16th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes) took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
– Is the Postmaster-General aware that the military authorities are now making considerable use of the single telephone line between South Australia and Western Australia, and that it is becoming increasingly difficult for civilians to obtain calls between the eastern States and Western Australia? What steps does the department propose to take in order to provide a second telephone line between Western Australia and the eastern States for both military and civil purposes!
– Urgent consideration is being given to that matter.However, the honorable senator will realize that the position is difficult in view of the Government’s heavy war commitments. I assure him that the work will be carried out so soon as funds are available.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - I have received from Senator Keane an intimation that he desires to move the adjournment of the Senate for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance, namely, “ the necessity for improving the wage standards of employees, with particular reference to the basic wage and allowances relating thereto”.
.- I move -
That the senate,at its rising, adjourn till 10 a.m. to-morrow.
– Is the motion supported ?
Four honorable senators having risen in support of the motion,
– I need hardly say that this subject calls for the most careful consideration of honorable senators generally. It is an issue of fundamental importance to the workers of Australia. After all, apart from spiritual things, the question of most concern in the average household is what amount which the breadwinner will bring home at the end of each week. The trade unions have accepted what is known as the basic wage. The original basis on which that wage was fixed was obviously wrong. We have an admission of that fact in the judgment of the court now under discussion. Two years ago the trade unions applied for an increase of the basic wage. They devoted from eight to nine months to the preparation of a skilful case to place before the court. The employers also submitted a skilful case to the court. After a lengthy hearing in December last the court announced that it would make an award. Necessarily, the unions of Australia regard the basicwage as most vital. In this instance they fully expected to derive some gain from the court’s award. Despite the fact that the workers as a whole failed to obtain from the court that consideration which they were entitled to, they have given to this Government the fullest possible co-operation in its war effort. The Opposition in this Parliament has agreed to legislation which, up to the outbreak of the war, was anathema to the Labour movement. We have given to the Government full support of its “whole-hog” national security legislation, under which it can do practically anything. We gave that support knowing full well that probably some of those powers would be abused ; but took that risk in the interests of the country as a whole. The trade unions themselves want a full war effort. They have even agreed, at the request of the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt), to the dilution of labour. Any trade unionist will tell you that five years ago such a change would have been impossible. As the result of action taken by the same Minister a section of the workers have now been given a special allowance of 6s. a week, the total number in receipt of that allowance being approximately 60,000 men who are mostly employed in the war industries. As the court, has not seen fit to grant an increase of the basic wage, the trade unionists now urge that that allowance of 6s. be given to the workers as a whole with the usual pro rata rate for female workers. I have already said that the income of the breadwinner is the most vital material consideration in any home. ITo other factor makes for more contentment in the community than an adequate wage. It may be 3aid that this judgment was given by a tribunal whose decisions are ordinarily accepted by the trade unions. That is so; but I take this opportunity to correct one or two wrong impressions in that respect. Under our arbitration system we have succeeded, at least, in fixing a minimum wage. The court is looked upon as the guardian of the rights of those workers who come under its awards. Employerdom has always urged that, decisions of the court which benefit the workers in any way place an unbearable burden upon industry. The court has never done anything outside the fixing of margins on certain base rates; and not many of those margins have been altered. It has not, for instance, widened existing figures in order to give concessions in respect of sick, or accident, pay. Whenever the basic wage is increased, the cost of living soars; whilst wages go up by the stairway, the cost of living goes up in the lift. Any increase of the basic wage is immediately passed on. I have had no greater experience in any other phase of industry than in the Arbitration Court. I have always favoured conciliation and arbitration. I have never supported direct action in either my own union or any other organization,’ except when the executive of the combined unions has decided that direct action offers the only way but of a difficulty. Unless the Government legislates to regulate the cost of living in accordance with wage decisions of arbitration courts or tribunals, we shall always have the dog chasing the tail in this matter. The workers are very dissatisfied with the court’s decision, which has caused consternation among them. That consternation has been aggravated by the admission made in court judgment that the court has never fixed the basic wage on its own standards, and that the only investigation of cost of living was that undertaken by the Piddington Commission. Chief Judge Beeby said that it was beyond the power and capacity of the court to determine what share of the national income should be given to the wage-earners. On previous occasions, I have contended that the court is not competent to appraise the basic-wage value of any man, and without disrespect to any member of the court, I repeat that contention. Because of their training and environment, the members of the court are not fitted to appraise the basic-wage value of any man. A portion of the judgment of the court reads -
Union advocates submitted that the present wage level does not give wage-earners a proper share of national income and does not bear proper relation to the increased productivity of labour during recent years. In other .words, the court is asked to declare that all past fixations have been arrived at on wrong principles and should be abandoned, and that by way of wage fixation it should arrive at a conclusion as to what share of production should go to wage-earners, ot, to use a homely term, how the “cake” produced by all should bo divided up. Again and again, the court has pointed out that it is not the legislature, but a tribunal exercising limited functions conferred by the legislature. Deliberate re-arrangement of the division of national income amongst the different factors of production is beyond both it’s power and capacity.
T’h at statement supports my previous submissions in this chamber that the court is not competent to do what it is being asked to do. Briefly, the court declares that it cannot fix the basic wage of this country. The judgment adds -
Alternatively, the Commonwealth Parliament must assume responsibility for the Commonwealth basic wage.
I realize that, owing to constitutional limitations, it is impossible for the Government at the moment to give legislative effect to that view. However, if the Government, under the national security legislation, can give a special allowance of 6s.- a. week to 60,000 workers, because of war exigencies, there is nothing to prevent it from exercising the same power in order to extend that increase to the great majority of workers. It may be contended that wages are adjusted on the basis of the cost of living. Let us examine that proposition, first of all, in regard to house rents. This Government is definitely to blame for the fact that house rents have risen considerably since 1939. In Melbourne, that increase has been as much as from 2s. 6d. to 5s. a week. Up to December, 1939, rents were pegged by regulation; but since that date, owing to a stupid decision arrived at by an. interstate conference, the regulation lapsed, and, consequently, rapacious landlords have had an “ open go “. Therefore, to-day, the costofliving figure has no relation in fact to actual rentals. In addition, the prices of dozens of articles which are absolutely essential in the home are soaring. Our present system of prices control will not achieve what the Labour party desires in this respect. The Government decided, owing to the emergency of war, to dispense with the calling of tenders for the construction of certain works. Some contracts were let at a fixed price, and others were let at cost plus 5 per cent. Under the “ cost-plus “ system, the builders are able to obtain all the material they want -and to put up with industrial trouble, loss of time, &c, and still make their 5 per cent, profit. That is a matter of urgency, but the case which I am placing before the Senate is even more urgent. It is said by the Government that the outlay on the war may be £196,000,000, and we all realize that that is an inescapable burden, but surely some of that money could be made available in the direction which we are suggesting. Despite the action taken to prevent the workers and trade union leaders in this country from taking a stand in this m a Her, it is obvious that there is among them a grave suspicion of the Arbitration Court’s decision, owing to the fact that almost on the day that it was to be made known, a Government pronouncement was made by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Holt) of the proposed child endowment scheme. Tt may have been an accident or a remarkable coincidence, but the man in the street will not swallow that. I do not suggest that there was collusion between the Government and the court, but I do say that, having regard to the phraseology of its decision, the court must have known that something of the kind was Toeing attempted. In his judgment, Chief Judge Beeby said that the ‘basic wage for a mau, his wife and one child was adequate. The child endowment scheme will be in respect of all children after the first, so obviously it was realized by the court that the whole basis was wrong. On page 7 of his judgment, the Chief Judge said -
During thu proceedings I was impressed with new evidence and argument submitted as to the inadequacy of the earnings of the lower-grade wage-earners with families. On our accepted standards of living, looking nt it from the needs point of view only, I regard the present basic wage as adequate for a family unit of three, but I think it offers only a meagre existence for a family unit of four. When the unit gets beyond four, hardship is often experienced. During a portion of his term as a low-wage employee, a married’ Tuan frequently has a family of more than two dependent children.
A more logical system would be to grade the basic wage according to family responsibilities. But jio claim for such gradation has ever been made by employees or employers. The court can only deal with claims made, and has no power to initiate on its own motion a scheme of wage payments according to responsibilities. T believe that, notwithstanding its increase in aggregate wages, a re-appointment of national income sufficient to increase the wages of men and women with more than one dependent child would be of advantage to the Commonwealth. The relief afforded to those who need it would more than set-off the inflationary tendency of provision for a comprehensive scheme of child endowment.
Since the conclusion of the hearing the Commonwealth Government has announced its intention to initiate such a scheme. If and when this is done, future fixation of the basic wage will bo greatly simplified, but the announcement of the Government’s intentions does not of itself justify any departure from past methods.
Obviously, Judge Beeby was not to be stopped by the fact that a child endowment scheme had been foreshadowed. Assuming that the Government agrees to what I am suggesting, and decides to give an increase under the National Security Act, I would point out that the child endowment scheme will cost £13,000,000, whereas an increased basic wage would cost about £1,000,000 a month. If it is right to give 60,000 war workers an additional 6s. a week, it is also right to make the rise general. Men who work on the manufacture of munitions do not toil any harder than do men working on, say, the railways, where jobs have become more arduous owing to the interference with shipping services. The breakdown of transport by sea has placed an added burden on railway workers and others engaged on land transport services. These men, who are working long hours and doing a great job, have just as much right to a rise as have the munition workers. The Government has a duty to these men.It should do the proper thing and so obtain the wholehearted support of all sections of the community. Why not make a generous gesture even at this late hour? We do not suggest that action be taken through the Arbitration Court - no government should tell an arbitration court tribunal what to do - but the increase could be granted under the National Security Act. Whatever rise is given to the workers will be passed on by the employers. I direct the attention of honorable senators to the following letter:-
When war broke out the Government and
Parliament passedacts and breathed threats against the profiteer who wrongfully drained his fellow citizens in time of war. The story of prices since that promising episode has been one ofalmost constant increase.
