honorable senators opposite will endeavour to show how that can possibly be. They might just as well tell me that, when we grant subsidies to certain shipping companies and other commercial concerns we take from the people who derive the benefit of them the selfreliance of which we should be proud. If that be the only argument that can be submitted against this Bill, it must go by the board. I have here a clipping from the Age. It refers to a meeting of the State Children's Council, in Adelaide. The meeting was presided over by Lady Way, who, I understand, is a prominent lady in South Australia. I quote the following from the report of the meeting -

The President, Lady Way, said that to make the grant applicable to rich and poor alike was uncalled for, and imposed an unnecessary burden on the taxpayer.

That deals with another phase of the question, to which I desire to direct attention. One of the objections to the measure has been that the allowance should not be given to the mother of an illegitimate child. Another objection is, that every mother in Australia ought not to receive the allowance. Are we, in the National Parliament of the Commonwealth, to make a distinction by legislation between rich and poor? I do not think we were sent here for any such purpose. I should be very sorry if we were. Let us suppose, for instance, that Mrs. Smith, whose husband receives £2 10s. per week, is about to become a mother, and that Mrs. Brown, who lives next door to her, and whose husband receives £6 or £7 a week, is also about to become a mother. Because her husband receives about £5 per week more than Mr. Smith, Mrs. Brown will not apply for, nor will she accept, the allowance. There is, at times, one thing that stands between people, and particularly our womenfolk, and poverty, and that is their sense of selfrespect. Very often this honest pride stands between the mother and poverty. She would refuse to apply for the allowance °f £5 if the woman next door was not entitled to receive it. That is why, in this Bill, it is proposed that the allowance shall be made to every mother, irrespective of her condition in life. Lady Way, if she had her will, would like to see the allowance given only to the poor mother, and would thus place the brand of pauperism on the poor mother's brow.

Senator Stewart - Is poverty a disgrace.?

Senator NEEDHAM - By no means; but if such people as Lady Way had control of this matter, they would place the brand of pauperism on the brow of the poverty-stricken mother.

Senator Stewart - The disgraceful thing is to be rich, not to be poor.

Senator NEEDHAM - It is for the reason I have stated that no discrimination is made in this measure between the wife of a millionaire and the wife of a peasant. That is one of the chief reasons for which

I am proud to support the Bill. Lady Way is further reported to have said' -

To extend the payment to parents of illegitimate children was dangerous. They surely did not desire to stimulate moral degeneracy and its attendant miseries. Should the proposal become law they must be prepared for a considerable increase in the expenditure for the care of illegitimates.

There is a direct statement that, because the National Government of Australia are going to assist the womanhood of Australia at the crucial moment of their lives, there will be a greater number of illegitimate children born in the Commonwealth than there have been in the past.

Senator ST LEDGER (QUEENSLAND) - Who made that statement ?

Senator NEEDHAM - Lady Way, of South Australia. She is thus leading the people who to-day are gratuitously insulting the women of Australia. She went on to say -

When it was considered that a great many parents were so wanting in principle that they made no effort to provide for their offspring, they might expect a large influx of pauperism.

Here is another statement which ought to be revised. What about the number of parents in Australia who are endeavouring to provide for their offspring but who have no chance of doing so? Imagine the position of the father of a family of four or five who is in receipt of a wage of only £2 per week. What chance has he of providing for his offspring in every sense of the word? Yet Lady Way, secure in her own position, knowing that her offspring will be well provided for, hurls insults at the men of the Commonwealth as well as at its women. She continued -

There could be little doubt that the marriage tie would be greatly weakened and the sanctity of the home life would be invaded.

These are the sort of statements with which the National Government have to contend in endeavouring to grant assistance to the mothers of Australia at the most critical period of their lives. I quote them because they are typical of what we have heard from the pulpit, the platform, and in Parliament, from the very moment that the Prime Minister announced his intention to introduce legislation of this character. But, despite the fact that such statements have been made, no man has been able to prove the insinuations which are contained in them.

Senator St Ledger - Is the honorable senator sure of that?

Senator NEEDHAM - I defy the honorable senator to prove them. LadyWay continued -

The amount of£400,000 was large enough, but, large as it was, it was as nothing compared with the pernicious incitement to vice which the Bill would engender.

I hope that Senators McColl and St. Ledger, who have condemned this Bill at public meetings in the country, will at least have the courage to call for a division upon the motion for its second reading. If they have not that courage, I can only conclude that all their statements have been merely vapid, and that they have really been talking for the mere sake of talking. I know that the Bill will be carried, and I hope that members of the Opposition in this Parliament will be at least as courageous here as they have attempted to be outside.

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