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Thursday, 3 October 1912

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) . - With reference to the remarks which have been attributed to Senator McColl, I feel disposed to say that much that has transpired this afternoon in the Senate has justified them, seeing that we have had two speeches from the other side which contained as little as possible about the Bill, and endeavoured, as far as possible, to make political capital out of the attitude, alleged or real, of honorable senators who sit in opposition.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Is Senator Millen apologizing for Senator McColl's remarks?

Senator MILLEN - They do not require an apology. The last two speeches which we have had from the other side have disclosed the fact that those who delivered them have been striving to demonstrate, not that this measure is a humanitarian one, or to justify it on economic grounds, but to use it as an electioneering device. They have shown how bitterly they regret the fact that honorable senators on this side are not disposed to oppose the Bill. That is their trouble. They lay themselves open to the accusation of gross insincerity in view of the utterances to which we have listened. The attitude of the Opposition has been pretty well indicated by its action elsewhere.

Senator de Largie - Hear, hear ! By Senators St. Ledger and McColl.

Senator MILLEN - When I came to the Senate to-day, I did not anticipate having to speak upon the Bill. I had every right to assume that an opportunity would be given to continue the debate on the second reading to-morrow. That is the usual practice adopted here. But in view of the appeal made by the Vice-President of the Executive Council - an appeal the force of which I recognise - I felt at once that nothing ought to be done to delay the measure. For that reason, I did not submit the usual request for an adjournment. I intend to be remarkably brief in what I have to say, and may as well indicate at the outset that whatever views the Opposition may have regarding this measure, they do not feel disposed to throw any unnecessary obstacles in the way of meeting the wishes of the Senate concerning it. I should like to say, speaking not merely for myself, but, I believe, for every member of the Opposition, both here and elsewhere, that we absolutely approve of the objects of this Bill, and find fault only with the methods by which those objects are sought to be attained. There is not an honorable senator on this side who will not indorse that statement. That, I say again, is really the trouble with honorable senators opposite. They brought in this Bill on the eve of an election, and they regret exceedingly to find that they cannot use it as an electioneering placard from one end of the Commonwealth to the other.

Senator O'Keefe - The honorable senator's party was very late in expressing its approval. "

Senator MILLEN - I repeat that the members of the Opposition approve of the objects of the Bill, and find fault only with the methods by which they are sought to be attained.

Senator Pearce - Senator St. Ledger said that the Bill was a sop to profligacy.

Senator MILLEN - When I say that we approve of the objects of this Bill, I mean those objects which are designed to extend aid where aid is needed; aid not merely to the mother, but also aid in the direction of reducing that infant mortality which at present marks the statistics of this country. It does not require argument to support that position; and I am inclined to say, in the face of the extraordinary things which have been said by honorable senators opposite, that I extremely regret that any member of this Senate, or any one in this country, should think that there are some of us who would not subscribe to the two principles which I have just laid down. They are, if I may repeat them, the desirableness of extending aid to mothers who need it, and, as far as it is within the power of the Government, to reduce the unsatisfactory infant mortality which is at present disclosed. Something has been said to-night as to the humanitarian side of the question. May I be permitted to say that I am becoming rather tired of measures which cannot be justified on other grounds than that ? That term " humanitarianism " has been hackneyed and knocked about so much that, to my mind, it furnishes room for some suspicion.

Senator O'Keefe - I think the honorable senator used it in his opening sentences.

Senator MILLEN - This measure, and the object at which it aims, can be defended on economic grounds, if it is to be defended at all.

Senator Givens - Does the honorable senator say that anything that cannot be defended on economic grounds is not justified?

Senator MILLEN - I do not/ What I say is that when we hear so much said about humanitarianism, such appeals, made to sentiment rather than to reason, induce me to say that we are overlooking very important factors in dealing with questions of the kind. To define humanitarianism, what I mean by it is the indiscriminate extension of public charity. No one will more quickly recognise the difference between that and the defence of this measure on economic grounds than my honorable friend Senator Givens.

Senator Needham - It is not charity.