Here arc a few examples of price-raising in reference to some commodities of everyday use. The list could be added to indefinitely: - Flour, formerly6d. lb., now 8½d.; tinned milk, 7d. tin, now 9d.; tea, 2s. 4d. and 2s.9½d.; floor polish,1s. and1s. 5d.; sago, 3d. lb. and 4d., &c, &c. The matter is carried a stage further, for we find that storekeepers are not uniform in their charges. One grocer charges 6d., while the one in the next suburb charges 8½d., and so on. It is a mystery why the Government does not earnestly try to control this wholesale pillage. The Arbitration Courthas refused to increase the basic wage. Why should sacrifice in time of war be so onesided? Must profits bo kept at peace-time level at all costs?
Price fixation will not check a rise in the cost of living. The range of articles on which sales tax is imposed was increased by this Parliament at the end of last year. The new rates applied from the 19th November, 1940, articles in the luxury class being taxed at the rate of 15 per cent. When the hill was in its second-reading stage I asked the Minister what check was kept on goods held at the date of the introduction of the new rates. I wanted to know whether the goods held on the 19th November, 1940, could be sold at the increased rates. The reply given by the Minister was that neither he nor the officers of the Taxation Department had any check on that matter. It is true that taxation on the employing class in this country has been increased, but employers are in a position to pass on the increases to the’ workers. Despite what Professor Copland or any body else may say, 95 per cent. of the sales tax is paid by the working classes.
– In reply to the honorable senator I shall give an illustration. Say, for instance, I am a grocer and he is a wholesale supplier. I buy from him £100 worth of goods on which sales tax is charged, and I receive an invoice for £115. The additional £15 which goes into the Treasury, is passed on to my customers. It is no use blinding ourselves to facts. The delay in delivering a judgment of the Arbitration Court is amazing, more particularly when it is remembered that Chief Judge Beeby is a man of experience and is conversant with all shades of political opinion. Another member of the bench is a one-time member ofthis chamber, Judge
Drake-Brockman. What is that gentleman doing at the moment? He is chairman of’ a coal tribunal, and he is also a judge of the Arbitration Court, iu which jurisdiction he has three important cases awaiting a hearing. The locomotive engine-men have had a case before that court since August of last year. Recently he met the representatives of the union in conference and had the audacity to say that he could give them Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to hear the case. Judge Drake-Brockman also has a military job which he is endeavouring to carry out at the same time. A building dispute lias arisen in Melbourne and that also lias ‘been placed on his list. So we find chaos, delay and humbug in one of the most important activities of this country. What this country requires urgently at the moment is direct Arbitration Court action without interference by lawyers and others who do not understand the claims of the workers. I go further and say that the appointment of every judge to this tribunal has been made by governments hostile to the Labour party. Imagine a government having the audacity to take a man from the role of advocate for the coal-owners and to place him on the Arbitration Court bench to decide how much workers should be paid. I am amazed that the action which we on this side are now taking has not been taken earlier. A protest against all this humbug is long overdue. The workers of this country are doing the biggest share of the job in time of war. What is wrong with the Government taking its courage in both hands and saying, “We shall not interfere with the Arbitration Court at the moment, but we shall take action under the National Security Act”? If I had my way that would be done immediately. Think of the support that would be forthcoming for the Government of this country at the moment if action were taken to depart from legislation which is grossly unfair to the workers. Imagine any honorable senator on this side or on the other side of the chamber going into the Arbitration Court to argue a case for the workers in favour of a higher basic wage and being asked to disclose most private details of expenditure, when the employers’ case was being taken behind closed doors. The Arbitration Act is obsolete and totally inadequate. One section in the legislation which I believe all legal men will support, was inserted by the Bruce-Page Government. It is not surprising that there are threats of industrial trouble and that hold-ups are likely to occur at any time. This matter was raised in the House of Representatives and a reply was given by the Minister for Labour and National Service who said that the claim had been heard by men qualified in the jurisdiction by years of experience in handling evidence. I have been in the Arbitration Court and I know the worth of that. Imagine, for instance, a legal mind attempting to deal with three railway grades such as train examiners, undergear repairers and running-gear repairers. In New South Wales, for instance, those three grades have different names and in South Australia three other designations areemployed. I look forward to the day when a government of this country will say that there shall be an industrial tribunal on which there shall be an expert employees’ representative and an expert employers’ representative. It would not matter who was appointed chairman so long as he had an impartial mind. Such a court would eliminate the ridiculous farce that is going on at the moment. How can men on £3,000 a year determine a just living wage? They do not know the hardships of the workers. Whatever award they make will be scaled by the employers. At the first opportunity the verdict of the people should be sought by referendum on the question of the Commonwealth Parliament being given complete control over trade and commerce. Then the workers would be assured of getting the full benefit of awards of the court. Industry can now pass on wage increases granted by the court and consequently the workers get no ‘real benefit. The Labour party will not abandon the fight for the rectification of the present situation. The trade union movement is insistent that a fair deal should be given to the workers. Senators belonging to the Labour party have been inundated with letters from organizations urging rectification. We attend meetings and explain the situation to the workers. They are not satisfied. They point out that we, as members of the Labour party, supported the passing of the National Security Act and they ask why the Government does not use the power it has under that act to give the workers an increase of the basic wage.
– I regret that under privilege Senator Keane took the opportunity to criticize the judges of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration.
– I will say outside Parliament what I have said in the Senate this morning.
– The Government is committed to the principle of industrial conciliation and arbitration. Senator Keane referred to the action of the Government in granting the special war allowance of 6s. a week to 60,000 men engaged in war industries. The important feature of that policy is that those men were conscripted into industry to do a certain job. I am convinced that the honorable senator has taken the opportunity to ventilate this subject in the Senate in order to make political capital of it, because he resents the criticism levelled at him and his party colleagues by extremists and agitators who are not playing the game. The Government stands for conciliation and arbitration as does the Labour party. Therefore in this period of our history the honorable senator should not criticize the court; instead, he should criticize the agitators who are trying to influence working men to take certain action because Arbitration Court awards do not suit them. At the present time the workers of Australia are enjoying better conditions than those in any other country. It is ridiculous for Senator Keane to suggest that the Government shoulduse the National Security Act to increase wages over the rates provided in Arbitration Court awards. If the financial position of the country would permit, I suggest that any increase granted should be made to those men who are taking their lives in their hands so as to protect the people of Australia. I repeat that the Government stands for conciliation and arbitration and. adheres to the decisions of the court. I object strongly to the speech made by Senator keane.
– For a number of years the Arbitration Court has adopted the wrong basis on which to arrive at what is the workers’ equitable share of his product. For October, 1918, the Board of Trade fixed the basic wage in New South Wales on the basis of figures collected by the Commonwealth Statistician,but those related to only part of the elements which constitute the basic wage. In the Higgins judgment of 1907 carried on by the Rolin award in 1914 in New South Wales, the elements on which the wage was fixed were food and groceries, house rent and miscellaneous elements. That basis was continued during the war and then New South Wales gave a lead by constituting the Board of Trade. The act constituting that body laid it down that the Board of Trade shall, from year to year, after public inquiry into the average cost of living, declare what shall be the living wage to be paid to adult male and female employees. The question arose as to the actual elements on which the wage should be based. After investigation, the Board of Trade decided in 1919 that certain elements other than food and groceries and house rent were identifiable and capable of separate treatment and assessment. They were clothing, fuel and light.
– Which Government in New South Wales set up the Board of Trade?
– The Holman Government, and it was a government with the same party label which abolished the Board of Trade and handed over the duty of fixing the basic wage to a body which uses an erroneous set of figures. I shall give two instances illustrating the inaccuracy of the figures. The Commonwealth Statistician sends out cards periodically asking house agents to state the predominant rent for three and fourroomed wooden and brick houses. Suppose that an agent has 25 houses to let at £1 a week and fifteen houses at £2 a week, he returns £1 a week as the predominant rent. When making a public inquiry in Bathurst in 1919 the Board of Trade found that the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures set forth that the average rent for three and four-roomed houses ranged from 9s. to Ils. a week. Scores of people owned houses in Bathurst and were collecting their own rents which never came within the purview of the Statistician. The Board of Trade collected information which showed that the average rent of a four-roomed house was 15s. a week. On that basis the board fixed the average rent for New South “Wales at 15s. 7d., thereby ignoring the Commonwealth Statistician’s figures. On the 15th of each month cards are issued by the Commonwealth Statistician’s office asking tradespeople to furnish information relating to the average price of 46 items of commodities. Supposing a grocer is selling 40 lb. of tea at 2s. and 50 lb. at ls. per lb. he states when filling in his card that the predominant price of tea is ls. per lb. Take the item “miscellaneous “, and consider the items it should include. Replacements are necessary in the worker’s home - replacements of household linen and such articles as soap, crockery, brooms and floor polish. The worker has also to pay fares to travel to and from work and he is entitled to fares for recreation. The Board of Trade in New South Wales allowed the worker one fare a week to get to the beach. Then allowance should be made for amusements, such as a visit to a picture theatre, donations to a church, and medical, hospital and dental expenses. Allowance should also be made for the purchase of newspapers and stationery. Rent is an important element. I understand that the Commonwealth Government is permitting the New South Wales Government to fix rents, but I know that there are landlords in Sydney who are increasing rents to an exorbitant extent. One landlord who owns a number of houses in Clovelly, a suburb of Sydney, has increased rents from 25s. to 32s. a week during the last few months. The Government has full power under the National Security Act to protect wage-earners. There are thousands of unemployed in New South Wales trying to drag out an existence on the unemployment dole, yet the Government expects members of the Labour party to co-operate with it. We challenge, the data on which the basic wage is fixed. The act constituting the Board of Trade in New South Wales was amended to provide that the board could vary any declaration it made. The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration does not make “variations in regard to the basic wage determined apart from a costly inquiry. It has postponed its determination on the claim of the unions for a higher basic wage until next June without giving any reason for such action. The working people are being exploited in many ways by combines. I shall give one instance relating to the price of bread, which is an important element in the fixation of the basic wage. The price of flour is fixed at £12 15s. a ton. Millers in New South Wales extract gluten from some flour and add it to flour which they sell to bakers at £15 15s. .a ton, with a guarantee of 19 per cent, gluten content. What becomes of the flour from which gluten is extracted? I have reason to believe that it is sold to bakers in the industrial suburbs, and bread made from it lacks the proper nutritive value, and in some instances has to be thrown away eight hours after baking. In Balmain working people have bought bread which goes black in a. day. I appeal to the Government to take effective action to improve the social condition of the great mass of working people who are doing their utmost to assist in the war effort.
