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Wednesday, 14 March 1973
Page: 560

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) (Leader of the Opposition) - I support this Bill. Naturally, most of what I say will be directed to the removal of sales tax on contraceptives. It goes without saying that I support the second part of the Bill which deals with the removal of sales tax from certain material used in the metrication process. However, I shall put that aside because I do not think there is any question that that is supported by the House. It was, in fact, a decision which was taken by the Government last year. I am in favour of the Bill on the grounds that families who opt to use contraceptives, and particularly those on low incomes, ought not through economic pressures to find the exercise of their choice constrained. The question of contraception does involve moral and religious questions in the minds of many people and the issue of sales tax on contraception has been improperly confused with philosophical considerations. From what I have heard of the debate today, it is clear that even in this House there is that confusion.

Contraceptives are on the market; there is no sanction against their use. Only grounds of equity, consistency and the question of revenue-raising are relevant to the imposition of sales tax. There are also social considerations - the valid use of the tax power to exempt from certain taxation classifications goods that are otherwise within those classifications and therefore bear tax, in order to achieve social purposes. So, the use of tax for a social purpose must be taken into account. The contribution towards extending choice in family planning for low income families is a proper social consideration and I believe that the removal of sales tax from contraceptives is justified. It is a tax measure and we treat it as a tax measure.

I should like to say, however, that the issue of tax on contraceptives has gained a symbolic significance in the cause of women which it did not deserve. It became a focus for protest and was being represented as being of much more significance to the women's issue than in fact it was. It is difficult to understand why it should have been seen as such a significant issue when it is brought down to the reality involved, namely, the removal of sales tax from contraceptives.

A far more significant issue exists in relation to women, about which I shall speak in a moment. The lack of any great breakthrough for women by virtue of the removal of the sales tax is testimony to its lack of significance. The removal of the sales tax has not changed that about which women in the community are anxious to achieve for themselves and about which many are campaigning.

Women are fighting a great battle of attitudes in present day social mores. Much has been achieved by women and for women to overthrow patronising and discriminatory attitudes aimed at providing full equality for women in our community. Women are becoming increasingly important in our public and economic life. This is proper because women possess half of this country's intellect and they have unique contributions to make in the public and the economic field. There is much however that remains to be achieved.

The question of women in employment is a most complex social issue and still requires the attention of us all when considering these matters. The technological revolution has freed most women from the heaviest of domestic work, and while most - not all - feel they ought still to be home with their families while they are young, many have been well educated for a non-domestic vocation or, in fact, for a career occupation. Five to 10 years spent in a stimulating environment with job satisfaction leads many women to have expectations which did not exist with prior generations. For them, employment is seen as the best means of satisfying those expectations. Government studies have shown that just as many married women give the attainment of personal satisfaction as their reason for working as give the reason of the earning of money. That is quite understandable. The relative boredom of a daytime suburban home has thrown up the serious problem of suburban neurosis among young married women with young families and of women whose families no longer require the full time care which formerly, when they were younger, the mother gave to them. This affects the wives directly but it affects the entire family indirectly. It is a significant community problem of which we must be conscious and which we must tackle as a community.

The boredom and frustration of some housewives give rise to a whole range of other pressures and problems which are not easily identified in relation to family life and general community fulfilment. We need, as a matter of urgency, to more actively consider the status and role of women. We need to consider the problems of women in employment, women in the home, women in relation to their role as mother and women in relation to the community in a broader sense. We need to raise for consideration areas where institutional arrangements, assumptions and practices have not kept pace with the change in community attitudes.

There cannot be a dramatic revolution and few would want one. One of the realities of change in institutions is that the change should occur slowly to enable familiarity with the change and not create issues of conflict between those who rely upon the institutions. The more information we have as a community about these problems, the better we will be able to handle them. Apart from the very lowest income families the removal of sales tax on contraceptives will have very little impact on the status role and quality of life of women and very little impact on the net disposable income that remains. Its removal in no way advances the very basic and serious question of a woman's role and her rights which must be pursued, and pursued as a matter of urgency. It has been unfortunate that this single and marginal taxation issue has been so confused with the very deep issue surrounding women. I should not like the removal of sales tax from contraceptives to in any way be seen as the end of the process of elevating women to their proper role of equality in our community. It is unfortunate also that it has been confused improperly with the deep moral and religious issues surrounding contraception. 1 wish to speak also about the problem of the less advantaged families in our community. I refer to families which, in many instances, are increasing the number of children within them - families which are aware of the difficulties that they will encounter in giving to their children the care, education and opportunities for the future which they would wish to give. There are other families growing in numbers who do not have a realisation of the proper opportunity and equality that should be made available to their children and, for the objective observer, these families are creating a situation in which there is likely to be a perpetuation of the less advantaged people in the community. I think that in the future we will see in a more real sense the development of community centres probably centred around local government bodies. Already local government bodies have established - I hope I use the correct term - baby health clinics to which all young mothers can take their children. At present there is a very great shortage of trained professional social welfare workers. I hope that in the future there will be professional social welfare, workers whose services will be an ordinary, natural, normal addition to the services which will be available to people living in a community. I hope these professional social welfare workers will be able to do what they can to relieve the pressures that build up which cannot be handled by some people in the complex industrial community that we live in today, and in which the complexity continues to grow. People who have all the attributes of ordinary people often lack judgment to make the right decision in their own interest. These people, I believe, under professional supervision by the professional social welfare workers and a local professionally qualified medical practitioner should involve themselves with advice on family planning.