Senator MILLEN - There are many objects of charity which would be desirable, and one is the removal of Senator Needham from this Chamber. I am quite certain that the objects of this Bill can be defended on economic grounds. Personally, I do not know any more desirable policy to which a country like Australia could apply itself than one which would make for the preservation of the infant life of this country. But when I have said that, I have said all I can say in support of this Bill ; and perhaps it will afford a little comfort to honorable senators opposite if I proceed now to show why I dissent from the methods by which they are trying to attain their object.

Senator Givens - Is the honorable senator going to vote against the Bill ?

Senator MILLEN - I am going to submit an amendment which will indicate the attitude of the Opposition. The methods adopted by this Bill do not seem to me to be either sufficient or satisfactory. The paying of a bonus is one of the easiest things in the world. If the highest hopes of statesmanship were to commence and end with the paying of bonuses, not only for maternity, but for every other event in human life, it would be quite easy to deal with those social questions which every one of us desires to see successfully handled.

Senator Needham - Is this a bonus?

Senator MILLEN - If honorable senators can find very much comfort in disputes about terms they are welcome to do so. Perhaps they will understand me better if I call it an allowance. I say again that if it be a great effort of statesmanship, if it marks the last word in social legislation, to make an allowance for a purpose of this kind, we might just as well make an allowance for anything else that we desire to accomplish.

Senator Givens - There is not the same need in other cases.

Senator MILLEN - I venture to say that there are other cases that call for the same help. There is sickness, which always makes an appeal to us. There is also the case of distressed widowhood. There are many other instances of the same character; but if we attempted to deal with these matters merely by a system of allowances, we should simply be piling up commitments on account of objects and problems which make claims upon our consideration. It appears to me that we ought not to rest upon doles from the Treasury as though they constituted in themselves a satisfactory solution. I look forward, as I am inclined to hope that honorable senators on both" sides do, to a state of things when it will not be necessary for the breadwinner and the head of the family to suffer from anxiety concerning not only making provision for the day, but for the needs of his family in the future.

Senator Givens - Pure, unadulterated Socialism.

Senator MILLEN - It is the reverse, because I am supposing a social conditionwhere the head of the family would be able to do these things for himself. As Senator Givens is so busy in interjecting, perhaps he has not time to remember the things which he and other members of his party before the last election told the people would be secured if the Labour party were returned to power. Perhaps, I may remind him that the housewives were told that they would always have a few pounds in their pockets, and the breadwinners that they would always secure employment at high wages. If that state of things were brought about, it would not be necessary to cast longing eyes on measures of this kind. But, instead of that state of things having been accomplished, we have Senator Givens and others drawing pictures of poverty existing in this country after three years of Labour rule, which makes it necessity for a measure of the kind to be introduced. Having indicated that, I look forward to the ideal - not to be attained at once, but towards which we should steadily strive - of the self-supporting home, where the heads and members of the family have confidence in their own capacity to provide for all their wants without looking to the State for assistance, 1 want to ask what is the first step we ought to take to attain that ideal. Certainly no proposal for an allowance from the Treasury can be regarded as a step in that direction. I believe in some form of contributory insurance by which provision may be made, not merely for the assistance required at maternity, but on all other occasions.

Senator Givens - Is this not a contributory scheme?

Senator MILLEN - I do not know whether the honorable senator wishes to say that, because the party to which he belongs, have imposed a tax upon the wealthy landowners of the country, they submit this proposal as a means of giving back to the landowners some of the money they have taken from them.

Senator Givens - They have been robbing me, in common with the rest of the community, for centuries

Senator MILLEN - If they have tried to rob Senator Givens they excite my admiration. I did not think it was possible to do it.

Senator Givens - The honorable senator always expresses an overwhelming admiration of the wealthy man ; the poor man never excites his admiration.

