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Thursday, 24 May 1973
Page: 2594

Mr WILSON (Sturt) - Yes. I rise, having seconded the motion for the second reading of this Bill, to support it and to urge that the House give it a second reading after honourable members have had an opportunity of giving it due and considered examination. Because of the time available today, and as was pointed out in the comments made by the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth), it has not been possible for honourable members to study carefully the full details of this Bill and its implications. In supporting it and in urging the House to give it further consideration, both in a second reading debate and during the Committee stage, I wish to draw the attention of the House to the principal purpose for which the Bill was proposed. It is urgent that active measures be introduced to help young families.

Yesterday, in a debate on a Bill relating to the introduction of a mothers allowance or a supporting mothers allowance, I drew the attention of the House to some of the serious side effects that could arise from the piecemeal introduction of benefits aimed at helping those who are seen to be in special need. In its efforts to help such groups, the Labor Government's social welfare program, as revealed to us so far, is getting to a stage where it is placing impossible burdens on the traditional base of society, the single income family unit. The working wife is no longer a rarity. A growing proportion of married women almost certainly will be employed outside their homes during their working lives. There is an increasing tendency for married women to return to work when their domestic responsibilities permit. Many mothers consider this time to be when their children start school; others consider it to be later. But there are many young mothers who are forced by economic pressures to re-engage prematurely in paid employment when, according to their better judgment, they would be serving the interests of their children to greater advantage if they remained at home to provide their children with the mother care that they need.

A definite work cycle is seen by some to be emerging. It is suggested that women work from the time they complete their formal education until the commencement of the family formation period. They then withdraw from the work force for a period of up to 10 years before returning to some form of employment. There is, however, a danger in making such an apparently simple summary. It can so easily create the impression that the position today for the average family is entirely satisfactory. It can also blind us to the significant trends of change and the likely impact of those trends. There is increasing evidence to suggest that a significant proportion of poverty arises from our failure to effectively relate family income to family size. For a time the wage differential between rates of pay for men and women doing the same job was justified on the ground that the wage system was thus made sensitive to family size. But such differentials were grossly inefficient in achieving their argued purpose, as well as being inequitable for many other sound reasons. If the wage system is insensitive to family size, how then do we equalise the burden of child rearing? Let me put that another way and put the emphasis where I think it should be.

How do we equalise the opportunity of the children being reared? Clearly there is an overwhelming case against tackling the problem by efforts to make the wage system sensitive to family size. The task is to resolve how best to enable men and women to spread their income over their lives so as to give them the means of keeping the family when they need it. Young families must be assisted to maintain and, where possible, to raise their standards of living. It is important that we take steps to ensure that the standard of living of a man with children compares favourably, or at least not intolerably badly, with that of a single man or a single woman. It is important also that we take steps to ensure that the standard of a living of a 2 parent family where, the mother, iu the interests of her children, stays at home to care for them, compares favourably with such a family where the mother, due to the age of her children, feels that she can go out to work without prejudice to their welfare. If we fail to do this we will attain a situation which puts pressure on the young mother who wishes in the interests of her child to remain at home, forcing her out to work for economic reasons and economic reasons alone. This significant change that has taken place in our modern society is a change that has been brought about for a variety of reasons. As more and more women work and have higher and better standards of education they wish in many instances to continue te be involved in the community outside the home.

For the young mother of today the question is no longer whether to go to work or raise children but how to make the necessary arrangements to do both. In doing both young mothers neither want to deprive their children of the mother care they need nor do they wish to depress their children's standard of living and opportunities in future life. In facing this problem the young mothers of today are very often given very difficult choices to make. The difficult choices are placed before them because of our failure and the community's failure to identify the changed circumstances and to meet the challenge of those circumstances. In endeavouring to make the arrangements of continuing to work and providing their children with the mother care that they need young mothers are put under immense pressures because of the difficulty of choosing between the limited range of alternatives that are available to them.

Let me highlight the pressures in this way. By talking to 2 young mothers recently the point that I wish to make was dramatically drawn to my notice. Both were worried about their future. Each of them had continued to work after she was married. Each had left work when her first child was about to be born. For each of them her child now was past the baby stage yet still under school age. The one had decided to go back to work. She felt guilty as to whether she was doing the right thing by her child. Her former job was available, but it was a full time job and the alternative was a full time job or no job at all. Yet to take that job would enable her to ease the economic pressure on the family to meet the commitments on the first and second mortgage on the house and other loans in respect of a refrigerator, a television set and a secondhand car that she and her husband had. She also justified her decision to take full time employment on the ground that when the child was going to school the child would have greater opportunities available to it because of the economic resources then available to the family. Yet she was worried.