– I believe that the basis upon which the basic wage is determined is entirely wrong. I should ‘have preferred Senator Keane to have dealt with that matter, but he indulged in lime-lighting. He claimed that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is incompetent to fix the basic wage because the high standard of living enjoyed by the judges of the court renders them incapable of deciding what is a reasonable standard for the underdog. I should like to learn whom the honorable senator would select to fix the basic wage. If he selected an unemployed man who had no standard of living the result might be the fixing of the basic wage at a lower rate than that determined by the court. Does the honorable senator consider that Parliament should fix the basic wage? If Parliament had that responsibility the honorable senator and his party colleagues, would have the opportunity to play to the gallery, an opportunity they never fail -to capitalize. Senator Keane did not suggest an alternative to the present system; he merely charged the court with incompetency. He quoted from the court’s judgment and pointed out that it agreed that in certain instances the basic wage was inadequate. I agree with him on that point; hut he did not suggest any remedy. The court said, in effect, that the single man and the married man without children were receiving too high a wage, the married man with one child was getting an adequate wage, but the basic wage was inadequate for a man with more than one child. To remedy this Senator Keane advocated an all-round increase of 6s. a week in the basic wage. Is he in favour of the single man receiving an increase of 6s. a week? Senator Keane proposes to give nothing additional to the single man of 20, but the single man of 21, who, except that he has a vote, is often no better than the man one year his junior, is to receive an extra 6s. I should have been the .first to fall into line with the honorable senator had he shown how we could remove the injustices and anomalies which result from the present basis of wage fixation, instead of playing to the gallery in the hope of making some political capital. I believe that a properly constituted authority should fix the adult basic wage and that there should >be added to that wage an allowance, call it what you will, for a man when he marries and endowment for each child. Only by that means can we hope to achieve equity. Senator Keane and his party threw equity to the winds in their search for votes.
The honorable senator, supported by Senator Arthur, dealt with rents as they affect the basic wage. I am appalled by the fact that the wage-fixing authorities, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and the Industrial Commission of New South Wales, say that in Sydney a fourroomed cottage is obtainable for 18s. a week, and escape criticism. Only in the Sydney slums is it possible to obtain a cottage for as low as 18s. a week. The whole basis is wrong, but Senator Keane, in order to remedy his grievance on that score, wants to have the basic wage increased. He would give the single man, who has no rent to pay, the amount of the increase which would be represented in his proposed rental allowance. Where is the equity? The court has decided that the existing basic wage is sufficient for a man, his wife and one child. That being the case, something additional should be given to the man who has a wife and more than one child. Only then will the basic wage system be fair to the community as a whole. For many years I have been disgusted with the way in which the basic wage is determined. Under the present system the basic wage for females is only 52 per .cent, of the rate for males. In his calmer moments, Senator Keane will agree that there is no equity in that. In order to give the single man under 21 years of age a fair deal, let us first consider the relationship of the junior to the senior wage-earner. At present, a single man of 20 receives about, half the wage of the man of 21. That is entirely wrong, but there are no complaints from honorable senators opposite. Then let us consider the problem of the male and the female wage-earner. It is ridiculous to say that a single woman can hope to live on 52 per cent, of the wage of a single man. Let that anomaly be removed. Then we have to consider the position of a man with a family. The greater his family obligations, the greater should be the amount of money received hy him in wages or in some other form. Endowment, I believe, is the correct way in which to compensate him for his family obligations. I am disappointed that Senator Keane neglected to deal with those problems in his speech. The opportunity to remove those anomalies is provided by the National Security Act, which was mentioned by Senator Keane, but before that aspect can be dealt with, regulations under the National Security Act should be issued in order to standardize hours and the basic wage throughout the Commonwealth. Attempts to standardize the basic wage and conditions by referendum have failed in the past, but regulations under the National Security Act provide the means whereby that can be done. With uniformity achieved, the anomalies and injustices that have been tolerated for years could be removed.
– I support Senator Keane. I was astonished at some of the remarks made by Senator Dein. It seems to me that he has no conception of the principles of wage fixation when he says that the wage of a single man should be reduced.
– I said nothing of the kind. I said that in effect the court has said that single men were paid too much.
– -The honorable senator expressed the opinion that single men were paid too much.
– I rise to a point of order. Senator Cunningham is misconstruing what I said. At no stage did I say that single men were paid too much. I said that in effect the court had decided that single men and men with wives but no children were paid too much.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - Senator Cunningham must accept Senator Dein’s explanation.
– When Senator Dein Was dealing with rents which are not paid by single men, he said that a wage for single men similar to the wage for married men who had rent to pay was too much for them to receive.
- Senator Dein has explained what he said.
– It seems to me that Senator Dein does not know what he said. The position is that quite recently the Arbitration Court wrongly, I believe, saw fit not to proceed with the fixing of the basic wage. Whatever the court might have learned about the Government’s intention to introduce a scheme of child endowment, it had no right to postpone its decision. There is no relation between the basic wage and child endowment. The purpose of child endowment is to assist workers who have families, whereas the basic wage is the rate which the court determines is a fair return for services. That return is fixed irrespective of whether a man is married or single. How could the court be expected to discriminate between married men and single men performing the same class of work ? /Single men have as much right as married men to seek a fair return when they sell their labour. Has any honorable senator ever heard of a single man receiving too much in return for the services he has rendered ? The employers invariably make the minimum wage fixed by the court the maximum wage paid in their industries. I am reminded of the remarks of the honorable senator concerning agitators. The whole of the responsibility in connexion with industrial disputes is placed on the workers by the honorable senator, but agitators are not always found on the side of the workers. They are also on the employers’ side, agitating for the employers to combine for the purpose of skimping the wage fund which should be available. The subject of the fixation of the basic wage has never been properly dealt with by any government or by the Arbitration Court. Going back to the Higgins award of 1907, the judge was not in a position to lay down a proper basis for determining the minimum wage. He did not have the whole of the necessary information. He may also have held the view of Judge Beeby that it was not the purpose of the court to go into the real basis of the matter, but that the court merely had to use the scrap material at its disposal. Some future government will have to take this matter up and make the necessary investigation.
I rose to say a few words on behalf of single men. They are a real asset to the Commonwealth at present, and, equally with married men, they render great service to the nation.
– Often they have dependants.
– Yes, and, of course, they are the potential fathers of the future citizens of the Commonwealth. Thrifty young single men are desirous of making provision for the future. If they were placed on a lower wage level than that of married men, their future would not be bright-
.- I can imagine no circumstances more unsuitable than those of the present time for the introduction of a motion of this kind. The section of the community which Senator Keane represents has made an application to the appropriate tribunal of this country for an increase of the basic wage. The application was heard by three judges, and lengthy consideration was given to the evidence placed before them. They came to the conclusion that they were not prepared at present to grant the unions’ application. They did not dismiss it out of hand, but they adjourned it until the middle of this year because, as I understand the position, certain factors came under their notice which rendered it desirable that they should consider them in the light of circumstances which might prevail in the middle of the year. They said, in effect, “ On the evidence before us, we do not think that this is a suitable occasion on which to increase the basic wage, but, having regard to the uncertainties which naturally surround all business conditions and primary production at present, we are prepared to leave the matter open until the middle of the year, when, perhaps, circumstances may have changed, and you may be able to satisfy us that there is a case for an increase “. Having applied for an increase, surely nothing is more undesirable than that those who appealed to the arbitrator should, in the course of the proceedings, suggest that the Parliament or the Government should override the arbitrator’s decision. It cannot be said that the court did not give patient and earnest consideration to the evidence placed before it. After considering all of the evidence, it came to a conclusion which, I suggest, it is difficult for any member of this chamber to combat. It drew attention to the fact that, after all, this community is at war, and is devoting about one-fifth of its man-power and resources to the production of war material and the carrying on of the war effort. We have lost the services of men and women who were previously engaged in the production of goods that we require for the maintenance of our standards of living, and they are now engaged in occupations which make no contribution to the maintenance of those standards. In these circumstances, the court came to a conclusion to which those who represent the Labour movement should pay great attention. The Chief Judge said -
It is self-evident that under prevailing war conditions the real struggle in the future will be to maintain, not to raise, existing standards, and to hold on to the present automatic adjustment of wages to the increased cost of living.
– He said that eighteen months ago.
– We ‘ should not forget that the greatest safeguard which the trade union movement has to maintain those standards is the Arbitration Court which it now proceeds to attack. The Chief J udge went on -
Such maintenance depends on our capacity to keep up the production of consumable goods, when 20 per cent, of our production has suddenly been transferred to war production, and when the expansion of savings and investments has been contracted by greatly increased taxation and by the necessary limitation of expenditure on non-war plant and equipment.
– Legal platitudes!
