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Friday, 4 October 1912

Senator FRASER (Victoria) . - I must oppose this Bill upon many grounds. Knowing the world as I do fairly well, I have no hesitation in saying that there is no country upon earth which is so independent of a Bill of this character as is Australia. I know of no country where the people generally are as well off as they are in the Commonwealth. I know of n» country where there are so many charitable institutions to meet the needs of the deserving, and even of the "undeserving, poor, as there are in Australia. If there be any person in need in any way, there are charitable institutions which will meet his or her case.

Senator Needham - If every one had his or her right, there would be no need for charitable institutions.

Senator FRASER - In this country, where the necessity for a measure of this kind is so slight, I cannot conceive why a proposal should be submitted to grant a maternity allowance in this indiscriminate way. To begin with, I imagine that the need for a provision of this kind exists only in about 1 per cent, of the births registered in Australia. At any rate, it would not exist in more than 2 per cent, or 3 per cent, of those births.

Senator Shannon - Give them 10 per cent.

Senator Givens - The £5 will prove a veritable godsend in the case of 50 per cent, of the births registered in Australia.

Senator FRASER - Only a very small percentage of the people who are in really necessitous circumstances, will benefit under this Bill. I make that statement knowing, as I do, not merely Victoria, but Queensland and the other States. To pass legislation of this character, which will apply only to a small number of persons, is not wise. Is there any sense in imposing a tax upon the poor in order to give to the rich? We know that taxation has been increased in the Commonwealth so that to-day it falls very heavily upon the people. I am not speaking for myself, because I have enough to live upon, and those who succeed me will, I hope, be able to look after themselves. To tax people who cannot afford to pay, in order to give money to thousands who do not require assistance, is absurd in the extreme. There is no justification for such a course of action. If my honorable friend, Senator Givens, who is a big-brained man, can see any question of sentiment in that, I am sorry that 1 differ from him. Humanitarian sentiments are prompted by a desire to help the needy, the suffering, and the criminal.. My desire is to uplift persons who are in the gutter, and to encourage them to remain up. But while I say that, I am glad to know that the position in Australia is not nearly so bad as it is in other parts of the world. When on a visit to Glasgow recently, during the continuance of a strike there, it took me an hour to get 3 miles in my motor car. To my amazement and horror, I saw women with babies in their arms and at their feet who were not able to walk straight, and I experienced a dreadful sensation. It is in that direction that we need to uplift the people. We require to teach them not to imbibe stuff that will addle their brains and drive them into the gutter.

Senator O'keefe - Does the honorable senator say that that is a general failing of the people of Australia?

Senator FRASER - The people of Australia, as a whole, are not addicted to drink.

Senator Needham - What has that to -do with the maternity allowance?

Senator FRASER - A gift of ^5 will probably make matters worse. The people of Australia have a reputation for sobriety. If one visits the Melbourne Cup, he may not see a drunken man all day, notwithstanding that there may be 100,000 people present. But if one goes to the Derby in England, he will see hundred's of persons drunk. In returning from the course, he will need to be extremely careful that he does not drive over these persons in the middle of the streets. In my opinion, ninetenths of the crime committed in Australia, and a great deal of the destitution to be found here, is due to bad habits - to drink, &c.

Senator Needham - Will the granting of a £5 maternity allowance increase intemperance in Australia?

Senator FRASER - 1 do not say that, for a moment. It would be too contemptible. But I submit that, if the distribution of the allowance were handed over to the Ladies Benevolent Societies - societies composed of women who know much more about these matters than we do, and who have devoted their lives to the cause of charity-

Senator St Ledger - Some of the noblest women on earth.

Senator de Largie - Mrs. Kerr and Lady Way, for instance?

Senator FRASER - If the allowance were distributed by these societies, it would not be open to the objection which I have to urge.

Senator Givens - There would be more abuses then.

Senator FRASER - I regret that I cannot give my support to the Bill. It does not appeal to me in a common-sense way ; and if the motion for its second reading is pressed to a division, I shall have to vote against it. I have no desire to oppose the Government, but I cannot give expression to sentiments which my common sense entirely disapproves.

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