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Friday, 4 October 1912

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I welcome this measure, first, for itself, and, secondly, because I believe it to be only the forerunner of much more comprehensive legislation of the same kind. The members of the Opposition are, in this matter, in the position of the man who was " Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike." Most of them have been damning the measure with very faint praise. Some of them have execrated it as something almost beneath contempt. The word " humanitarian " has been very much in evidence during the debate, but I discard that word altogether. I say that this is a good business measure. This is good business for the people of Australia. We have heard a great deal of late years about the birth rate, the empty cradle, and the huge vacant spaces of Australia. Honorable senators of the Opposition are loud in their call for immigration from "anywhere - from Europe, and even from Asia, if it were permissible. Here we have the first attempt made by an Australian Government to encourage the production of population within the boundaries of Australia. Whatever be the ostensible reason for the introduction of this measure, I believe that is the real reason for it.

Senator Vardon - If that is the object in view, the Government should devise a measure for taking care of the children during the first year of their lives.

Senator STEWART - We are coming to that fast. This Bill is only the forerunner of much more comprehensive, legislation of the kind, which, I hope, will be passed in the very near future. I trust that before many years have gone over our heads the medical profession will be nationalized in Australia ; that every doctor will be a public functionary, and every hospital as open as the day, with medical advice, medicine, and all that sort of thing absolutely free. I trust that the expense entailer) in securing these things, which to-day brings many working-class families to the door of ruin, will be provided for by the community as a whole.

Senator St Ledger - Free dinners to able-bodied men.

Senator STEWART - If it comes to free dinners, the people of the working class pay for their own. At present they are paying as well for the dinners of members of the privileged class whom Senator St. Ledger represents in this Chamber, the class who are getting £30,000,000 a year, as I pointed out the other day, of com munity-created values in Australia. That is the class for whom Senator St. Ledger isa special pleader. I am a special pleader for the other class." I say, that we require to abolish the privileged class. We should use the money now being squandered in fostering those people to improve the condition of the great mass of the people of this country. I have said that this Bill is good business for Australia. We want more population, and the best kind of people we can get is the local product. We ought to encourage it, and this Bill, I take it, is a step in that direction. I have had no actual experience in this matter, but the onlooker often sees most of the game. I have observed that the. coming of a child into a working-class home is a very serious tax upon the monetary resources of the home. I have known working-class parents to be driven into a condition of comparative poverty for months owing to the advent of a child. In such circumstances, I should not be one to greatly blame parents if they were exceedingly careful in such matters.

Senator St Ledger - Would the honorable senator say that was the' exception or the rule amongst those with whom he is acquainted ?

Senator STEWART - I think it is the rule in working-class families, and they comprise the great majority of the families of the Commonwealth. Only about 5 per cent, of the people of Australia are born with gold spoons in their mouths. Another 5 per cent, may be born with silver spoons ; but 90 per cent, have to do with horn spoons, as I had in my youth.

Senator Vardon - The honorable senator does not want a progressive land tax after that statement.

Senator STEWART - I do. The Opposition see that the progressive land tax is looming in the future. They are wondering where the money is to come from to pay for all this kind of thing. I can tell them where it is to come from. It is going to come out of the pockets of the rich.

Senator Shannon - And will be returned upon the backs of the poor.

Senator STEWART - The honorable senator makes a huge mistake.

Senator Vardon - The poor will have to pay the big proportion of it if the honorable senator's policy is carried out. _

Senator STEWART - They will not. Honorable senators opposite need not try to frighten the poor with that gag. They are paying just as much as they are able to pay now, and in no conceivable circumstances can they pay any more. Every Act passed by a Labour Government, whether Federal or State, has a tendency to lighten the burden of the tax on the backs of the poor. As I said here the other evening, my complaint against the Federal Government is that they are not moving quickly enough in that direction. But every added item of expenditure, such as this, will stimulate the movement for the readjustment of the incidence of taxation. That is what the Opposition are weeping about. It is not a sop to profligacy, or anything of that kind that is troubling them. They do not care two straws about that sort of thing. What they are frightened of is that capital will be called upon, as I hope and believe it will, to pay a greater and still greater share of the cost of the government of this country. I do not wish to delay the passage of this measure. I had no intention whatever of opening my mouth upon it. It has my approval. I trust that within a very short time its principles will be extended so as to embrace the whole medical profession in Australia. What we require, so far as I can see, is to nationalize the medical profession. The health of the community is surely one of its greatest assets.

Senator St Ledger - What would it cost to nationalize the medical profession?

Senator STEWART - I do not care what it would cost. What does it matter what it would cost? It would not cost £30,000,000 per annum, as it does to keep up the useless crowd of land monopolists. Even if it cost a very large sum of money, surely it would be worth it? If we could raise the standard of health in Australia, and, consequently, increase the virility and courage of the people, surely that would he worth a great deal. What is money compared with such a result as that? I shall not further delay the passing of the Bill. I hope it is only the prelude to a still greater and more comprehensive reform. I believe that it is. I shall vote for this instalment with very great pleasure.

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