– No, it is a recognition of the realities of the situation. The political party which is prepared to go on believing in the idea that in time of war we can carry on our activities without the whole of the community making sacrifices is deluding itself and misleading its followers.
This was an application for an alteration of the existing method of fixing the basic wage. Criticism of the court’s judgment entirely overlooked the fact that wages have been automatically adjusted in accordance with the increased cost of living figures ever since the war started. The judgment discloses that, since September, 1937, the basic wage for Victoria has been increased by automatic adjustments by 9s. a week, and that during the same period, the automatic adjustments in New South Wales have brought about an increase of the basic wage by 12s. a week. It is nonsensical for members of the Opposition to suggest that this application for an increase must necessarily have been justified because of increases of the cost of living. Such increases have already been taken into account in the automatic adjustment that has been made. This was an application for an increase of the real wage which the worker is now getting, and I, for one, am not surprised to find that the tribunal, which has had the opportunity to consider all of the evidence, has come to the conclusion that at this time, at any rate, it is not right to indulge in increases of the present standards of living. The judgment does disclose one real social evil, and that is the fact that the existing basic wage, on the findings of the court, is only sufficient to satisfy the needs adequately of a man, a wife and a child. That, I suggest, discloses a social evil, which I should have thought the members of the Labour party would be anxious to redress.
– We know all about it.
– The evil will not be redressed by an all-round increase of the basic wage. It is because the Arbitration Court can deal with wages only on the basis of all-round increases that it cannot touch that problem.
– Bad economics.
– It is not bad economics; it is just a problem with which the Arbitration Court is unable to deal. If in order to deal with it the court awarded an all-round increase of the basic wage, the cost of living, as Senator Keane himself has admitted, would increase correspondingly, and, therefore, married men with families would be relatively no .better of? than they are to-day.
– We have suggested a remedy for that.
– The remedy is not an all-round increase of the basic wage, but a system of child endowment, such as we propose to establish, which will improve relatively the position of a man who has more than one child. It is no answer to this argument to say that prices will still increase, because, whether they do or do not, the married man., with more than one child, will receive a greater margin than the married man with one child or the single man, and, therefore, will be relatively better off in the scheme of things. In this manner we can make some contribution to the settlement of the real problem created by the court’s judgment.
– The court has admitted that it cannot fix the basic wage.
– It has made no such admission. What the court points out is that it cannot, as a wage-fixation tribunal, deal with this problem. For instance, the court cannot say that so much must be paid to a single man, and so much more to a married man, because, in that case, industry would employ single men in preference to married men. The problem cannot be dealt with on that basis. It can be dealt with, however, on the basis of a child endowment scheme which will be directed towards solving this problem by increasing the total wages-bill, and by ensuring that the increase shall be directed into the pockets of people who most need it. If that be done no justification exists for any attack upon present wage-standards, having regard to the circumstances in which we now find ourselves.
– The Leader of the Senate (‘Senator McLeay) said that we were committed to conciliation and arbitration. The Opposition answers that we are not challenging arbitration as a principle. What we are challenging is the basis on which the Arbitration Court at present operates; and that is another thing altogether. Arbitration, as a principle, is supposed to be based on equity and good conscience. In its judgments, however, the Arbitration Court works on the basis of a minimum wage, the least on which the workers can live, quite irrespective of the wealth they produce by their labours. It follows, inevitably, that the least the workers receive, the more employers of labour will receive as their share of the total wealth produced. Therefore, our challenge is against the. basis on which the court operates in that respect. We say that the workers do not now receive what they actually earn. They receive a remuneration which is governed by their social influence. When workers are organized as is the case in Australia, they will receive more in the form of wages, or remuneration, than they would receive if they were not organized. When they are organized they exercise an influence which is expressed through the medium of this Parliament, and ultimately brought to , bear upon the subordinate institution known as the Arbitration Court. However, the workers’ remuneration up to date has been limited strictly and rigidly to their actual needs. Why? Because this method represents the sum-total of the policy of the Government and the employers. To the degree that the needs of the workers are limited, the workers can be controlled and exploited more effectively. This policy is carried out so effectively to-day that apples and pears and foodstuffs generally are allowed to rot or to be destroyed, and production generally restricted, in order that wages, in terms of commodities which wages can buy, cannot he increased. Broadly speaking, that is the policy being followed in industry to-day. That is why the basic wage, in. terms of what the money will buy, has not been increased since it was first fixed in 1907. The present basic wage in Victoria of £4 6s. will not ‘buy a greater quantity of foodstuffs or clothing than was procurable for the basic wage of £2 2s. in 1907. Even if the basic wage were increased to £10 a week, we should find that, in accordance with the policy of this Government as given effect to by the Arbitration Court, prices would rise almost simultaneously. Although the wage increases in terras of money, the actual wage in terms of commodities never increases. The same effect will be produced by the Government’s proposed child endownment legislation. Irrespective of the amount of the .basic wage, its purchasing power is limited to the minimum actual needs of the workers. To that degree it will 108 retained as a medium through which the consumption of the workers can be controlled, and their labours exploited in the interests of the. owners of the means by which they live. Senator Keane stated that child endowment will cost £13,000,000 a year. It has also ‘been said that an increase of 6s. in the basic wage will also run into many millions of pounds annually. These millions of pounds are merely figures, merely terms of money. While we have available more material in the form of foodstuffs, clothing and housing than is sufficient to meet the needs of the people, money does not count very much at all. So long as we have material in abundance to meet those needs, there can he no legitimate argument why the basic wage should not bc increased. If the wage is not increased, the workers are not able to buy so much meat, bread, fruit, clothing, and so on. At present, however, the result of our wage fixation system, which is expressive of the policy of the Government and of the controllers of industry, is to arouse a self-defence reaction on the part of individuals and groups of individuals. So long as this policy operates as it does to-day, we cannot avoid industrial disputes and strikes. In the present crisis such disputes are as inevitable as the dawn. Senator Spicer said that the present .is not a time to bring this matter before Parliament. If that be so, it is also not a time when the leading monopolists in this country should accept an increase of their profits on an unprecedented scale, as such companies as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, Australian Consolidated Industries Limited, and Burns Philp and Company Limited are doing. To the degree to which this process is indulged in, and these companies load up their profits, the purchasing power of wages is almost automa tically and mechanically indirectly reduced, because prices naturally rise. To-day, men arc working in munitions factories under conditions which are highly detrimental to health, and they are now asking for some relief. Senator Spicer says that they should not have relief. Why? Is the Arbitration Court, or the Government, beyond question? Will the unemployed and the workers generally submit indefinitely to that state of affairs? They will not. Therefore, Senator Keane’s motion is not only warranted hut also necessary, because, by ventilating the subject in Parliament, thus producing debate and criticism, it is possible that an adjustment will he effected, before there is a further spread of industrial disputes and strikes. Let us deal for a moment with so-called agitators. An agitator in his individual capacity is of no more importance than any one of us. No agitator can exercise the slightest influence on workers who are getting a fair deal; but the position is entirely different when, overnight, workers are driven from their jobs and from their homes. Such happenings create an atmosphere and a background which makes so-called agitators appear formidable and terrible creatures. The cure for agitators, and for industrial disputes and strikes generally, is in the hands of this Government, which, in the circumstances, should do its best’ to meet our request. As Senator Keane said, we have given the Government all the power it needs - power that would never have been given in normal times. But, having given, that power, is it reasonable to refuse the relief that we ask? We ask that the workers be given a little more money, not for the sake of the money itself, but because it will enable them to purchase a few more of the commodities that they urgently need.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
. I support the motion moved by Senator Keane. I quote the following article written by Mr. Hartley Grattan and published in Harpers magazine of August, 1940 :-
Inward social health is the firmest foundation for a sound patriotism. We must have it in full measure. Mcn will enthusiastically defend that kind of country. To build a healthy society is the greatest of the tasks before us. If wo do not face it we are lost.
That view was supported by Dr. John Dale, Chief Health Officer ‘of the city of Melbourne, in an address delivered in Hobart recently. Dr. Dale should know what he is talking about, because, being a health officer, he must be familiar with slum conditions in Melbourne. The Arbitration Court and the Government’s economic advisers have told us over and over again that it is economically impossible to raise the basic wage withoutcausing a great deal of trouble. That view has been held for many years by university professors and is held to-day by orthodox economists of the Ricardo school. Ricardo, who said that there was an iron law in respect of wages, held that since labour was a commodity its price fluctuated with the demand. When the demand for labour diminished, wages remained at a bare subsistence level. If the demand increased, wages would rise and workers would have more money. They would then have more children, and presently the addition to the population would bring the price of labour back to the bare subsistence level again. . Those are the ideas held to-day by economists advising governments in this country. Nassau Senior attempted to prove that hours of labour could not be reduced because the employers’ profit came out of the last hour of operations. A 68-hour week was common at the time, and he said that if the last hour were eliminated, so also would industrial profits be eliminated, and the business of the nation ruined. In other words, if children in factories worked 67 hours rather than 68, panic would replace prosperity. Senior’s contribution to economic theory proved that hours could not be reduced, and John Stuart Mill and other pacifists, by the famous “wage-fund doctrine”, proved that, in effect, wages could not be raised. Workers joined unions and struck for a rise, and the economists said “ Pure madness “. Why? Because there was a certain fund set aside out of capital for the payment of wages. It was all arranged by Heaven and arithmetic, and trade unions could do nothing about it. The wagefund theory was the stock answer of the manufacturer and the editor to the claims of the organized workmen. That theory has been blessed by economists and must be true. Observe how these “ la ws “ were put to tangible use, holding back improvements in working conditions for scores of years. The philosopher produced nonsense. Many classical economists had an axe to grind, and they ground it exceedingly sharp. Economists and government advisers today are receiving £1,600 and £1,700 a year for part-time jobs, and the theories’ they hold are those advanced by such people as Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. It was not until 1876 that the wage-fund theory was exploded by an American economist, Frances Walker, who argued that wages were paid not out of a fund of stored capital, but out of current earnings - a theory which came closer to the facts. John Stuart Mill first popularized his wage-fund hypothesis in The Principles of Political Economy in 1848, and then, years later, he published the following statement: -
The doctrine hitherto taught by most economists (including myself) which denied it to be possible that trade combinations can raise wages … is deprived of its scientific foundation and must be thrown aside.
