Commonwealth role: social security and benefits system
The financial circumstances of many of the relinquishing mothers was reported
to be one of the key factors in the decision making process which led to the
adoption of their children. As such the question of whether the Commonwealth
social security apparatus provided financial options to enable otherwise unsupported
mothers to keep and raise their children is central to establishing the
Commonwealth's role in former forced adoption policies and practices.
Monash University's submission explained why social security benefits
are such an important consideration:
[T]he Australian social security context has important
bearing on adoption in that it can create or severely delimit choices available
to individuals, primarily single mothers, with respect to their capacity to
care for their children. Through successive social security regimes, the
Commonwealth government effectively regulated which types of individuals were
considered eligible to form families and which types of families were
considered worthy of preservation by restricting access to support to certain
categories of individuals and their children. While single mothers were
eligible for the Commonwealth Maternity Benefit, introduced in 1912, they were
generally excluded from the expanded social security benefits introduced from
the 1940s... While single (unwed) mothers could, in some circumstances, access
unemployment, sickness or special benefits, and, from 1964, Commonwealth-subsidised
state payments for mothers who were ineligible for the widows' pension, these
provisions were less well known; and, in any case, offered a lower level of
security than that available through a Commonwealth pension.
Commonwealth constitutional head of power (s 51(xxiiiA))
In 1901, the Constitution granted the Australian Government power to
make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with
respect to invalid and old age pensions.
However, between 1901 and 1946, the Australian Government legislated
more broadly across a range of social services, relying upon the spending power
Section 81 of the Constitution:
Consolidated Revenue Fund
81. All revenues or moneys raised or received by the
Executive Government of the Commonwealth shall form one Consolidated Revenue
Fund, to be appropriated for the purposes of the Commonwealth in the manner and
subject to the charges and liabilities imposed by this Constitution.
The Pharmaceutical Benefits Case (1945) raised doubts about the
constitutionality of social services legislation passed in this manner.
This led the Chifley Government and the Menzies Opposition to agree to confirm
the constitutionality of the legislation by amending Section 51 of the
On 28 September 1946, the 1946 Australian Referendum was held. It asked
Do you approve of the proposed law for the alteration of the
Constitution entitled 'Constitution Alteration (Social Services) 1946'?
The question was carried with 54.39 per cent of votes cast in favour.
Section 51(xxiiiA) was duly inserted into the Constitution granting the
Australian Government power to make laws with respect to:
(xxiiiA) The provision of maternity allowances, widows'
pensions, child endowment, unemployment, pharmaceutical, sickness and hospital
benefits, medical and dental services (but not so as to authorise any form of
civil conscription), benefits to students and family allowances.
The Social Services Consolidation Act 1947 was then passed,
amalgamating social services legislation into the Social Services Act 1947.
That Act ceased on 1 July 1991 to be replaced by the current Social
Security Act 1991.
Commonwealth social security legislation
Beginning as early as 1912, the Australian Government provided five forms
of financial assistance to mothers: the maternity allowance; child endowment; special
widows' pension; and supporting mother's benefit, all of which are described
The maternity allowance
In October 1912, Parliament passed the Maternity Allowance Act 1912.
It provided for a one-off £5 lump sum payment for the birth of a live or 'viable'
child but only one allowance was payable where more than one child was born at
At the time this represented almost twice the average of the minimum weekly
wage across Australia.
The allowance was neither means tested nor subject to tax, and was
presented by the Hon. Andrew Fisher PC, Prime Minister and Treasurer as an anti–poverty
[M]any women go through the most trying period of their
lives, ill–fed, ill– clad, ill–equipped, without assistance, and with nothing
left to them but a proud spirit–a proud womanly spirit, and good luck to them.
We intend to put a little between them and dire poverty, without degradation...When
this Bill becomes law a woman will know, and everybody acquainted with her will
know, that there is £5 awaiting her...That this proposal will relieve misery, I
have not the shadow of a doubt.
