To commemorate the CSMC 40th Anniversary Celebrations in 2009 we have created a booklet which contains edited versions of all the speeches given on the night. The booklet records this important milestone and the speeches detail a brief history of CSMC. Click here to view. To be sent a copy call
03 9654 0327 or outside Melbourne on 1300 552 511
A rights philosophy, not a welfare philosophy.
The late 60s was a period of extreme change. Self-Help action groups were providing the foundation for members of the community to raise their demands on issues that were important to their lives. Attitudes towards marriage and sexual relationships were changing across all social classes. The pill was readily available. Many young people were deciding to live together as there was more a focus on relationships and sex than marriages. Feminists were loud in their call for economic independence for women.
However, many single mothers found the 60s a contradictory experience. Despite the changes, it seemed that the different morality for men and women remained and flourished. The negative attitudes towards single motherhood was resilient. Many parents refused to support their daughters who became pregnant outside marriage. CSMC has heard many stories of women who were forced to relinquish their babies, otherwise their families would disown their daughters.
There was little income support for single mothers, either through the Commonwealth Social Security System or through services provided by the states. Under the Commonwealth Social Services Consolidation Act (1947-1970), the mother of an illegitimate child [was defined] as a person who does not qualify for any other pension, benefit or allowance, who is unable to provide for himself and his dependents without assistance. These women would sometimes be entitled to special benefits at the discretion of the Director General, however the rate was not to exceed that of sickness benefits and was usually varied according to age. In effect, women could receive special benefits for a period of 12 weeks before the birth of a child and six weeks after (this may be exceeded if a woman was prevented from working due to breast feeding).
The only Commonwealth benefits for which single mothers were automatically eligible were the Maternity Allowance, on the birth of a child, and child endowment, a non-means tested payment to all mothers with dependent children, irrespective of their marital status.
It was the commitment, passion and determination by a group of Victorian single mothers which lead to the formation of CSMC. They themselves had experienced the prejudice and discrimination due to their status of being either single mothers or relinquishing mothers. They started meeting at each others homes to explore what groups existed that supported women in this situation.
First, these women looked at The Supporting Mothers Association as a possible lobby group. This group had been formed in Adelaide in the early 1960s and a Victorian branch was set up in 1966. The focus was to support divorced and separated women, however their main focus was on the support of monogamous marriage and the belief that the nuclear family was the only sound basis for raising children.
Then, they looked at the Melbourne based Parents without Partners, which was assisted in it's formation by Social Worker, Eric Benjamin. This group was open to all sole parents, however it did not to meet the specific needs of single mothers as it's main focus was to provide the chance for single parent to socialise and not to effect political change.
In late 1969, one of the members placed an advertisement in the Melbourne Herald inviting women to a meeting with the intention of forming a NEW ORGANISATION for single mothers. A large group attended, many remained silent, but it didn't take long to determine what their role would be - working within a self-help model with the aim of supporting single mothers as well as advocating Social and Legal Reform. Thus, the Council for Single Mothers and their Children was born.
Melbourne journalist Rosemary West (then Keily) was elected as it's first (unpaid) Coordinator. The work was quickly decided on: THE NEED FOR A SUPPORTING PARENTS PENSION AND THE REMOVAL OF DISCRIMINATORY LEGISLATION.
In 1972, CSMC employed their first paid staff member who was employed as an Accomodation Officer. Prior to this, they received small grants to carry out specific projects. In 1973 the Aims and Objectives of the Council were formulated:
1. To ensure that any child born out of wedlock has a fair start in life.
2. To promote the understanding and acceptance of single mothers and their children in the community so that they will be free from economic, social and legal discrimination and prejudices.
3. To offer practical assistance and emotional support to single mothers during and after pregnancy, whether the child is kept by the mother or adopted, by:
(a) providing an accommodation service;
(b) distributing information services available to, and the legal rights of, single mothers;
(c) providing emergency childminding and transport services;
(d) providing emergency financial help where there is no other source.
4. To provide the opportunity for single mothers to meet and assist each other.
5. To press for better services, both for single mothers who keep their babies and for those whose babies are adopted.
6. To encourage the further education, practical competence and self reliance of single mothers.
7. To encourage the interests of fathers in the welfare of their child/ren.
8. To conduct and participate in surveys and research projects on the position of the single mother and her child in Australia.
9. To co operate with existing organisations and agencies who assist single mothers.
10. To encourage and support the formation of associate Councils in all states and the establishment of country groups both interstate and intra-state.
The election of the Whitlam Labour Government in 1972 and the commitment of the responsible Minister, Bill Hayden led to single mothers being included under the new Commonwealth Widow's Pension Scheme (1973) on the same basis as all other unsupported mothers. CSMC were clearly instrumental in bringing about this change. Members spent several days lobbying politicians in Canberra and gaining huge support from individuals and Welfare Organisations across Australia. At this point, CSMC had around 1,700 members in Victoria alone, which clearly demonstrated that the issue of income support was drawing momentum. Less than a year of campaigning had brought the most dramatic change to the Australian social security system since the 1947 constitutional referendum.
These changes also marked a new stage in social acceptance. The council was also pushing for legislative reform at the state level in regard to discrimination against illegitimate children. The issue was as important to CSMC as was the issue of income support. In Australia, illegitimate children did not have the same rights as legitimate children to inherit from their parents because of an 1873 English common-law ruling which restricted the meaning of the word 'children' in a deed or will to legitimate children. Only South Australia gave ex-nuptial children the right to inherit from their fathers. In other states, unless they were named in the will, ex-nuptial children had no claim. Three states also gave them no rights to inherit from their mothers.
CSMC continued their work in the area of Law Reform. Their campaign to abolish the concept of illegitimacy and to remove both the term and related discriminatory laws from the statute books had been met with some success. By the late 1970s, all Australian States had introduced laws which removed discrimination against children in varying degrees.
The National Council for the Single Mother and her Child (NCSMC) was set up in 1973 and originally included single mother organisations in other states such as CSMC Queensland, CHUMS in New South Wales, CSMC Canberra, Tasmania and Western Australia, and CSMC Victoria. At the National Conference the following motion was carried unanimously:
That the aims of NCSMC are best achieved through the operation of a nationally organised body, therefore we move that this organisation continue to function. In coming to this conclusion, it is simultaneously recognised that it is both valid and advantageous to have a national arena of operations.
Throughout the 70s and 80s CSMC was managed on extremely limited funding and resources, obtaining grants from various government bodies, mainly from departments within the Department of social security and small grants from various Trusts and later from Community Welfare Departments.
The organisation has never really moved away from their original mission statement in that CSMC's functions include: the development of social action, self-help, mutual support and the education of the community along with professional workers, and more importantly, work from the notion of a rights philosophy and not that of a welfare philosophy.
CSMC ANNUAL REPORTS AND SCARLET LETTERS.
ACTION SPEAK - Strategies and lessons from Australian social and community action. By: EILEEN BALDY & TONY WILSON.