That is exactly what I have said over and over again in this chamber. The day of the orthodox economist is fading and he will disappear completely before the present war is over. George Bernard Shaw defined political economy as the art of spending the national income in such a way as to bring happiness and prosperity to the greatest number of persons. Will any honorable senator opposite say that the Commonwealth Government or any of the State governments are working on those sound principles ? Can it be said that in this country the greatest good goes to the greatest number ? I say not. The greatest good goes to the few. It is only a chosen few who share this country’s wealth. It is obvious that neither this Government nor the governments of the States fully understand the true principles of democracy. Senator Spicer spoke of the child endowment scheme. From what I have heard of that proposal, it will give with one hand and take away with the other. I understand that a feature of the scheme is that the income tax deduction allowed in respect of children will he withdrawn.
– Only in respect of the second and subsequent children.
– It is usually the first child that is most costly to a young married couple. When a man in receipt of small wages marries, he has to furnish his home, and incur other expenditure. At the end of say, twelve months, a baby usually appears in the home and further expense is involved. The biggest blot on the proposed scheme is that no consideration is given to the effect which the scheme will have on a family. As I have said, the first child usually involves a considerable expense, and although a married couple might like to have more children on which endowment would be paid, because of the big outlay involved for the first child, they will refrain from increasing their family responsibilities. The Attorney-General (Mr. Hughes) has frequently said that the greatest danger to this country is the falling birth-rate. Is there anything in world conditions to-day to induce people to bring more children into existence?
– The very opposite.
– That is so. The declining birth-rate in Australia increases our danger from such countries as Japan, where the birth-rate is more than 1,000,000 a year.Statistics issued in 1937 show that rent absorbs 20 per cent. of the workers’ wages. Since that time rents have increased by 40 per cent. Senator Dein has told us that it is impossible to get a four-roomed house, even in the slums, for less than 17s. a week. When I was a boy - there were twelve in our family - we had a five-roomed house and later we had tobuild a shed at the back to accommodate the boys. Our house was ofbrick right in the city and yet the rental was only 6s. a week. Of course the basic wage then was only half of what it is to-day in actual money, but the point I am trying to make is that all those supposed improvements such as reduced working hours and an increased basic wage have not increased the purchasing power of the workers. It can be proved that the basic wage to-day is not so effective as it was under the celebrated Harvester award of 1907.
– That is not borne out by facts.
– It was proved in this chamber by ex-Senator Sheehan, who unfortunately lost his seat at the last election. Until we get orthodox economics out of the heads of honorable senators opposite, there is no chance of getting sound legislation passed through this Parliament or of obtaining reasonable Arbitration Court awards. It will be recalled that in preference to taking direct action the workers asked for an award of the Arbitration Court. It was a wise decision. How can a judge of the court who holds a military position give his attention to the claims of the workers? It is impossible to improve the position of the workers under the present monetary system. What is given them by one hand is taken away by another. The proposal submitted by Senator Keane, if given effect, would assist the great mass of people who are doing the real work of Australia but who are compelled to live on a mere subsistence.
– I take exception to the remarks of Labour senators in criticizing the judges of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and alleging that they are incapable of gauging the conditions of industry and of the workers. The judges are not merely lawyers; they are also men of wide experience. They may notpossess that intimate knowledge of the domestic habits of the working man which has been stressed so much, but they have a general knowledge of conditions in industry. They have the power to take evidence on any matter relative to the claim before them and, because of their peculiar legal gifts in the sifting of evidence, they are competent to arrive at a decision on evidence respecting industrial conditions in Australia. The judges do not sit in austere dignity on the bench. I have seen one of the judges dressed in dungarees riding on the footplate of a Victorian locomotive bo as to obtain practical knowledge of engine-drivers. Senator Keane and his Victorian colleagues are naturally keenly interested in Commonwealth Arbitration Court awards and in the court itself. Industrial labour in Western Australia is not so keenly interested in the majesty of that court. Very few workers in Western Australia work under Commonwealth arbitration awards, the great majority being governed by awards of the State Arbitration Court. On the bench of that court there are no judges. The three members of the court are ordinary men who were formerly working men, and they understand industrial working conditions. They have also an intimate knowledge of the economics of industry in Western Australia. These three men, after hearing evidence relating to ‘the cost of living, give determinations from time to time on the basic wage. I should say that Senator Keane’s argument that the judges of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court have little or no knowledge of working conditions in industry is dissipated by the fact that the basic wage determined by the State Court in Western Australia approximates to the basic wage fixed for Western Australia by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. In November last, the State basic wage was £4 5s. a week, and the rate fixed by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was £4 a week. The award of the State Court provides for the needs of a man, wife and two children, but the Commonwealth award provides for those of a man, a wife and one child. Therefore, there is very little difference between the two basic rates.
I agree that there are some anomalies in the arbitration system, but I think that many families lack a proper sense of proportion in the expenditure of wages. If there were more restraint on unessential in the expenditure of wages, we should not hear so much about the misery of the wage slaves. Take, for instance, the report that appeared in the press recently that in a certain city wives of workers tick up their racing bets with the local grocer and the amount of the bets are placed on the weekly bill. If there were less of that sort of spending and more commonsense applied to the expenditure of the weekly wage, there would be less talk of- misery among the so-called wage slaves.
I deprecate the use of that expression because I am certain that there are no wage slaves in Australia. Our workers are not the type from which slaves are made. I think that senators are competent to deal with the subject raised by Senator Keane, and perhaps, because of our wider electoral districts, we are more competent to deal with it than are members of the House of Representatives, who must have regard to their more limited electoral districts.
– I have gained the impression that members of the Labour party who demand social improvements are branded by their opponents as agitators, the term used by the Postmaster-General (Senator McLeay) during this debate. The Minister said in effect that Senator Keane had been instructed by industrial agitators to bring this subject before the Senate. I regret that that remark should have been made because prominent industrial leaders who have been persistent advocates of social reform in the past are now taking a prominent part, not only in the real defence of Australia, but also in the prosecution of our war effort. The history of this country reveals that many social reforms were fought for by men who were branded as agitators. 1 have been described as an agitator, as has, I suppose, Senator Keane. Probably some of those described as agitators at the present time will eventually become members of the Commonwealth Parliament, and, possibly, Ministers of the Crown. A gentleman who once occupied a prominent position in the Senate and was for many years a Minister of the Crown was an agitator in Western Australia many years ago. Not so very long ago I heard Mr. Ernest Bevin, now one of the most respected men in the British War Ministry, referred to as an agitator. I regret that Senator Spicer did not tell the whole story. I admit that the court postponed its decision, but it did so without giving reasons for so doing.
– The court said that it would not grant an increase of the basic wage at that time.
SenatorFRASER.- It did not decide that the case would not receive further consideration.
– No ; the court decided that the case would receive further consideration.
– That amounts to a postponement of a decision.
– No; it amounts to the court giving the claim a second chance. The honorable senator cannot complain about that.
– The court had another motive in postponing its decision. I do not desire to criticize the court, because Labour has always stood for conciliation and arbitration.
– Only when the decision favours the union concerned.
– That is not so. At any rate, the court did not decide against the workers in this case. It merely postponed its decision. Whether that decision when reached will be for or against the workers, I do not know. My complaint is that the court, having heard the evidence, should either have made a decision or, at least, have given to the claimant unions its reasons for postponing its decision.
– The court definitely decided that it would not grant an increase of the basic wage at that time.
SenatorFRASER. - The court decided to delay its decision, and, justifiably, I criticize it for its action. It was not prepared to give a decision.
– It was not prepared to give an increase.
– No; it said that it was not prepared to give a decision.
– The judgment provided more than that. It covered several pages.
– There was no decision, and that is where I fall foul of the court.
– The judge said that whilst the basic wage was adequate for a man, wife and one child, he doubted whether it was adequate to meet the needs of a larger family.
– Exactly. That is what leads me to believe that judgment was postponed for the one purpose of enabling this Government to bring about a. scheme of child endowment.
– Provided the honorable senator is right, that is a good reason.
– I am not far from the bull’s-eye. I agree with Senator Allan MacDonald that the Commonwealth basic wage does not apply in a great number of industries in Western Australia, but the basic wage has been set down by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court on a unit of three, whereas the basic wage in Western Australia is based on a unit of 1.85. When child endowment comes into operation, if it ever does, it will affect the decision of the court in regard to units. That is my fear. I hope that it is ill founded.
– The honorable senator does not suggest that the Western Australian court may reduce the basic wage in that State by about 5s. ?
– That may be the effect, because if child endowment is based on a unit of one child, the whole ramifications of the basic wage in Western Australia may have to be gone into and a certain decision reached involving the amount of the wages tax and a re-construction of the court’s previous decision.
