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Tuesday, 10 December 1912

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - Senator Rae has answered Senator McGregor's objections to my amendment, but I should like to supplement what he has said. In regard to the cost involved, I have no idea what ' it would be. No doubt the Commonwealth Statistician could give an estimate.

Senator Pearce - In the case the' honorable senator quoted, by the time the youngest child arrived at sixteen years of age the amount paid would be £1,600.

Senator STEWART - Even so, the money would be well spent. In any case I think that when a widow and family lose their breadwinner in the service of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth is under an obligation to see them through. The Commonwealth could not exist unless certain works were carried on ; and if some unfortunately lose their lives in the carrying on of those works, surely the widows and families of those mcn should not be called upon to endure the added anxiety of poverty and want in addition to the loss of the father in the case of the children, and of the husband in the case of the wife. The loss of the parent and the husband should be sufficient in itself, but when to this is added poverty, want, and suffering caused through that loss, the circumstances often become deplorable. If we stopped to count the cost in everything we did we should never do anything. What was the argument of the Opposition when old-age pensions were first mentioned ? They said "Look at the cost." We waved that argument aside, and said " Never mind the cost. These old people must be provided for. They have borne the heat and burden of the day, and we are not going to see them destitute in their old age. We shall, therefore, give them pensions." Again, invalids who are incapacitated from earning their own living are given pensions.

Senator Barker - And there is a maternity allowance provided for.

Senator STEWART - I was going to refer to it. It is open to the richest people in the land. I ask, where is the consistency of the Government in this matter? We subsidize people who do not require assistance, and the Government in this case refuse to help people who do re- quire assistance. That is wholly inconsistent with the dictates, I will not say of humanity, but of justice. We say to the rich woman, " If you have a child, we shall make you a present of die sum of £5." She may have an income of £5,000 a year, live in a palace, drive around in a beautiful motor car, be able to obtain the luxuries as well as the necessaries of life, and may spend upon herself and her surroundings more than would be sufficient to provide for 100 families, yet we have agreed to pay this woman a sum of money which she does not want, and at the same time we refuse to assist in any substantial or useful way the widow and orphans of a man who loses his life in doing the work of the Commonwealth. The Vice-President of the Executive Council has said that with a sum of ,£500 a widow might go into business. I have never seen anything so lamentable as the attempts of the widows of working men to make a living for themselves and their children by keeping small shops. They have no business training, are suddenly projected into a sphere of which they have, no knowledge, and, as Senator Rae has pointed out4 they become very often the victims of people who are more clever than themselves, or of their own simplicity. That argument is worth nothing, because 95 per cent, of working men's wives have no training which fits them for business, and, further, we know that the day of the small shop is passing. The big stores are everywhere wiping the small people out. The probabilities are that the widow and family of a working man would be unable to subsist upon the profits of a small store. I am aware that there are thousands of widows who have kept stores in the past and are keeping them now, ekeing out a miserable existence in that fashion; but the opportunities in that direction are less now than ever they have been before, and are likely to be still less in the future. One other reason which the Vice-President of the Executive Council gave against my amendment was that the payment of 15s. a week to a woman for life might induce her not to marry again. That is not an argument at all. If she wished to marry, or some one wished to marry her, I do not suppose that the payment of a sum of 15s. a week would prevent the marriage. That is a matter which might very well be left to the woman herself. We have nothing to do with whether she marries again or not.

Our responsibility is to the widow and children of a man killed in the service of the Commonwealth, and according to my amendment, if the widow did marry again, she would forfeit the weekly payment. The honorable senator also said that, because we could not provide for all the widows and orphans in the Commonwealth, therefore we ought to provide for none.

Senator McGregor - I never said anything of the kind. I said that when we were providing for them all we could take these into account.

Senator STEWART - I remind honorable senators that the people of the Commonwealth have a responsibility to the widows and orphans of men killed in their service which they do not owe to each' other. They have an added responsibility in the case of those who were dependent upon persons killed in the execution of work carried out for them.

Senator McGregor - Would the honorable senator not include other dependents such as fathers, mothers, and mothersinlaw ?

Senator STEWART - No, I would not. The honorable senator is now trying to make the thing ridiculous. If he cannot accept the amendment he oughtat least to treat it in a serious manner. We cannot at present provide for the widows and orphans throughout the Commonwealth, but I hope that the day is not far off when we shall do so. There is a motion on the business paper of the Senate at the present time dealing with that matter, and if it goes to a vote I shall support it. I say that the widows and orphans of the Commonwealth should be a charge upon the people of the Commonwealth. Human life is of more value than is anything else to the Commonwealth, young life more especially, because it is upon the young lives that the stability and safety of the Commonwealth depend. I trust that honorable senators will not be led away by the arguments of the Vice-President of the Executive Council, but will do the right thing by voting for my amendment.

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