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Friday, 4 October 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - I move -

That the following words be added to subclause 1 : - " Provided that in cases of the second exnuptial birth, and birth subsequent to it, the Commissioner may withhold the grant unless he is satisfied that the father or mother has not sufficient means to provide for the necessary medical and nursing expenses, and that the mother is living in an approved Maternity Home or under such conditions as will conduce towards her moral amendment."

This amendment is aimed at a specific purpose which, with all respect to this Chamber, every Christian, as well as every decent-minded person in the Commonwealth, will heartily approve.

Senator Barker - And those who do not approve are not decent-minded?

Senator ST LEDGER - I do not think that there will be any difference in this matter. I think that even my honorable friend opposite will approve of the amendment.

Senator Barker - Thank you !

Senator ST LEDGER - I wish to give my reasons for submitting the amendment. When we are discussing a matter of this kind, it is of no use to play the ostrich, and offer up worship of an ostrich character as a salve to our conscience. I have not done it in connexion with the Bill.

Senator de Largie - What sort of a character has an ostrich, anyhow?

Senator ST LEDGER - If the honorable senator does not understand the allusion I have made about the ostrich in this business that is going on, I do not propose to make it clearer ; but I think there is not an honorable senator on the other side who feels more keenly the application and the significance of the remark than he does.

Senator de Largie - Your jokes are so subtle that sometimes it is hard to follow them.

Senator Givens - He is like a Scotchman; he jokes with difficulty.

Senator ST LEDGER - I have this consolation, that I have not so much difficulty as some people have to understand a joke, or anything else.

Senator Givens - You have no difficulty in understanding because you are incapable of doing it.

Senator ST LEDGER - The honorable senator is now in a bit of a difficulty. He ought to apologize and go down on his knees for some things which he has said, but he will not do it. There are in the Commonwealth a few, and only a few, women who are in such condition that after the first ex-nuptial birth they are living in such circumstances as conduce to, and will certainly produce, a second and a third ex-nuptial birth. I was brought to task for a remark, which was twisted and distorted with what it would be charitable to call stupid perversity, because I referred in my public speeches twice to something about moral profligacy in this Bill. I shall now use a term which no honorable senator who has the slightest pretence to intelligence, or even the least shread of political intelligence, will be able to misunderstand.

Senator McGregor - You are a champion, legometer.

Senator ST LEDGER - My honorable friend can call it by whatever fancy name he likes. As we press the Government here a little more closely and warmly than, perhaps, they were pressed in another place, they are feeling the criticism. If I were to plead with the tongue of angels on this occasion, I know that it would be of no avail. I recognise that I am fighting gallantly against desperate odds.

Senator Vardon - I do not think that Senator St. Ledger should waste his fragrance on the desert air. [Quorum formed.]

Senator ST LEDGER - I say that the amendment seeks to provide safeguards in cases in which women continue to live in sin and in adultery. I object to giving a grant out of the public funds - even to the extent of £5 or£10 - to make the path of sin and adultery easy. If the Committee do not accept my amendment, I say that I was amply justified in affirming that the Bill offers a sop to profligacy. I make that statement, notwithstanding that the expression which I used on the public platform was so grossly twisted from its plain intention by honorable senators opposite. I used the term " economic profligacy " in connexion with the poor law administration of Great Britain, so that its application must have been patent to all. But its meaning was deliberately perverted by honorable senators opposite, and I can recall only one worse parallel, if I may be permitted to reverently mention it. It was the occasion on which our Redeemer was accused of preaching treason and disloyalty to Caesar, because he mentioned his kingdom. Of course, his accusers knew in their hearts that they were perverting his words. In regard to the moral sin of adultery, which, fortunately, prevails in Australia to a lesser extent than it does in any other country of the world, it is our bounden duty to make some reservation regarding the distribution of this maternity allowance. What is the object of the amendment?

Senator de Largie - To whitewash the honorable senator.

Senator ST LEDGER - Not in the slightest degree. I have opposed this Bill at every stage of its consideration, and I am sure that everybody outside this Chamber will credit me with absolute sincerity in so doing.

Senator Long - The honorable senator is dying mighty hard.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am fighting, not dying. The amendment recognises that there are women who have been betrayed, and seeks to provide that if such women, subsequent to their first child, bear ex-nuptial children, the Commissioner shall be entitled to inquire whether they or the fathers, have means to provide for those children. Why should not the community make that inquiry ? I said last night that respect for motherhood was binding both on the individual and on the nation. But certain circumstances require to be taken into consideration. The assertion of the two principles is not inconsistent. Indeed, one is a complement of the other. Why should a grant from the public funds be made for" the second and subsequent exnuptial births? Because such a grant was made under the poor laws of England, every child born ex-nuptially was a source of income to the lusty vagabonds who lived on the unfortunate earnings of such mothers. The same thing may happen in a few cases here. I object to offering a sop from the public, funds to sin and adultery in circumstances of that character. Why should we blind our eyes to such a condition of affairs? The amendment provides a further alternative, namely, that every mother who is living in a maternity home or under conditions which conduce to her moral amendment may receive the grant. During the course of the debate upon the motion for the second reading of this Bill it was stated that the Council of Churches had suggested that charitable institutions ought to be charged with the duty of distributing the grant. That statement was made with a sneer and a jeer, and was more or less supported by honorable senators opposite, until I pointed out that I knew of maternity homes in more than one State to which it would be better, to give £5 on behalf of the mother, than it would be to make an indiscriminate grant df ,£50 either to the father or mother. There are institutions in the various States under the care of which it would be a blessing for these unfortunate women to come. Does any one suggest that, after the second or third ex-nuptial birth it would not be an advantage for the mother to be brought under the influence of such institutions as are conducted by the Roman Catholic Church or by the Salvation Army? If the Government refuse to accept the amendment I shall be justified in saying that when 1 attempted to uplift these women, by providing that they should be rescued from their unfortunate surroundings, the Government positively declined to accord me their support.

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