No restriction was placed on the eligibility of unmarried women for
and there was no character test:
There is no qualification whatever. Each and every one stands
on the same level, must make application on the same form, and apply for the
money in the same way.
The provisions of the Act were amended several times from 1926 to 1978.
For example, an income test was introduced in 1931 and repealed
There were also several changes to the structure and levels of the maternity
allowance including an increase to £15 for the first child in 1943.
The Maternity Allowance Act 1912 was repealed in October 1978, so
that no maternity allowance was payable for births occurring on or after 1
In March 1941, a national scheme of child endowment was introduced. The Child
Endowment Act 1941 provided for the payment of an endowment at the
rate of 5 shillings (s) per week to all children under the age of sixteen
years, in excess of one child in each family. The scheme covered families,
children residing in private charitable institutions and children boarded out
by the states.
The marital status of the parents was not a factor in the payment of the
Child endowment was payable from 1 July 1941 and the claim of a parent
or guardian had to be based on actual responsibility for maintenance and not on
a natural relationship.
The child endowment was not subject to a means test, was not regarded as
income for personal income tax purposes, and was to be absolutely inalienable. It
was introduced during a time of hardship and, it was stressed, for the benefit
of the child:
[T]he Government has formed the definite view that the
circumstances of war make the measure I introduce today even more necessary and
appropriate than in time of peace...[It is imperative] that the most urgent
needs of the community have first claim on the reduced national income
available for civil purposes. Child endowment will help to ensure that the
exigencies of war do not take away from our children necessary food and
There were numerous changes to the provisions of the Child Endowment
Act 1941 from 1942 to 1976. For example, in 1950 eligibility for the
endowment was extended to the first child in a family.
From June 1976, the child endowment was replaced by family allowance.
In May 1942, the government introduced the Widows' Pensions Act 1942.
The Act resulted from the findings of an inquiry conducted by the Commonwealth Joint
Committee on Social Security, which reported:
It has long been recognized both in Australia and other
countries that widows with dependent children are in a particularly unhappy
position...In the majority of cases the widows are without private means and
must therefore work for a living in default of outside assistance. In that case
they deprive their children of essential parental care and supervision. In
caring for their children widows are performing a national service, and are
entitled to community assistance both for themselves and for the one child not
covered by child endowment.
The pension was introduced from 30 June 1942 with three different
categories of eligible widows. The first category—Class A—comprised widows
maintaining at least one child under the age of 16 years. The other two
categories applied to widows without dependent children.
For Class A widows the maximum rate of pension was £1 10s per week,
subject to automatic quarterly review based on movements in the retail price
index ('C' Series).
The Act broadly defined the term 'widow':
It has been decided to include as widows, de facto widows, a
woman who is not legally named, but who lived on a bona fide permanent domestic
basis for the three years immediately preceding the death of the man with whom
she lived; a deserted wife who has taken legal action against her husband for
desertion; a woman who has been granted a divorce and has not remarried; and a
woman whose husband or de facto husband is an inmate of a hospital for the
Under this criterion unmarried mothers were not entitled to this benefit
unless they could prove they had been in a domestic relationship for three
The provisions of the Act were amended many times from 1943 to 1983,
most notably by the States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act 1968. This Act
provided for mothers who did not fit the definition of 'widow' and were
therefore not eligible for a widow's pension:
Broadly, they are deserted wives during the first 6 months of
desertion, wives during the first 6 months of the husband's imprisonment,
deserted de facto wives and de facto wives of prisoners and other unmarried
In the Second Reading Speech, the then Minister for Social Services, the
Hon. Mr William Wentworth MP described how women within the scope of the States
Grants (Deserted Wives) Bill 1968 had previously sought financial
assistance from state and territory governments. However, the availability and
level of assistance varied across the jurisdictions:
The aim of this legislation is to provide incentive for a more
uniform level of assistance, with the Commonwealth sharing half the cost
involved...The determination of eligibility and the rates of assistance will
remain the responsibility of each State, but the Commonwealth expects that the
existing practice of the States in making individual hardship the test of
eligibility for assistance will continue, and that the States will in general
raise benefit payments approximately to the level of those payable to a class A
widow under Commonwealth legislation.
