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Tuesday, 10 December 1912

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I move -

That all the words in sub-paragraph a (1) of paragraph 1 after the word " sum," where first occurring, be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the following words : - " to his widow fifteen shillings per week during her life or until she remarries and to each child ten shillings per week until it reaches the age of sixteen years."

The object of this amendment is to provide some substantial compensation for the widow and family of a workman who has been killed, or who has died through an accident, while in the service of the Commonwealth. The principle which I should like to place before the Committee is this : If a man dies or meets with his death indirectly through an accident in the service of the Commonwealth, his widow ought to become a charge upon the Commonwealth. If a man's life is sacrificed in the service of the Commonwealth, it is only a fair proposition to make that his dependents should be looked after by the Commonwealth until they are able to provide for themselves. The amendment does not ask for anything in the way of charity. It simply provides that the Commonwealth shall give to the widow and family a quid fro quo for the life of the father and the breadwinner. Under the schedule as it stands, the minimum amount of compensation in case of death is £200, and the maximum £500. During the second-reading debate I instanced the case of a woman left with a family of four young children, aged, say. two, four, six, and eight. Eightyears would elapse between the death of the husband and the time when the eldest of the children would be sixteen. Ten years would elapse in the case of the second child, twelve in the case of the third, and fourteen in the case of the youngest. During the whole of that time, not only would the burden of providing for those children be thrown upon the mother, but there would also be cast upon her the' duty of earning her own livelihood, and the only assistance she would have would be the maximum amount of £500. It might be any sum between £200 and £500, but it could not be more than £500. I submit that £500, although it looks a big sum, is entirely inadequate compensation to a family such as I have indicated, for the loss of the breadwinner.

Senator Rae - In some cases there might be eight or ten children.

Senator STEWART - There might. _ I am merely taking the case of a small family. To think of investing £500 for the widow and family is altogether out of the question, because, even if it were invested in Government securities at 4 per cent., which is a very high rate of interest for that form of investment, the income would be £20 only, or something like 7s. per week. So that if the money is- -to be of any benefit to the widow and family, the principal must be spent. Five hundred pounds is equal to the result of three years' earnings of a man getting £3 per week. The widow and children can live on £2 per week. At the end of five years the compensation is exhausted, and the widow is thrown entirely on her own resources to earn a living, not only for herself, but for the children. Each of those children is of value to the community. We are anxious to get more population in Australia, and with that object the States, and the Commonwealth to a certain extent, are encouraging emigration from other countries. We ought, in the first place, to do our utmost for the children who are born upon Australian soil, and when children are deprived of their natural protector, the Government ought to step in and do all. it can for them until they are in a position to earn their own living. I think the amendment is a fair and reasonable one, and I trust the Government will see their way to accept it. The Vice-President of the Executive Council, when replying on the second reading, said the Bill was not for the purpose of paying pensions, or anything of that kind; it was simply to provide for compensation. This amendment provides for compensation, and as, by the Bill, weekly payments to a person totally incapacitated can be commuted for a lump sum or an annuity, the principle of a pension or annuity is already embodied in the measure.

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