GODFATHER OF A MILLION CHILDREN
These days Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt is best remembered for the mysterious circumstances of his death by drowning in 1967, at Victoria’s Portsea. However, in Robert Menzies’ government during WWII he served as Minister for Labour, and was responsible for a socially progressive piece of legislation; the National Child Endowment Scheme.
The passing of the bill came at the end of a long struggle. There had been opposition to the idea for many years, including from a rather surprising quarter….the Mother’s Union! In 1927 a Royal Commission into the issue had been held. As sittings in Brisbane concluded, the union’s secretary, Mrs A. Arnold, said that her union very much disapproved of it from both moral and financial viewpoints. It objected that unmarried mothers should be placed on an equal footing with respectable married women. The union was particularly opposed to the division of family money that child endowment would result in. It would cause family dissention, she said. She did not favour any system that would take control of family affairs from the husband.
The president of the organization, Mrs C. Stewart, was of the same view. On another point, Mrs Stewart said she considered it much better to have a thrifty community. A spoon-fed community was not wanted.
Oh good grief, and this in the depths of the Great Depression!
However, in 1941 Child Endowment finally came into being. It was a bonus for the coming generation of Baby Boomers such as myself and my siblings.
Significantly, it was to be paid directly to mothers. How important this would be in what was still a very patriarchal society. It was often the only money women could call their own. Remember too, this was long before the contraceptive pill, and there were many families with four plus children.
Initially, child endowment not paid to the first born, but each subsequent child received 5 shillings per week until the age of sixteen. It was not means tested and nor was it taxable.
As time went by there was a push to have child endowment extended to first born children.
By 1946 the Labor Party was in power, with Ben Chifley as Prime Minister. Chifley was against the proposed extention, calling it ‘The greatest political fraud in history.’ (Daily Telegraph, September 6 1946) He feared it would be too costly, and that the basic wage would have to be lowered accordingly. Fortunately it did eventuate, to the delight of mothers such as the Tasmanian woman who took the trouble to write to her local newspaper;
As with most such benefits, the scheme was open to fraud. In 1953 Mrs Amy Wilmot (34) pleaded guilty to charges involving forging child endowment bank books. It was a sad case. The mother of three young children was widowed in 1949. She told the court that she went to the Social Service Department in Melbourne to register for a pension and was befriended by employee Maurice Durant. He proposed supplying her with forged endowment bank books, which she would then cash at various suburbs. According to her evidence she originally agreed due to fear of Durant. Over the next few years she would withdraw money using up seven different bank books a day. She was sentenced to six months imprisonment.
In 1976 Child Endowment became Family Benefit.