In 1969–1970, Commonwealth expenditure under the States Grants
(Deserted Wives) Act 1968 amounted to $1.9 million. In 1972–1973 that
expenditure had increased to $9.7 million.
This assistance operated in tandem with another benefit provided by the
Australian Government under the Social Services Act (No. 3) 1973.
Another benefit utilised to assist lone parents, although not designed
specifically for the purpose, was Special Benefit, introduced under the Unemployment
and Sickness Benefits Act 1944. In response to questions on notice asked at
the committee's hearing in Adelaide on 26 October 2011 the Department of
Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) informed the committee of
how the benefit operated.
According to DEEWR, the benefit was paid to those people who:
by reason of age, physical or mental disability or domestic
circumstances or any other reason were unable to earn a sufficient livelihood
for themselves and their dependents. In determining whether hardship was present,
the Director-General of Social Services was impelled to give consideration to:
- Whether the claimant had any money;
- If without money, the circumstances which led to this situation;
- The time elapsed since the claimant had money available to
The benefit was paid at the discretion of the Director-General of Social
Services and 'the maximum rate for this benefit was the same as for
unemployment or sickness benefit'.
An example of who could claim the benefit was given by the Minister who introduced
the Bill in 1944:
[T]he Government envisage Special Benefit would be claimed by
people in particular circumstances, such as a young woman who was required to
withdraw from the labour force to remain at home to care for aged or disabled
Throughout the years, the categories of people (including unmarried
mothers) who received Special Benefit widened as specific circumstances of
Following its introduction in July 1945, Special Benefit was payable to
unmarried mothers under a range of specific circumstances. Such circumstances
included (but were not limited to):
- Deserted wife or husband in prison for less than six months (not
in receipt of state assistance);
- Not qualified for Widows' Pension Class A or Supporting Mothers'
(Parents') Benefit (due to six month qualification period or residency
requirements), with no recent employment history and unable to qualify for
Unemployment Benefit or Sickness Benefit;
- Widows' Pension or Support Mothers' Benefit claimant experiencing
hardship during assessment and determination period;
In immediate hardship during the seven day waiting period for
Under the minimum age (16 years) for Unemployment or Sickness
- Ex-nuptial confinement up to 12 weeks prior and 6 weeks after the
birth of a child (from 1968-69) [emphasis added];
- Expectant mother under 16 years (from October 1973) [emphasis
- Obliged to cease work to care for a sick dependent child.
Supporting mother's benefit
In May 1973, a new benefit was created—the
supporting mother's benefit—to
take effect from 3 July 1973:
The classes of women to whom the new benefit will be payable
under this Bill are unmarried mothers, including deserted de facto wives and de
facto wives of prisoners; and (b) married women not living with their husbands
(deserting wives) or wives who have been separated for various other reasons, provided
that the women be living with, and have the custody, care and control of a
child (or children) of whom they are the mothers. These women are those who are
not at present eligible for a widow's pension under the Social Services Act and
who, with their children, have been subject to discrimination in the level of
assistance available to them in the past.
The supporting mother's benefit was payable at the same rate and subject
to the same means test as the Class A widow's pension. At its inception, the
supporting mother's benefit maximum rate for one child under six was $32. This
gradually increased to $64.95 in May 1978 and $95.25 in November 1982.
The benefit was payable from six months after birth of the child or
separation, whichever was later. In the interim, the states and territories,
together with the Commonwealth, under the States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act
1968 were responsible for providing financial assistance to mothers. Not
all mothers received this provisional assistance:
There will...be some women who will become eligible to the
supporting mother's benefit who have not received state assistance because they
would have been excluded by the state means tests.