Senator MILLEN - I at once admit the honorable senator's impeachment. It is wealthy men like himself who excite my admiration, but they do it by their ability and not .by their wealth. I have explained the main ideas which animate me in the attitude I adopt towards this Bill. I had expected that some time would be allowed to elapse between the introduction of the measure and the debate upon the second reading. I had proposed to go somewhat lengthily into the various proposals adopted in other countries in the way of contributory, insurance schemes, but as I did not anticipate that this matter would come on to-day, I am not prepared to pursue that topic now. I have indicated as briefly as I could my attitude towards the measure, and I believe that it fairly represents the attitude of every honorable senator on this side.

Senator Givens - Does it represent the attitude assumed by Senator McColl a month ago?

Senator MILLEN - Senator McCollis here to speak for himself, and is quite able to do so. I venture to say that when he has spoken, honorable senators opposite will regret their inability to find anything in his remarks out of which they can make political capital. That is their trouble today.

Senator de Largie - Who answers for the Women's National League?

Senator MILLEN - Yet another honorable senator justifies my remark that what the party opposite are seeking to do by this Bill is not to carry comfort to the homes of the distressed, but to make political capital and secure votes for themselves. Every interjection we get from the other side shows that. Any other reason which honorable senators opposite may have put forward for the introduction of the measure disappears entirely when we find them seeking to use is merely as a lever to gain some political advantage, and 'not to give effect to the lofty ideals which they have professed. I propose to conclude by submitting an amendment which represents the views I have expressed and generally the ideas of honorable senators associated with me. The amendment is not novel. It has been discussed elsewhere, and is indicative of the attitude on these questions of the party to which 1 belong.

Senator Pearce - As agreed to in the Caucus ?

Senator MILLEN - Honorable senators opposite are very hard to please. I abstained from speaking when I might have been expected to speak, and gave place to another honorable senator, for a very good reason, which Senator Walker has been kind enough to announce. I was immediately met with the gibe that I did so because I was afraid to speak. There may be some differences of opinion on this side as to the methods by which such a proposal should be given effect, but when Senator Pearce speaks about the Caucus, I challenge him to read the debates in another place and this debate in the Senate, when it is concluded, and then to say whether the amendment I intend to propose does not express the views of honorable senators on this side.

Senator Pearce - Will the honorable senator deny that it was drafted at a meeting of the Opposition?

Senator MILLEN - I will. That it was considered at such a meeting may be true, but that it was drafted at the meeting is quite another matter.

Senator Givens - A distinction without a difference.

Senator MILLEN - Senator Pearce put a question to me, and I felt in duty bound to answer it. Perhaps I had better not submit the amendment at this stage, because the subsequent debate will be confined to it.

The PRESIDENT - That is not so.

Senator MILLEN - Inthat case I shall submit the amendment now. OtherwiseI should have withheld it and invited some other honorable senator who shares my views to submit it.

Senator de Largie - I doubt whether an amendment from the Caucus of the honorable senator's party will be in order.

Senator MILLEN - If Senator de Largie had his way, the whole of the party on this side would be ruled out of order; but he happens not to be the sole arbiter in these matters. I move -

That all the words after the word "That" be left out, with a view to insert in lieu thereof the words "no provision for maternity which does not form part of a national insurance scheme providing for sickness, unemployment, and medical attendance as well as maternity, and subsidized by an appropriation to the ex- tent necessary to make the benefits immediate and adequate, will be effective satisfactory and consistent with the spirit of the Federal Constitution."

That is clearly indicative of what is in the mind of the Opposition. So far as I am personally concerned, I do not intend to oppose this Bill. If I had the choice of voting for the scheme outlined in the amendment, instead of the Bill, I should do so, as I shall attempt to do when I vote for the amendment. But, knowing that the solid majority behind the Government can carry the Bill and reject any amendment, I have to ask myself what is the best thing that can be done in the circumstances. Should we entirely reject this imperfect contribution towards a laudable object? I am not prepared to do so. While it does not conform to my idea of what ought to be done, I admit that it does represent a grant of some assistance where assistance is needed. It goes too far in giving assistance where it is not needed, and it gives assistance in a rather per nicious form. That, however, does not affect the main question. I propose to vote for the amendment; but, if it is not carried, I shall not vote against the Bill.

Debate (on motion by Senator O'Keefe) adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 6.27 to8 p.m.

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