CHAPTER XXXI. FROM THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES TO THE SECOND WORLD WAR
The whole period from 1919 to 1939 appears, in fact, to have been almost barren of great social reforms. It is in no way comparable to the period before 1914, when old age pensions and industrial arbitration were introduced, and the Commonwealth Bank established. We do find some States passing social legislation; in particular Queensland introduced Unemployment Insurance (1923), and New South Wales introduced Child Endowment (1927). The Commonwealth had introduced a limited scheme of child endowment for its own public servants in 1920, but there was no system for Australia as a whole until it was introduced by the Menzies government under the pressure for higher wages in 1941. Australians seem to have been too complacent about their 'high standard of living,' and to be unaware of the improvements that were going on in other parts of the world. It is true that they sent representatives to the annual conferences of the International Labour Office, set up at Geneva in 1919 for the improvement of social and labour conditions throughout the world. Sometimes we even adopted the labour conventions framed at these conferences in Geneva. But in general our representatives went in a condescending manner, thinking they had nothing to gain by this international co-operation. They were mistaken, for a number of countries were outstripping us in the field of social legislation. We have begun to realize this, and it is possible that after the war we shall take steps to carry out considerable social reforms.
But though there was little that was new in the field of social legislation, there was a considerable expansion of existing 'social services,' and of expenditure on health, education, and social welfare. Between 1914 and 1939 the expenditure on health, old-age and invalid pensions, and maternity allowances, increased from 5,000,000 pounds to 34,000,000 pounds. Allowing for growth of population and changes in the value of money, this represented a threefold increase in real expenditure per head. Because of rising incomes per head people were also able to make increased provision on their own account against old age and infirmity, through savings banks, friendly societies, and life assurance. In education, also, we find increased expenditure by governments, but the increase is not nearly so marked as in the field of health and social welfare. Australia, in fact, has been lagging behind in the provision of educational facilities, and the time is ripe for considerable improvement and extension of education. Both Commonwealth and State governments were obliged to make large grants of money during the depression for the relief of unemployment, but the assistance given was not very adequate. Also since the amount of assistance for each person was a matter for the States, it tended to vary from one State to another. In the future we may hope to have a high level of employment, and the Commonwealth has introduced a Social Security Act (1944), so that those who may become unemployed will be better cared for. It is worth noting that the death-rate in Australia, and in particular the infant death-rate, are among the lowest in the world. That is partly due to our relatively high income per head and our healthy climate, but it is also due in large part to our public health services and the increased expenditure on them. But there is still room for improvement, and no grounds for complacency.
It is also worth noting that population grew between 1929 and 1939 by only 560,000 compared with more than 1,000,000 in the previous ten years. The depression largely accounted for this, since it discouraged immigration and for five years out of the ten we actually lost people by emigration. Taking the ten years as a whole we only gained about 10,000 people by immigration, whereas in the previous ten years we gained nearly 330,000. The rest of the difference was accounted for by a lower birth rate, which during these years began to cause grave concern. Our population was just reaching 7,000,000 at the end of 1939, but it was growing very slowly.