The States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act 1968 did not achieve
uniform financial assistance for Australian mothers. To address this and other
anomalies, the Australian Government proposed that, in future, all cash social
welfare payments be made by the Commonwealth:
At the present time, pensions and benefits from the
Australian and State government authorities are complicated and confused by
their conflicting means testing for benefits, by anomalies and by a perplexing
range of benefits which have developed in a spasmodic way. If the Australian
Government assumes responsibility for all personal benefit payments it will relieve
the States of these financial programs which they often find to be beyond their
The States Grants (Deserted Wives) Act 1968 was repealed from 30
June 1982, at which time the six month qualifying period for the supporting
mother's benefit was also repealed.
The supporting mother's benefit was subsumed into the supporting parents'
benefit from 10 November 1977, then the sole parent pension from 1 March 1989
and then the parenting payment (single) from 20 March 1998.
Availability of information on Commonwealth social security benefits
Many women who gave evidence to this inquiry felt that they were not
advised of all the information on available financial support through the
Commonwealth social security benefits system.
A number of submitters believed that there was no other option available
to them than adoption, and this was on purely financial grounds. The committee
received comments that cited the lack of information as a key factor in their
decision to relinquish their child:
For unmarried, pregnant women adoption was assumed to be the
only possible path because of lack of financial and other support; 
I was given no information about financial support available
to help me keep my baby. I was given no choices other than adoption;
No alternatives to adoption were given to me by the
department of community welfare. I was not provided with information of any
sort of foster care or financial assistance for unmarried mothers.
Other women have suggested that there was sufficient financial support
available and that they were deliberately misled and that information that
would have broadened their options was kept from them:
[T]he adoption industry systematically lied to unsupported
mothers about their rights, their options, financial assistance and legally
available alternatives that would enable them to keep their babies or to at
least allow free and informed decision to be made as the law decreed.
This sentiment was echoed by other witnesses:
Whether or not the mothers' consent was informed of the
availability of financial assistance and other aids to help her keep her child
or of the known potential for long-term mental health issues associated with
adoption are considerations that take on serious implications when examined as
omissions relative to the gross breach of common law parental rights
constituent with the unauthorised removal of the child at birth.
At no time before I was given this document to sign was I
told alternatives to adoption or any of the financial and material assistance
which I now know was available to me and which was my entitlement at law to be
I was not given information on financial assistance that
would enable me to keep my son.
told me. They told me that there was nothing available, that I would have to
get a job and that, if I did give it to my parents, I was putting financial
pressure on my parents as well.
An internal report to the Commonwealth Department of Social Security
circa 1957 raised concerns about the availability of information about
Special Benefits and publicity. Attention has been drawn to
the fact that precedents to special benefits are not realised by the public and
so cases can be cited of great hardship suffered unnecessarily.
e.g. a girl in a country town found actually starving, did
not know she was eligible for a special benefit. Perhaps in the distribution of
social services booklets, all post offices should have a copy in a conspicuous
place for use by the public...It is the right of all citizens to be made fully
aware of benefits for which they may be eligible.
The NSW Legislative Council's Standing Committee on Social Affairs also
reported in 2000 that they had heard similar evidence regarding the advice
given to mothers:
One of the main concerns raised by mothers who participated
in this inquiry is that they were not properly advised about the availability
of income support and other alternatives if they chose to keep their babies.
Even if information was provided, many say they were told the level was
insufficient to support themselves and their child. A large number of mothers
have indicated that the failure of adoption professionals to provide them with
complete and accurate advice about alternatives to adoption was a critical
factor in their decision to relinquish their child.
Analysis of the benefits available
One key question that arises from the description of the Commonwealth
benefits potentially available to mothers is whether they would have provided
enough support to allow an otherwise unsupported mother to raise her child.
The Child Endowment and the Maternity Allowance provided support to
mothers regardless of their financial circumstance, although racial criteria
were applied. As discussed previously in this chapter Child Endowment was a
regular payment of 5s per week paid to those who had responsibility for maintenance
of a child regardless of their natural relationship. To put this figure into
perspective the average weekly wage was around $10,
so the child endowment benefit represented only 5 per cent of the average
weekly wage and was therefore far from sufficient for an unsupported mother to provide
for herself and her child.