I agree with a great deal of what was said by Senator Arthur about the 46 commodities which are taken into consideration in the fixing of the basic wage. The manner in which those 46 commodities are averaged sometimes acts to the detriment of the basic wage earner. To give one illustration, the computation of the average per capita consumption of meat in Australia is astray. The British element of the population eats a great deal of meat, but the foreign element does not do so. A better idea of the actual per capita consumption of meat would be gained if foreigners were excluded. I concede that it would be very difficult to do that.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– The court has laid down two principles on which it arrives at its decision. One is the workers’ needs and the other is the capacity of industry to pay. I shall deal briefly with each, first, with the needs of the workers. To use the words of the judge, there is definitely not sufficient in the basic wage to meet the needs of the workers. That was stated definitely when the judge said that the basic wage was adequate only for a man, wife and one child. No provision is made for the needs of families in which there is more than one child. That in itself is sufficient proof that the basic wage should be raised. The argument advanced by some honorable senators opposite, especially Senator Dein, that it would not be fair to raise the basic wage and to give the same basic wage to single men and married men with no children as to married men with children, will not stand examination. Why should it not be fair? The Government has its taxing powers, which it can use to remove inequalities as between married and single workers. It is more unfair for the court to delay its decision until the middle of this year, especially when it has admitted that the prevailing wage is insufficient to meet the needs of a family of more than three. Larger families are being deprived of the necessaries of life until such time as this or some other Government introduces a scheme of child endowment, or until the court considers it wise to increase the basic wage in order to make provision for them. Senator Spicer tried to evade the issue by introducing child endowment into the debate. Child endowment would be a boon if it were in operation, but so would a scheme of national insurance. The fact is that neither a child endowment scheme nor a national insurance scheme is in operation, whereas both have been promised.
Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.
– Honorable senators can dismiss from their minds the belief that child endowment would be of benefit to the workers until it is an accomplished fact. That is entirely different from saying that the Opposition does not want to see the scheme introduced, as some honorable senators opposite would have liked me to say. I claim that the need for an increase of the basic wage is more evident to-day than at any time during the last quarter of a century. It is true that the statistics take into account rises and falls of the cost of living, but these increases have been greater than the increases of the basic wage. Therefore, there was justification for an increase of the basic wage in response to the application recently made to the Arbitration Court by trade unions representatives. The decision of the judges was to the effect that industry could not afford an increase of the basic wage, but it is only necessary to consider the present profits of the large companies, as compared with the profits made by them at the commencement of the war, to be convinced that they could afford to pay an increased basic wage.
– That does not apply to all companies.
– It applies to the larger companies in Australia which control the major industries. I do not say that it would apply to the primary rural industries, but it does to the manufacturing industries. The financial position of 70 large companies representing “ big business “ in Australia has been traced from the 30th June, 1936. The 1937 basic wage declaration was based on the figures available at that time. The companies to which I have referred had paid-up capital amounting to £124,000,000, their disclosed reserves totalled £53,000,000, and their net profits had increased from 1936 to 1939 by 36.8 per cent. and their reserves by 40.5 per cent. If industry could not afford to pay an increase of the basic wage I am at a loss to know how it could pay for the proposed child endowment scheme. Whether the cost were raised by means of taxes, by deductions from pay-rolls orby means of revenue, it must come out of industry. If industry will be in a position to finance such a scheme- and I hope that child endowment will be an accomplished fact at some future date - it would have been able to meet an increase of the basic wage from the time when the court last considered an application in regard to it. Had the court granted that increase from that time, those families which are not now getting sufficient wages would not have to go short of the necessaries of life which they will be deprived of until the present
Government, or some future government, introduces a child endowment scheme.
– Insofar as this debate lias constituted a criticism of the Arbitration Court, its personnel, or its decisions, I entirely dissociate myself from it ; but I do not think that Senator Keane went out of his way to criticize either the court or the system of arbitration. What lie endeavoured to do was to suggest to the Government that, whatever lack there was, from his point of view, in the judgment of the court, the machinery of the National Security Act should be put into operation to implement the court’s decision. That, I think, would be a most dangerous thing to do, because a period would be reached when the powers that the Government could now exercise in that regard would lapse. It would be rank folly on the part of the Government or of the Parliament to make a provision which would not be permanent in its character. This debate serves to indicate the viedom of the limitation imposed by the Constitution upon the powers of this Parliament in this respect. The intrusion of industrial questions into the political arena has been one of the most undesirable features of parliamentary life in Australia. In the United States of America, political and industrial matters are kept entirely apart. Unfortunately, we have not implemented what was suggested to us many years ago when the Arbitration Court proceeded to weld on to our wages system a provision for child endowment. To-day, child endowment has become inextricably mixed up with the wage question, although in reality it has nothing whatever to do with it. The purpose of child endowment is to improve social conditions. If this Parliament had had the necessary power it would no doubt have long ago dealt with that problem. In both State and Commonwealth arbitration tribunals, judgments have been delivered awarding a basic wage that provided for nonexistent children.
The object of child endowment should be to preserve the continuity of the race of which we are all so proud. I understand that we shall be entrusted soon with the duty of considering a measure providing for child endowment, which, I think, should cover every child under the age of sixteen years. The distinction that has been drawn with regard to the first child is, to my mind, an artificial one. This Parliament should obtain powers to deal with this matter on a scientific basis. Honorable senators appreciate the limitations of our wage system, and they recall the difficulties encountered in that regard during the last war. The efforts then made were abortive, as the result of skilful political manoeuvring. The Government of the day desired to secure amendments of the Constitution that would enable it to deal with the position, but its efforts were frustrated by its political opponents. This discussion may have done a certain amount of good by having clarified our minds with regard to a measure which I understand will be brought before us, but I deprecate criticism of the Arbitration Court hy Parliament. The judgment read by Senators Keane and Spicer clearly proves what that court had in mind. It said that the present basic wage is sufficient for a man, a wife and one child, but insufficient for a larger family. We should endeavour to have this position remedied, so that the industrial section will have respect for the decisions of the court. The trade unionists should not seek the jurisdiction, first of a State court, and then of the Commonwealth court, or vice versa, as has happened in the past. Under the wages board system, representatives of employers and employees had to be appointed. If one of the members of a board resigned much delay would be occasioned during- the appointment of his successor. In the meantime, the board could not function. An honorable senator contended to-day that lawyers should not be permitted to appear in the arbitration courts.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable senator himself is a budding lawyer. He is probably more astute, because he knows the tricks of the trade, than any well-trained lawyer on ibn industrial side. At present, we desire industrial peace more than anything else. If this discussion has done nothing else, it has, at least, brought before us the necessity for doing something along the lines of the proposals made in 1929 to clear up the anomalies associated with our present arbitration system, as well as all those difficulties and delays devised by the ingenuity of man. Speed is more essential in industrial arbitration than in any other branch of the law. Putting the matter in a nutshell, I say that if the temper of parties is such today, as I believe it to be, we should get closer together in an endeavour to eliminate from our social and political life the bitterness caused by industrial disputes.
.- in reply - I propose to reply briefly to one or two points made by honorable senators opposite. The Leader of the Senate (Senator McLeay) stated that I advocated direct action. I referred to direct action only when I was explaining the dissatisfaction of the workers with the present cumbersome procedure associated with arbitration. I made certain suggestions which I urged the Government to adopt in order to speed up hearings in the court. I, personally, have never supported direct action, although I shall support it if the controllers of the trade unions, in their wisdom, decide to adoptthat method. However, I sincerely hope that the day of direct action will never come. Honorable senators opposite also stated that this so-called attack on the Arbitration Court was due to the influence of agitators. Some of those so-called agitators are very prominent in the industrial life of this country, and, in the present crisis, have gone so far as to speak from the same platform as the head of this Government. In doing so they certainly did not increase their prestige in the eyes of some of their supporters. They took such action, because they believed that the issue involved was greater than the matter which we are now discussing. Senator Dein referred to the wages of female workers. It is the greatest industrial scandal in this country that the wages of females are only 54 per cent, of the male rate. Necessarily, the Arbitration Court, when deciding what is a fair wage for certain men, cannot discriminate between single men and married men. Its duty is simply to determine what it considers to be a fair wage for certain work, whether it be performed by single men or by married men. I welcome the Government’s proposal to introduce a scheme of child endowment. But the fact remains - and I say this particularly in reply to Senator Dein - that governments politically akin to this Government have failed to introduce such a scheme, although they have been in power for over 25 years. To me the coincidence between the Government’s present proposal and the recent judgment of the Arbitration Court seems most remarkable. I welcome child endowment in any form, because it represents at least an attempt to implement the policy which the Labour party has advocated for generations. I was not surprised that Senator Spicer, who is a member of the legal profession, had nothing to sa.y against the Arbitration Court. He took refuge behind a legal platitude when he said that the community could not carry the cost of an increase of the basic wage on the basis of the number of children in a family. That was the gravamen of his argument. The court’s judgment indicated that our exports must be expected to decrease, and, therefore, our primary producers’ income will be reduced. The honorable senator declared that in those circumstances industry could not bear the burden of a further increase of the basic wage. If the war lasts another eighteen months, as undoubtedly it will, the cost of the present conflict to this Government will not be under .500,000,000. That money will be found. It, is absurd to say, therefore, that we cannot find £12,000,000 a year in order to extend the special allowance of 6s. a. week to workers as a whole. Last December the Government submitted to Parliament a splendid programme of defence works, but Ave had no sooner returned to our homes than we read that it was proposed to form a mechanized unit. That announcement was accompanied by the cold statement that the cost of the new unit would be £30,000,000. Where is that sum to come from? Senator A. J. McLachlan said that it would be dangerous for the Government to extend the 6s. allowance to workers as a whole. Under the national emergency legislation the Government has power to override any act of Parliament. I submit that, in this instance, it should over-ride our industrial legislation. Workers as a whole are co-operating 100 per cent. in the Government’s war effort. They are on titled at least to some consideration along the lines I have outlined.