I give an instance, of which I have personal knowledge, of a mother with, I think, 5 children who feared that she would become pregnant again. It was open to her to go to the Royal Women's Hospital where there was a family planning clinic. Unfortunately she had no-one to look after her 5 young children while she attended the clinic. A couple of people minded some of the children and she took the remaining children with her. The cost of the fare to Melbourne was a drain upon the family resources but she went. My wife was in contact with her - for reasons which I will not explain but it was related to certain work which my wife does - and it transpired that the lady had been provided with oral contraceptives. Later my wife inquired whether the woman had actually taken the oral contraceptives. My wife was told by the lady that she did not need any more because she still had some left. This raises the question that that particular person, regardless of the fact that she had been advised about it, was incapable of exercising the personal judgment and incapable of having the memory to take the oral contraceptive as prescribed. She for some reason, believed that she had actually saved by keeping some for the following month.

Mr McLeay - 'What was the end of that story?

Mr SNEDDEN - I think the honourable member can imagine the end of the story. I do not intend to amuse the House. There were very tragic circumstances, not in the part of the story that I have told but in what followed within a short time. This is not the time to speak about it.

One matter which is very important - the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) spoke about it - is unwanted children. If I heard the honourable member correctly - he is not here at the moment, but he will correct me later, or other honourable members who heard him more directly will correct me if I am wrong - he seemed to attribute a great deal of the blame to single mothers for what he termed 'unwanted children'. He was referring to young girls in the community who become pregnant and have an unwanted child. The honourable member seemed to imply that it was necessary to provide free oral contraceptives to every young girl in the community so that she would not become pregnant.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - He did not imply that.

Mr SNEDDEN - If the honourable member did not imply it, then I will not attribute it to him, but it is implied by a great number of people and I want to deal with this question. The plain fact of the matter is that many of these young girls who become pregnant have not the remotest idea that they are going to submit themselves to the possibility of becoming pregnant and it would not occur to them to take contraceptive action before the event because it was not their intention to have sexual intercourse. To adopt an attitude that In some way we must assume a propensity on the part of young women to do this and to make sure that they do not have unwanted children is totally unreal.

Another aspect is that many of these young women have a natural motherly instinct and want to keep their children. There is no doubt that there is a growing incidence of young unmarried mothers keeping their children. This raises a new problem in our community, namely, that of young people who grow up in single parent families. The single mother is taking the risk that she and the children she bears and keeps will be a less privileged family. It creates a dilemma as to whether it is proper to encourage the natural mother to keep the child or whether the child should be adopted by another family. Families who adopt children are screened by profes sional social welfare workers and in most cases are more adequately equipped for parenthood than the natural mother and father. This is strange, but true.

I take this opportunity to speak about something on which I have not heard a word from the Government, and that is child care centres. A child care centre is a very important area of the development of our social attitudes in our community-

Mr Charles Jones - What did you do about it over 23 years?

Mr SNEDDEN - I will tell the Minister what I did about it. When I was Minister for Labour and National Service I initiated the concept of child care centres, a concept which showed our concern for the role of women in the work force. As Treasurer I allocated a sum of money in the last Budget for the purposes of providing child care centres. I know there is still a long way to go in this field. When we were in government we heard a great amount from the then Opposition about child care centres. But we have heard little since.

It is terribly important that we face up to the reality that a quarter of a million children between the ages of 2 and 6 whose mothers are employed need care. We have to examine what will be the pressures of a complex community on these young people, who will be the future generations. Although I responded to the interjection made by the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones) I do not want to make this a party political matter because it is too important for that.

Another matter I would like to mention is the issue of zero population growth. I believe that zero population growth is the ultimate in unacceptable policies for any community like Australia to adopt. Zero population growth involves a very real and unwarranted intrusion into the freedom and self-expression of individuals. Quite apart from that, if we look at this concept in national terms we find that there is too much of a tendency for certain people in politics - especially those people on the other side of the political fence - to believe that if some other country has a problem Australia must have precisely the same problem. It is absurd to suggest that because we may all agree that there is over population in Asia, in some magical way there is overpopulation in Australia. I believe that the Parliament will adopt an attitude of confidence in the future growth of this country. There seems also to be implied in the concept of zero population growth the argument that if we have problems with urban areas in some way those problems have been created by migrants. Honourable members opposite seem to blame migrants for urbanising Australia.

Mr Donald Cameron (GRIFFITH, QUEENSLAND) - They would cut them out.

Mr SNEDDEN - Cut them out is what they would argue. We need to understand that migrants have contributed a capacity for us to handle the problems which have been created in the past by urbanisation. I do not even like the world 'urbanisation' because it has within it almost a premature confession of failure. I think we ought to wipe that word out of our vocabulary and speak only in positives and say that what we want is urban improvement. To cease immigration will not solve the problem.

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