The Maternity Allowance was also not means tested. It was a substantial
sum at the time of introduction, representing almost twice the average of the
minimum weekly wage. However it was a one off payment and therefore could not
contribute significantly to the ongoing maintenance of a mother and her child.
The availability of Special Benefit for otherwise unsupported mothers
has been difficult for the committee to quantify due to its highly discretionary
nature. The Act did not explicitly exclude unmarried mothers from receiving it,
however the committee received evidence that they did not generally receive
DEEWR provided statistical information about recipients of special
benefit from 1964 to 1981.
The figures show that the recipients of Special Benefit were overwhelmingly
women. They provide some breakdown of the types of circumstance under which the
recipients were eligible for this benefit. There is no category specifically for
unmarried or single mothers. However, at least prior to 1968, it can be
inferred from the available data that only a small proportion of the
approximately 2000 women who received the benefit at some point during the year
could possibly have been single mothers. In 1964, for example, the main
category in the data that might have included single mothers
was 'other'. The number of recipients was just 180, and this may have included
men receiving it for reasons completely unrelated to supporting children. When
this small number is contrasted with the number of adoptions in that year
(likely to have been around 6000), it is clear that special benefits were
highly unlikely to have played a role in supporting single mothers.
The 1965 Department of Social Services instruction manual for
Unemployment, Sickness and Special Benefits describes the circumstances where
Special Benefit should not be paid. Under the section, 'Women deserted by
husband without just cause for less than six months', it specifically states
Benefit should not be granted where the claimant would not be
eligible for a pension after she had been deserted for six months.
This excludes unmarried women who would not meet the three year
criterion required to be considered a de facto relationship under the Widows'
Pension Act 1942, thereby excluding a great many of the mothers whose
children were adopted. The Department also required that any claims about the
length of time a couple had spent together before the 'desertion' 'be
substantiated by statements from three other reputable citizens'.
The procedure set out in the manual gives the impression that the
Commonwealth's guidelines would have inhibited receipt of Special Benefit to
One of the submitters to the inquiry, June Smith, commented specifically
on this issue:
According to the legal criteria, under the Social Services
Act for payment of Special Benefit, single mothers would have been eligible for
payment, though not one mother received this payment until two years prior to
the introduction to the Single Mothers Benefit when payment was finally made to
them. Although the criteria for Special Benefit had not changed in any way
The committee examined records held by Melbourne University Archives
that belonged to Ms Theresa Wardell, a prominent social worker of the 1950s,
1960s and 1970s. Ms Wardell was contracted by the Commonwealth in 1957 to do a
study of aspects of how adequately Commonwealth benefits, including Special Benefit,
were providing support for children.
Notes made by her during a visit to South Australia poignantly confirm the view
that Special Benefit was not available other than temporarily:
Unmarried mother who keeps her child. In great need
after 6 wks when [Special Benefit] ceases – she can then go on [Unemployment
Benefit] or get a job – if girl under 21 (lower wages) she can't possibly
retain child and work. These girls usually alone. Other countries give a living
allowance for girl to stay at home and care for child. Australia's attitude
still a punitive one.
Ms Wardell's notes from her visit to Queensland were more cryptic but implied
unmarried mothers were accessing the welfare system to some degree:
Family Allowance section Miss Clark, counter clerk
[ie. Ms Wardell was making notes from a conversation]. Women only interviewers
for [Family Allowance] counter. Woman claimants only have ?floor to sit on—many
women afraid to talk at the counter in spite of side shields, esp. Unmarried
mothers (comment – special room available off counter in [Unemployment Benefit
and Special Benefit] section).
The criteria for the benefit was broadened in 1968 to provide for 'Ex-nuptial
confinement up to 12 weeks prior and 6 weeks after the birth of a child',
however this was already available under sickness benefit and simply
transferred to Special Benefit.