A friend of hers with whom I was also speaking had a child of the same age. That young mother had decided in the interests of her child to stay at home and not take employment until the child was at least of school age. Yet she was worried. She and her husband prior to the birth of the child had both been working. The incomes coming into the family were the incomes that both of them brought in. They had adjusted their expenditure patterns to the receipt of 2 incomes. They had undertaken commitments on a house and on goods in the house. She felt that the best interests of her child would be served by her staying at home and she had decided to do this. Her worry was how to maintain on the one income the commitments that she and her husband had undertaken. They thought they could do it but they were not quite sure how.

Continuously the difficulties of these choices were placed before these 2 young families. One mother was continuously concerned about whether, in the light of her own maternal instinct and in the light of expert information about the importance of a mother's providing mother care for her child at home, she was doing the right thing in providing substitute mothering in child care centres and leaving her child for the long periods that were necessary if she were to retain her full time employment. Whilst her friend staying at home was constantly under pressure in meeting the family commitments, she saw her friend relieved of those pressures. She saw her friend and her husband have an opportunity on occasions to have a holiday, and a holiday away from home. But she, having decided to stay at home to look after her child, did not have that opportunity because the financial resources were not available. As more and more young mothers feel that the economic pressures upon them are such that against their better judgment they must go out to work even when their young children need them at home, more and more young mothers will do so because the contrasts between the 2 alternatives of being a 2 income family and a single income one will be so marked.

As I said yesterday in this House. I think the time has come when we need to examine urgently the resources made available to young families. We need to tackle the question afresh and not to assume that child endowment over the period from birth to the age of 16 or throughout dependency is necessarily the right answer whereby we can achieve equal opportunities for the children of the nation. We need to ask ourselves whether extended family allowances by way of substantially increased benefits should be made available at certain periods in a family's growth. We need also to look at important measures such as that introduced this morning by the honourable member for Mackellar, for this Bill is a measure to provide some alleviation of the financial burden that is imposed upon the young normal family and to relieve the young mother of some of the financial pressures that would otherwise be on that family. By all means the young mother should have the opportunity to fulfil her work force role to maintain the skills that she developed prior to leaving the work force, for many of the jobs - and one would hope most of the jobs, and one day all the jobs - that are undertaken should provide interest and stimulation in their performance. Many young women want to continue such involvement within the community, working and using the skills for which they have been trained. At the same time they want to do the best for their children, and they cannot do the best for their children if one of the heaviest burdens upon them is the burden of maintaining the home within which they wish to bring up their young families.

This measure before the House today will give young people an opportunity to save whilst they alone are the only dependants upon their income. It will give them a real incentive to provide for the future, lt will enable them to level out the peaks of affluence against the troughs of poverty which are experienced during the life span of any individual because the demands upon the resources of our earnings vary according to our family commitments. By encouraging young people to save, by giving them an incentive to do so through the issue of these housing certificates, they will be enabled to ease some of the burden of the commitments in paying off their houses. This measure will go some distance in recognising the need to help in a big way a normal, young 2-parent single income family.

I touch on one aspect of the Bill which is important in this regard. My colleague the honourable member for Mackellar has outlined many of the details. These certificates will be cashable at their higher value if the money is used in the purchase of the first matrimonial home of a young couple. But the certificates will not need to be cashed all at once. A young family can, say, cash sufficient to provide for a deposit on a house and, get long term finance for the balance of the purchase price. They can then continue to save by buying housing certificates recognising the increasing value of the certificates year by year as inflation goes on. Then a young family can work out for itself a planned program whereby it can cash a sufficient number each year in order to meet the mortgage payments on the house. By enabling a young couple to draw on their savings without the loss of value due to inflation the young couple will be better enabled to provide for themselves in the situation where the mother wishes to be at home in the interests of her children. I believe the community as a whole accepts that it is in the best interests of the community, the children and the families who make up the community that the mother should be at home to care for her young family.

This legislation recognises that we must reappraise many of our social welfare measures to ensure that inherent in them are no side effects which will put impossible burdens upon the normal families in the community. That we should direct attention to their welfare is urgent. That we should do it now is important. I therefore urge this House to enable this Bill to be studied in detail, in the total context of the need for us to make it easier for the normal young family to bring up Australian children.

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