All of us agree that the cost of living has risen. As Senator Aylett pointed out, the quarterly adjustments do not fully meet the position because they cannot take into account the inevitable lag between the cost of living and wages. Particularly is this so under war conditions. Senator Arthur made an excellent point when he showed that the regimen on what the basic wage is fixed makes no allowance for the cost of many articles which are essential in the home, including, for instance, medicines, school books, and other incidentals requiredby the workers’ children. Many ordinary domestic articles are not allowed for in the cost of living regimen. I again direct attention to the statement of Chief J udge Beeby that the only inquiry yet held into the basic wage was that conducted by the royal commission of 1919-20. That commission reported in November, 1919, that the total cost of living was £5 16s.1d. a week, made up as follows : - -Rent, £1 0s. 6d. ; food, £2 6s.1½d. ; clothing, £1 9s.; and miscellaneous, £1 0s. 5½d. The average rent in Melbourne to-day is from 25s. to 30s. a week, whilst the cost of foodstuffs and clothing is considerably higher than it was in 1919. At the same time, however, the basic wage to-day is only £4 5s. Superimposed on the higher cost of living to-day are such imposts as sales tax. In these circumstances the workers applied for an increase of the wage of £4 5s., but the court deferred judgment.
This discussion has been decidedly helpful. If our representations are not heeded by the Government, I can only say that we on this side do not, propose to close the matter with this debate. The Labour movementhas given unqualified support to the Government in its war effort. The Opposition in this Parliament has never impeded abill in connexion with the Government’s war activities. Consequently, we now contend that some concessions should be made to the workers. The great majority of the workers cannot live on the present basic wage. I propose my motion definitely as a protest against present conditions. I repeat the comment which I made earlier concerning the members of the Arbitration Court bench ; they are unfitted for their job. Chief Judge Beeby agrees with that view. He says that the fixation of the basic wage is the duty of the national legislature. The workers as a whole are now looking to this Parliament to do its duty in that respect. As awards of the Commonwealth court mainly affect workers in only four of the States, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, I believe that had the court awarded a fair increase of the basic wage, the extra costs involved would not havebeen more than £1,000,000 a month.
Motion -by leave - withdrawn.
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - As the Senate has been sitting for more than two hours, I must call on orders of the day.
That Orders of the Buy be postponed until after Questions on Noticehave been answered, and placing of Businesshas been dealt with.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice -
– The Treasurer has supplied the following answer: -
Patriotic funds in all States, except Tasmania, are controlled by and subject to the legislation of those States and the information required cannot be obtained from any Commonwealth source.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce, upon notice -
– The Minister for Commerce has supplied the following answers : -
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 26th March (vide page 232).
Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 (Composition of Commission).
– The members of the Opposition are opposed to this clause because we see no reason whatever to increase the number of commissioners from five to seven. We think that five is quite sufficient, and that included in that number should be a representative of the Labour movement. We do not suggest that a Labour member of Parliament should be appointed; but there should be no difficulty in getting a man admirably qualified for the job because of his knowledge of the value of wireless and its requirements, and all that radio means. We shall oppose the clause as it now stands. If the number is to be seven, then we suggest that
Labour should have two representatives on the commission.
– I ask the committee to accept the clause in its present form. The Government has given considerable attention to this matter. Honorable senators will appreciate that the commission settles matters of policy only. The payment made to the members of the commission is more in the nature of an honorarium. The chairman receives £500 a year, the deputy chairman £400, and other members £300. I assure honorable senators that I have had an opportunity to examine the work of the commission, and I cannot speak too highly of it and its members, who have devoted much time, energy and enthusiasm to their work. If we were to double or treble the amounts paid to the members of the commission, in some cases we would not be compensating them for the work that they are doing.
– It is a part-time job of course?
– Yes, but members of the commission are on the joh at all times. Meetings are held regularly once a month, and on other occasions should the need arise. The science of broadcasting is developing with amazing speed, and from what I said in my secondreading speech, honorable senators can appreciate the various interests that are controlled by radio. After a close examination of the duties of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in determining our national broadcasting policy, I came to the conclusion that it was advisable to recommend the appointment of some one closely associated with the Trades Hall or the Labour movement so that the views of that section of the community may he given full consideration. As I said in my second-reading speech, it is not the desire of the Government that broadcasting should become the instrument of party politics, and it is not envisaged that a Labour representative would watch only the interests pf one section of the community. We have only to take the fine example set by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) himself to see how the proposed Labour appointee could act. On matters even apart from party politics, he displays great eloquence, and shows a wide knowledge of the subjects on which he speaks. I sincerely believe that a Labour representative would be of great value to the commission in determining matters of policy. A point of particular interest is the development of instruction given by means of radio to children, particularly in country centres where, in some instances, there are no schools at all. To-day, there are scholars in 1,900 schools listening to national broadcasts which bring to no fewer than 100,000 children radio talks of particular interest to them. I propose to recommend to the Government that a man possessing high educational qualifications be appointed to the commission in order that there may be a better spread of ideas and a consideration of all points of view when dealing with matters of policy. I earnestly urge the committee to accept what I have put forward as being in the best interests of national broadcasting.
– Without wishing to repeat the arguments that I advanced on the second reading of this bill, I oppose the appointment of two more part-time commissioners to a part-time job. I am unable to understand what the Postmaster-General (Senator McLeay) has just said with regard to the extension of the science of broadcasting. We all know that the technical services associated with broadcasting are in the hands of the Postmaster-General’s Department, and are not controlled by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. To say that by adding two more members to the part-time commission, better management and regulation will be brought about is no argument at all. For that reason, if for no other, I oppose the proposed increase of the personnel of the commission.
I repeat that I fail to see why the nominee of any political group should have some particular attribute fitting him to be a member of the commission. I oppose any suggestion that because a man happens to belong to the Trades Hall or to any other political group, he should be appointed to the commission. The Postmaster-General is entirely wrong in putting such a suggestion forward, and I am opposed to it.
SenatorFRASER (Western Australia) [2.56]. - I am opposed to increasing the personnel of the commission. I fail to understand the logic of Senator Allan MacDonald’s argument in regard to the appointment of a Labour representative, just as he fails to understand the Minister’s argument. I do not agree that the appointment of a Labour representative would be a political move. Senator Allan MacDonald said, in effect, that no political representative had been placed on the board, but with that I disagree. Practically every man appointed to the commission by this Government has had political experience in the ranks of the party of which the honorable senator is a member.
-(Senator James McLachlan). - I canot allow the debate to proceed on those lines. The question now before the committee is whether the personnel of the commission should be increased from five to seven.
– I say definitely that it should not be increased. I am dealing now with the present members of the commission. Senator Allan MacDonald argued that if the personnel were increased it would simply be to make provision for a Labour representative, but that is not necessarily so. To my knowledge it is the first time that Senator Allan MacDonald or any other honorable senator on that side of the chamber has taken exception to any brand of politics being represented on the Australian Broadcasting Commission.I happen to know the political opinions of . some of the members of the commission.
– This discussion seems to have got honorable senators into troubled waters. I have some knowledge of the constitution of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, and I remember well the unhappy circumstances in which it was first appointed by the then Postmaster-General (Sir Archdale Parkhill). That honorable gentleman struck a number of breakers in his administration, and the original chairman resigned. It has not been a bed of roses for those who have followed him. There have been appointments to the commission which were in no sense political. The Government of which I was a member appointed Mr. Kitto to the commission when he retired from the PostmasterGeneral’s Department. He was one of the original appointees, and he has given excellent service indeed. I do not intend to discuss the personnel of the commission, but what I do wish to bring forward is this: Although I was not successful with a recommendation which I made to the Government in connexion with this matter, I feel that broadcasting could bring the people of this country closer together. In Tasmania and Western Australia the people seem to regard themselves as a race apart.
– I rise to a point of order. We are dealing with clause 4 which proposes to increase the number of commissioners from five to seven. I point out that when I strayed just a few yards off the road I was called to order.
– Possibly the honorable senator was on Ben Nevis or in the Grampians. As the national broadcasting service is an asset of the people of Australia every endeavour should be made tobring in the people of Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania as full partners in the great institution administered by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in the public interest. When I made a certain recommendation to Cabinet some years ago concerning the personnel of the commission, all its members and the general manager resided in Melbourne or Sydney. People living in Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Hobart and Launceston are as much interested in the broadcasting service as are the people of New South Wales and Victoria. I pay a tribute to the work done by the present chairman of the commission. Although he is a resident of New South Wales, I do not hold that against him. How could one hold anything against a man of such ability and possessing such a charming personality? I consider that the committee should support the Government’s proposal to increase the membership of the commission. Then the Government could appoint seven persons of varying viewpoints. This vast power, placed in our hands by science, should be nurtured instead of criticized. It is only in its infancy. Consider what a tremendous weapon of war it is in the hands of scrupulous and unscrupulous authorities. “Senator CAMERON (Victoria) [3.3].- I am not much concerned whether the number of members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission remains at five or is increased to seven. I appreciate the statement of the Postmaster-General (Senator McLeay) that he thought improvement would be effected if an additional member were appointed to the commission to represent the trade union move ment. If the representative of the movement is selected by the Government, it will not necessarily follow that he will truly represent the movement. The only person who could be truly representative would be one selected by the trade union movement and be responsible to it. A person selectedand appointedby the Government would ‘be responsible to the Government. Trouble has occurred in the past through governments selecting representatives of the Labour movement on different bodies. One case was the appointment of Labour’s representative at the Geneva Convention. Onthat occasion the Labour movement had to submit a panel of names from which the Government made its selection.
– The honorable senator should confine his remarks to the question whether the number of members of the commission should be five or seven.
– I am endeavouring to ascertain who will have the right to select the representative of the trade union movement. I suspect that the Government will make the selection. In that case the person selected would not in my view be truly representative of the movement. In similar cases in the past the movement has been permitted to select its representative, and such procedure in the case of the Australian Broadcasting Commission would be satisfactory to me. I do not agree with the contention that the members of the commission should be ashamed of their political views. They should be proud of them.