By way of summary, the Australian Government's social services
legislation provided assistance to young unmarried mothers in the form of the
lump sum maternity allowance (from 1912), child endowment for a first child
(from 1950), supporting mother's benefit (from 1973), and potentially via state
and territory grants (from 1968). Only the maternity allowance and the child
endowment were universal benefits and therefore available to unsupported
The committee heard from commentators who concluded that there was
insufficient ongoing support in the form of Commonwealth Social Security
benefits before the restrictions on the supporting mother's benefit were removed
In terms of the first of the terms of reference, about the
role of the Commonwealth, it seems to me that basically from a legal point of
view, it was the lack of financial assistance. Prior to 1973 the Commonwealth
did not provide any means to enable single women to keep children.
At the time probably there were the social beliefs in society
about single parenthood and the Commonwealth took no responsibility to provide
income support in the way of finances for single parents. The majority of women
I believe would be relinquishing because of financial reasons. They really had
no choice unless they had family support.
The Council of Single Mothers and their Children (CSMC) Victoria cited
their founder, Rosemary West, who described her experience:
For me, the penny dropped when I was pregnant in 1962 and
asked the hospital social worker about social security benefits. She told me
that I had broken the rules, and there was nothing for me. Girls like me were
threatening the institution of marriage, she said, and if I cared for my child
I would give her up.
Another founding member of the CSMC, Rosemary Keily, is cited in the
submission from the Royal Women's Hospital, Melbourne:
In a 1972 submission to the Australian Council of Social Services
(ACOSS), Rosemary Kiely argued that 'a single mother who is without family
support and who is unable to live cheaply in a housekeeping position is unable
to afford independent accommodation at the present rate of benefits'. These restricted financial provisions made
self-sufficiency a near impossibility.
Dr Kathy MacDermott prepared a discussion paper for the Human Rights
Commission in 1984 on the Rights of Relinquishing mothers to Access to
Information Concerning their Adopted Children, and she reached the same
Likewise, the NSW Parliamentary Committee reported in 2000 that state benefits
alone would not be sufficient to sustain a mother and child:
According to a social worker writing in 1968, the Department's
allowance did not provide a 'livable' income. Personal knowledge of some of
these mothers trying to manage on this allowance has shown that they can only
do so if they receive additional help from the voluntary relief-giving agencies
such as the Smith Family. If they are trying to manage on their own the only
alternative for them is to return to work once they have arranged day care for
the child such as a day nursery or a daily minder. Alternatively, they may take
a live-in job with the baby which occasionally works out well but which is
often full of hazards.
The NSW Committee also heard that other barriers were put in place that
could prevent a mother accessing benefits:
To qualify for any of the State social welfare allowances,
the mother was required to make an affiliation statement, which involved
identifying the father of her child. The statement was used by the Department
to pursue an action for maintenance either in court or by way of a voluntary
agreement. The requirement to name the putative father was a significant disincentive
for a woman who might otherwise qualify because she might not want to name him.
If the woman was less than 16 years of age, the young woman might not want to expose
the putative father to a prosecution for carnal knowledge.
According to a former senior departmental officer, Mr Barry
Francis, many women found affiliation proceedings extremely humiliating because
they had to provide extensive details of their sexual relationships to a
district officer and then in court. If they qualified for this allowance,
further embarrassment was likely as they were required to collect their cheques
in person from local church or community halls, rather than receive a payment
in the mail like many other recipients.
However this committee received some evidence that when combined,
Commonwealth and state benefits may have provided an adequate income for an
unsupported mother. Origins NSW submitted an article from 1954 that discussed
a variety of Commonwealth and state social security benefits available to 'unmarried
Unmarried mothers throughout Australia can receive financial
assistance before and after their confinement from the Commonwealth Social
Services Department. The usual sickness benefit payments are available to these
mothers for six weeks before and six weeks after their confinement. The rates
are: £1/11 weekly for girls aged 16 to 18 years; £2/0/0 for the 18 to-21-vears
age group; and £2/10/0 for the 21-and-over group. In addition, if the mother
decides to keep her child she can also receive a 5/- weekly payment for it for
six weeks after its birth. As well as these benefits, unmarried mothers can
claim child endowment of 5/- a week for the first child and the maternity
allowance of £15 for the first child. In NSW, under section 27 of the Child
Welfare Act an unmarried mother who wants to keep her child but cannot afford
to support it may apply to the Child Welfare Department for regular payments. 
