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Friday, 4 October 1912

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - It is a reasonable inference from the honorable senator's remarks at Hamilton. Yet he told us yesterday that no amount of such assistance would have that effect. I wish to refer now to another statement which has been made by Senator McColl. At a meeting "of ladies yesterday he said that he was pleased to know that the ladies had not said an abusive word of any single individual. I admit that their language has not been vulgar, but: one lady, a Mrs. Kerr - I do not know whether she weighed her words deliberately - made the statement that as the result of her experience she had no sympathy with the expression " grievously sinned against,"' used in the Federal Parliament, as thosewho had experience knew 'that those cases; were very few. Is it not correct tointerpret that statement as meaning that, apart from cases where persons have yielded to the passion of the moment, and which arevery few, all those who have been unfortunate must have deliberately mapped out for themselves a particular course of living? No greater insult could be hurled, at our women folk than that statement, made at a meeting of women: as reported in last evening's Herald. The Government propose the grant of a maternity allowance, which some people are fond of describing as a " baby bonus." The first question that we haveto ask is, whether it is necessary. There is not a single church representative whohas expressed himself strongly in opposition to the Bill who has not also admitted' the necessity of providing help for mothers at this critical period of their lives. Thereis not a single member of this Parliament, or an individual member of" the public, who will deny the necessity for it. Thequestion then arises: How can it be best provided for? It is said that we propose by this Bill to hand over grants of £5 to assist women at this period of their lives without- asking very many questions. Why are we not going to ask any questions? It is because to do so would bring the proposed allowance down to the level of a charitable dole, which the people of Australia, and particularly our women folk, would regard as a personal insult, and so the proposed law would be ineffective. Senator Millen, dealing with another objection to the Bill, said he preferred some scheme of insurance to which the people should contribute, and that under such a system people would be relieved of the feeling that the allowance was a charity. On the other hand, we have honorable senators saying that the moment the purse strings of the Treasury are opened for the payment of such grants people, even in good positions, who should be ashamed of themselves for doing so, would probably rush the Treasury to obtain the

Senator Shannon - Why should they be ashamed to claim the allowance if it is a right ?

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - If that be so, it cannot be correct to say that the people will regard it as a charitable dole. I am merely pointing out that the statements made do not agree. But do the people not contribute to the fund from which this allowance will be paid? Something was said to the effect that those who pay land tax do contribute, but I wish to point out that people of the working classes make substantial contributions to the fund from which such allowances will be paid. The average working man with a family living in the suburbs of Melbourne is contributing by way of Commonwealth, State, municipal, and other taxation nearly £18 per annum. That is too much, considering the enormous revenue duties on everything his family eats, drinks, or wears. Surely such a man is contributing to the fund? I feel sure that one of the reasons why people are not clamouring to-day for the removal of our revenue duties is that they recognise that they are contributing to the funds of the Commonwealth, and are in return getting such benefits as old-age and invalid pensions and the proposed maternity allowance. I believe that if we abolished this kind of legislation there would within twenty-four hours be a unanimous clamour for the removal of the revenue duties which bear so heavily upon the people. The necessity for this legislation is admitted by all sections of the community. It is said that the grant is too low in some cases. Senator McColl used another unfortunate expression to-day. He said he thought he would be willing to give more money in the case of " the unfortunates." If I were to adopt the practice which has been indulged in for the last few months, it would be quite possible for me, not only in Parliament, but in the country districts where there is a press circulating, to say that the honorable senator, from his place in Parliament, advocated increasing the allowance to " the unfortunates." We have no desire to do that sort of thing. I trust that I, at all events, will not descend to that level. The honorable senator's statement is certainly ' open to that interpretation, but it would be mean and contemptible to attribute to him a meaning which I do not think for a moment he intended to convey. Still, when you go to the country districts, pick up the local press, and meet people who have been at meetings, you find that instead of an indefinite charge being levelled against the Labour party, there simply has been an insinuation that if the people were not careful something would happen. In my opinion, this is one of the finest pieces of legislation ever submitted to this Parliament. I believe that it is in full agreement with the desires of 80 per cent, of the community. I believe that there will be no abuse of this grant by the medical profession, and whilst the doctors may ask for a reasonable fee, as they are entitled to, I expect, despite the slander of the State Premier against a noble profession, that they will continue to render that splendid service which they have rendered to the community hitherto. On the question of whether the grant is likely to increase the illegitimacy of Australia, I desire to say a few words. If I thought for a moment - and I am expressing the opinions of a good many persons - that this legislation would have any tendency of that sort, I would not be found supporting it. When women - young women as a rule - have the misfortune to fall in this way, I believe that the allowance will enable them to get that attention and comfort which may be the cause of preventing them from falling still lower. If it will have that effect, we shall have well earned the good opinion of, not only the clergymen and the moralists of this State, but every clean-thinking man and woman in the community. Nearly all the members of the Opposition have been converted to this proposal ; the clergymen have withdrawn most of the statements they made against it; and the politicians and the organizers of the different political parties are getting round to the position of saying, " The principle is a splendid one ; the idea is a great one ; the people want this legislation, and we are anxious, not only to give all that it contains, but to go further in regard to the benefits for which provision should be made." Seeing that we have now arrived at that happy position, I trust that those who took the opportunity of misrepresenting the maternity allowance, of saying that the Prime Minister and his colleagues gloried in the fact that they were going to grant the allowance in cases where the children were illegitimate, will now be manly enough either to withdraw such statements or to demand a division in the Senate, and vote against the measure which they have condemned practically from A to Z. I trust that this legislation will be carried. I have every confidence that it will have that beneficial effect among the womenfolk of Australia which its framers intend, and if it does, this Parliament will have justified itself from the humanitarian point of view, and earned the good wishes of all lovers of civilization and clean morality.

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