Labour History

State Socialism for Australian Mothers: Andrew Fisher’s Radical Maternalism in its International and Local Contexts

Labour History (2012), 102, (1), 55–70.


In 1912 Labor Prime Minister Andrew Fisher introduced one of the most radical measures of his government. The Maternity Allowance Act was radical in at least three respects: first, it was ‘socialistic’ in providing a state payment from general revenue to mothers in their capacity as citizens; second, it recognised the legitimacy of the claims of unmarried mothers on the state (unlike in the 1950s and 1960s when single mothers had their babies taken away for adoption); and third, its direct payment to women by the state undermined the traditional patriarchal power exercised by husbands in the family. Australian scholarship has tended to disparage this innovation as a ‘baby bonus’ imposed on women cast as ‘breeders for the body politic’. Closer attention to its international and national contexts, however, suggests that this very popular measure was a response to women’s new found political power.

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Author details

Lake, Marilyn