The committee did not receive authoritative information about exactly
what state benefits were available in each state or territory. However some
information that conveyed the national situation is included in the Summary of
Proceedings of the Ninth Annual Conference of Administrators of Child Welfare
held in Canberra in 1968. This records a discussion of State Administrators on
the issue of means testing of social welfare benefits for 'deserted wives and
certain other categories of "widows" unmarried mothers etc. to
uniform rates based on the Social Service pension payable to A class widows'.
The context of the discussion was around whether the Commonwealth would
fund 50 per cent of the costs involved in the states increasing their social
welfare benefits to this category of people. The states and territories
reported on how they means tested their social welfare benefits to this group:
- South Australia—Allows nothing in the bank. Assistance given is
to relieve destitution only.
- Northern Territory—Some allowance is made where there is money in
the bank if it can be demonstrated that it is needed for something else.
- New Guinea—No assistance is given when there is a disclosure of
- Queensland—Up to $400 is allowed in a bank account.
- Western Australia—Allows some money in a bank account.
- Tasmania—The supplementation of income with some welfare
assistance is possible.
- Victoria—Will allow up to $600 where there is one child and
additional for extra children.
While this does not provide details on the amounts that were available
from states and territories for social welfare for mothers and their children,
it does paint a picture of inconsistency in state welfare provision across the
The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) Journal published a
submission to the Commonwealth Minister for Social Services lobbying for
support for mothers who could not receive the Widows Pension on various grounds
including being an unmarried mother. The submission summarised the availability
of state benefits to otherwise unsupported woman who did not meet the Commonwealth
criteria for benefits:
In all States the amounts paid vary considerably and are
usually dependent upon the deserted wife being without adequate income or
savings, being responsible for the care of her children. In some cases
additional assistance is available, subject to the means test for that item,
including milk, school books, handouts of clothes, etc. In some States all
medical bills are paid for the mother.
The submission also highlighted that receiving benefits from the States
would disqualify a mother from receiving Special benefit from the
In all States (except Victoria) deserted wives are entitled
to receive State assistance, and for this reason forfeit eligibility to receive
The committee received no evidence from unmarried mothers who did
receive Special Benefit for the purposes of raising a child, so cannot presume
to know whether or not the provision of the benefit was a long term solution
for an unmarried mother. If it were an ongoing payment then perhaps it would
have provided enough income to support both the mother and the child, However
if it was accessed under the same conditions as sickness benefit, which was a
time-limited benefit for the duration of the confinement, then it would not
have been adequate. The only remaining option for an unsupported mother would
then have been to access state benefits, which differed across the country.
The committee understands and agrees that various benefits and
allowances from both the Commonwealth and some of the individual states, when
combined, would have provided a reasonable amount of short-term funding to an
unsupported mother. However the AASW submission to the Commonwealth suggests
that receiving state assistance was an automatic bar on receiving Special
Benefit, the only benefit that didn't explicitly exclude unmarried mothers. The
figures quoted in the article supplied by Origins NSW do not appear to offer
the ongoing financial support that would have allowed unsupported mothers to keep
their babies. The article also refers to benefits available in New South Wales,
which may not have applied in other states.
The committee believes that information provided to mothers during and
immediately following the birth of their child was in some cases woefully short
of what should have been available. There is insufficient evidence to allow the
committee to determine whether the failure lay at the national level or whether
it was a result of inadequate practices in hospitals and other state- or
Regardless of the quality of the information, however, the committee
concludes that there was not appropriate government funding available to
mothers prior to 1973 that would have provided the ongoing financial support
necessary for mothers to keep their babies if they lacked any private source of
income or family assistance.
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