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Friday, 4 October 1912

Senator SHANNON (South Australia) . - I am pleased that Senator Fraser has seen fit to pour oil on the troubled waters, because I desire to discuss this Bill from an impartial stand-point. It is one of those measures which ought to be regarded as above all party considerations. I sympathize with the Government in the position which they occupy by reason of their having brought forward the Bill at the present juncture. If they desired, it to be regarded "from other than a political stand-point, they indeed occupy an unfortunate position, seeing that the women who will be benefited by it have recently been exhibiting their resentment because they have been deprived of one of their undoubted rights and privileges. lt is this circumstance which lends colour to the suggestion that there is a certain amount of political jobbery connected with the introduction of the Bill. I do not charge the Government with political jobbery-

Senator de Largie - What does the honorable senator mean ? Are the people fools that they are expected to tolerate stuff of that kind ?

Senator SHANNON - I am not endeavouring to gull the people. I do not charge the Government with political dodgery in this matter. But coming, as the Bill does, on top of legislation which deprives the women of Australia, at a critical time in their lives, of the right to vote by post, I say that colour is lent to the suggestion that it is brought forward for political purposes.

Sitting suspended from t to 2.30 p.m.

Senator SHANNON - I have already said that the position of the Government in regard to this measure lends colour to the accusation which has been made that the policy was initiated as a political dodge. But I shall not labour that point, because, strictly speaking, it has nothing to do with the Bill. I wish to give my own ideas' concerning it. I deprecate very much the tactics which have been resorted to by Ministerial supporters in casting reflections upon those who have shown antagonism to their policy. I especially deprecate the allusions made by Senator Needham and Senator Blakey to Lady Way, with whom I am not personally acquainted, although I know of her on account of her publicspirited, philanthropic work.

Senator Barker - Is she to say what she likes because she is philanthropic?

Senator SHANNON - The honorable senator says what he likes, and a person who is antagonistic to this measure has a right to express opinions without being maligned.

Senator Barker - Cannot any one reply ?

Senator SHANNON - Reply by all means, but no one is justified in saying that this lady was only fit to cuddle a poodle. They who use such language do not know her history.

Senator Barker - We do not want to know it.

Senator SHANNON - Since I have had the honour of being a member of the Senate, I have always taken Senator Blakey and Senator Needham to be gentlemen.

Senator Needham - What does the honorable senator think now?

Senator SHANNON - I think that, after reflection, they will be sorry for what they said about an honorable lady,, whom they have maligned. ,

Senator Needham - I did not malign any lady. I simply quoted from a speech which the lady made in Adelaide.

Senator SHANNON - I do not wish to say any more on that point. I have looked into *he newspapers and elsewhere for information on this subject, and have failed to find any satistical or other reasons for the introduction of this measure. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, in moving the second reading, recommended it, practically under the cloak of Christianity. If it were permissible, I would call his attitude hypocritical cant. For any honorable senator to use the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ in advocacy of this measure is next to blasphemy. I expected that some honorable senators would give statistics or reasons to show that such a Bill is required. But evidently that did not suit their book. I venture to say that not 10 per cent, of the women of this country require such aid. A'n older man than myself, Senator Fraser, this morning said that he did not believe that more than 2 per cent, of the mothers of Australia would require the grant. Let us suppose that there are 10 per cent, of Australian mothers who are - in need. Let us suppose that another 15 per cent., who do not really require such aid, would nevertheless be pleased to receive it. We may allow that, for the sake of argument, another 10 per cent., who have no real claim upon the resources of the Commonwealth, will take the money. That leaves 65 per cent, of the mothers of Australia who do not wish for any measure of Government assistance. Senator Givens could not see the difference between moral profligacy and monetary profligacy. But they are quite different. In view of the fact that this Bill provides for taking public funds from the Treasury for people who do not require such aid, I venture to say that the term " monetary profligacy," used by Senator St. Ledger, is not too strong a one to use. It appears to me to be absolutely repulsive that th© resources of the public Treasury should be used for this purpose. Honorable senators opposite cannot point to any other part of the world where such a Bill has been placed on the statute-book. God forbid that I should think that the majority of the mothers of Australia are practically paupers. Indeed, I believe they are, as a rule, in a better condition than mothers in other parts of the world. I do not wish it to be inferred that I have not the strongest sympathy with women in their hour of trial. I realize that it is the most severe of all nature's trials. As some one has put the idea in very fine language, " When a women goes down to the gates of death, she has either to pass through quickly, or return bearing in ner hand the flaming torch of a new life." I yield to no one in my sympathy for such women. I would extend relief wherever relief was required. If the Government had brought down a measure providing for rendering assistance where it was necessary, it would have had my hearty support. But the strong objection I have to the Bill is that it gives money indiscriminately from the Treasury to those who are absolutely in no need of it. I do not say that many who do not require the aid will not take it.- We cannot blame any one for taking it as soon as this measure becomes the law of the land. I am quite sure that there are few people in Australia to-day to whom a £5 note would not be more or less acceptable. Much has been said from a humanitarian point of view in advocacy of the Bill. I say, however, that the measure goes quite beyond the limits of humanitarianism. Humanitarianism means philanthropy; but is there any philanthropy in a Bill which goes as far as this does? Absolutely none. I would support it if it could be justified on those grounds.

Senator Guthrie - Why not go in for an instalment?

Senator SHANNON - The Bill is far more than an instalment in the direction of philanthropy.

Senator Long - Some of the Opposition say that it does not go far enough. How are we to please them all?

Senator SHANNON - I am speaking as I feel about the matter. The measure is not sound economically. Even the supporters of it can have no sympathy with the proposal to give this assistance to those who do not need it.

Senator Guthrie - The honorable senator voted for seed-wheat for farmers.

Senator SHANNON - I did, because they required it. I have said that I believe 65 per cent, of the mothers of Australia do not require this assistance. That statement is not rebutted by anything we have heard from the other side.

Senator de Largie - They will not be forced to take it, any more than the honorable senator is forced to take his allowance.

Senator SHANNON - That is altogether beside the question. I am perfectly frank in this matter, and I have told honorable senators that I do not believe there will be more than 10 per cent, of *the mothers of Australia who, from one cause or another, will refuse to accept this bonus.

Senator Needham - It is not a bonus, but ari' allowance.

Senator SHANNON - It does not matter whether we describe it as a bonus or a maternity allowance. I shall not labour the question of the effect of the proposal upon illegitimacy. It was all very well for Senator Needham to say yesterday that honorable senators who said it would have the effect of increasing illegitimacy should prove it. It is impossible to, prove it until it has had-a trial. There are, I believe, only two places in the world in which an allowance of this kind is indiscriminately given.

Senator Needham - If the honorable senator wishes to quote me, he should do so correctly.

Senator SHANNON - The honorable senator yesterday asked that an honorable senator on this side should prove the statement that the allowance would increase illegitimacy.

Senator Needham - I said nothing of the kind.

Senator SHANNON - Then I apologize to the honorable senator ; I must have misunderstood him. The question raised is one which can only be proved by statistics when the results of the operation of the allowance are before us. Still, I must say that I do not, for a moment, believe that the women of Australia would be prepared to sacrifice themselves for ^5, £10, or £20. It is useless to argue upon this phase of the question, as time only can prove which view of it is right, and which is wrong. The Bill goes too far from a humanitarian point of view, and, as I believe the principle of it to be absolutely wrong, it is my duty, not only to speak against it, but to vote against the second reading.

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