– I support the proposal that the number of members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission be increased to seven, because in that case- there wouldbe less chance of a Western Australian being squeezed off the commission in the re-shuffle that will probably occur. The conditions of broadcasting in Western Australia differ from those in the eastern States. A high-class programme can be put on the air in the eastern States at an hour convenient to the residents in those States. Supposing that a programme is broadcast at 8 p.m. from Sydney or Melbourne, the hour then is 6 p.m. in Western Australia and my experience is that people are not keen to listen in at that hour because they are either returning home from work or are having dinner. The eastern States have a large number of national and commercial broadcasting stations, but there are comparatively few in Western Australia. National stations are required at Geraldton and in the north-west portion of the State. A representative of Western Australia should be appointed as a member of the commission to watch the interests of that State and particularly to give better services to our isolated and other country districts. I have no objection to a suitable person being appointed to represent the Australian Labour party. However, country residents are more dependent on broadcasting than are city residents. I suggest that if political affiliations are taken into consideration, not only should the Australian Labour party be entitled to representation, but also the Australian Country party. I support an increase in the number of members of the commission to seven because then the Labour party and the Country party could both be given representation.I hope that one reason for the Government’s proposal to increase the number is not to enable it to grant leave of absence for two or three years to one of the present members of the commission.
– If the Government is prepared to adopt the principle that a representative of Labour should be appointed as a member of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, I suggestthat the other six members should each represent a State. The commission should he an Australianwide organization. In each State there are persons competent and willing to serve on the commission. We should do our utmost to remove the impression in several of the States that national broadcasting is a monopoly of the two largest eastern cities. If the Government decides to give Labour representation on the commission, it should invite the Labour movement to submit a panel of names from which the Government could select a member.
Question put -
That the clause stand as printed.
The committee divided. (The Chairman -Senator James McLachlan.)
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses5 to 10 agreed to.
Clause 11 -
Section sixteen of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - “16. - (1.) The Commission shall provide adequate and comprehensive programmes and shall take in the interests of the community all such measures as, in the opinion of the Commission, are conducive to the full development of programmes suitable for broadcasting, and the Minister shall broadcast those programmes from such transmitters as the Commission determines.
Motion (by Senator Collings) proposed -
That, after the word “ programmes “, first occurring, the following words be inserted: - “, including news services,”.
.- I direct the attention of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) to the provisions of section 22 of the principal act -
The Commission may collect in such manner as it thinks fit news and information relating to current events in any part of the world and may subscribe to news agencies.
I suggest that what the honorable senator has in mind is already provided for. The powers of the commission under section 22 to collect news are unlimited. It is in the exercise of those powers that the commission provides its news services.
– I listened attentively to what Senator Spicer had to say, but this bill amends the principal act in several directions. We want it to be made mandatory that the commission shall provide news services. If the principal act provides for what I am now asking, that provision has been shamefully neglected by the commission. We wish to take advantage of this clause to ensure that the programmes shall include news services. If we cannot have that provision inserted we shall vote against the clause.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be inserted be inserted (Senator Collings’s amendment).
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator James McLachlan.)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
.- I move -
That, after proposed new sub-section ( 1 ) , the following proposed new sub-section be inserted : - “ (la.) The Commission shall provide an adequate and independent news service under its own control in addition to any contracts or arrangements it may make in respect to news services.”
There is no need to stress the need for the amendment.
– But the commission already has the powers now sought.
– We do not want any misunderstanding or legal niceties about it.
.- Did the Postmaster-General (Senator McLeay) take heed of what I said last night about the unsuitability of the hour at which the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Canberra commentator gives his comment on the proceedings in Parliament ?
Question put -
That the proposed new sub-section be inserted (Senator Collings’s amendment).
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator James McLachlan.)
Majority . . . . 1
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 12 to 16 agreed to.
After section fifty-three of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - “ !>3a. The Governor-General may, if he satisfied that it is necessary in the public interest so to do, by notice in writing, direct the Commission to refrain from taking any action in the exercise of any of its powers conferred by this Act.”.
– I move -
That, after the word “ Commission the following words be inserted, “ either to take or »,
Whilst this clause gives to the GovernorGeneral power to veto a proposal of the commission, it does not give to him power to toll the commission to do something which it has not proposed to do. The Opposition desires that there shall bc no limitation of the power of the Governor-General in this respect.
.- This is a far-reaching clause, and I think that it should provide that the Governor-‘General may, by regulation, do certain things. In that case, the Parliament would retain control of the commission, and a regulation could be disallowed by either branch of the legislature. I appreciate the object of the Opposition. It desires complete control of the commission by the Government, and not by the Parliament.
– The suggestion offered by Senator Gibson does not meet with the approval of the Opposition. We decline to submit to the delay that would be occasioned by the drafting of regulations which would have to be laid on the table of Parliament. The Opposition regards this clause as the most valuable feature of the bill, and it desires to improve it. The Governor-General means the Cabinet, and the Cabinet is responsible to the Parliament. The Opposition desires the Government to be given power to do the job that it ought to do. If this amendment be rejected, the Opposition sees no value in the bill.
.- The Government has considered this clause carefully, lt cannot accept the amendment because it goes too far.
– Action such as might be necessary under this clause would have to be taken with great speed. I am wondering whether the Minister has considered whether the powers to be conferred are sufficiently wide. In certain events of a most alarming character, it would be unfortunate if we . could not prevent the broadcasting of matter the publication of which was considered injurious to the people as a whole. When I was PostmasterGeneral I had to exercise this power, and I felt somewhat embarrassed, having regard to the terms of the statute. It seems to me that speed is of the essence of the contract. If the Minister knew of an impending event, he should be able to direct the chairman of the commission, or its executive officer, that certain information must not be broadcast. Since it would be necessary, under this clause as it stands, to get the Governor-General to attend a meeting of the Executive Council before certain action could be taken I am a little unhappy about the machinery that would have to be set in motion. Mischief could be done before a regulation could be issued. It seems to me that the Minister should have power to deal instantly with a matter of this kind, and should take the responsibility for it. He could consult with the Prime Minister or with such Ministers as were available.
– This clause has been considered carefully. If it became necessary for an instruction to be issued by the Government to the chairmanofthecommission,theMinister would be able to communicate with him by telephone, and inform him as to the action the Executive Council proposed to take. That, I think, would meet the needs of the situation. No doubt the commission would act promptly in such circumstances. If members of the commission failed to observe such an instruction, when the time came for their re-appointment they might find themselves displaced.
Question put -
That the words proposed to be insertedbe inserted (Senator Collings’s amendment).
The committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator James McLachlan.)
Majority . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill read a third time.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator McLeay) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
As honorable senators are aware, reference is frequently made in an act toa Minister of State and, sometimes, to a particular department of State. Insofar as the reference is to a Minister, or to a department administering an act, provision is already made by section 19a of the Acts Interpretation Act that that reference is to be read as a reference to the Minister, or to the department, as the case may be, under whose administration or control the act is placed by an order of the Governor-General. Consequently, even when the department of State referred to no longer exists, as is the case, for example, in respect of the Defence Department, no problem arises, because the various acts once administered by the Minister for Defence and his department have since been placed, by order of the Governor-General, under the administration of the Minister for one of the four departments which have replaced the Department of Defence. Section 19a of the Acts Interpretation Act then provides that any provision that an act shall be administered by the Minister of State for Defence shall be read as a reference to the Minister of State for Defence Coordination, the Army, the Navy or Air. as the case may be.
A new problem has, however, arisen, for which no provision is at present to he found in the Acts Interpretation Act. In certain acts a reference is made to a Minister of State who is not the Minister administering that act. An excellent example may be found in section 96 of the Patents Act, which provides for inventions to be kept secret in cases in which the Minister for Defence so directs. As the Patents Act is administered by the Attorney-General, section 19a of the Acts
Interpretation Act can have no application. The purpose of clause 4 of the present bill is to provide that any such reference to a Minister, or to a particular department, shall be read as a reference to whatever Minister or department, as the case may be, the Governor-General specifies by order. Clause 3 of the bill merely amends section 19a. This is consequential upon the insertion of the new section.
Clause 5 proposes to amend section 24 of the principal act in order to clear up doubts as to the penalty for which a company is liable in respect of certain offences. At present, section 24 specifically provides that the provisions of any act relating to offences, unless the contrary intention appears, refer to bodies corporate, as well as to persons. In several acts which provide for the more serious offences, however, the only penalty prescribed is one of imprisonment. Since it is obviously impossible to imprison a corporation, the question arises as to what penalty, if any, may be imposed on the corporation if and when it is convicted of any offence of this nature. Clause 5 proposes to amend the act so as to prescribe the maximum pecuniary penalties which a court may impose on a corporation where the only penalty prescribed by the act is imprisonment.
Honorable senators will observe that sub-clause 2 provides that this amendment shall be deemed to have come into operation on the 3rd September, 1939. As proceedings might, after the commencement of this bill, be brought in respect of offences already committed by corporations, it appears necessary that this amendment must be made retrospective in order that confusion might not arise if and when any such proceedings might hereafter be brought.
Opportunity has also been taken to amend section 33 of the principal act in order to rectify an omission that occasionally is the cause of some inconvenience. At present, sub-section 3 of section 33 provides that a power to make rules, regulations or by-laws shall be construed as including a power to rescind, revoke, amend or vary such rules, regulations or by-laws. The expression “rules, regulations or by-laws “ does not, however, exhaust the instruments which may be made under an act. It will readily be appreciated by honorable senators that if a power is conferred to make or issue any instrument under an act, then the power to repeal or amend that instrument at some later date is necessary, even though the instrument does not come under the description of “ rules, regulations or by-laws “. Examples of instruments not at present covered by the expression are proclamations and orders. Consequently, the bill proposes to amend the sub-section so that it will refer to any instrument made, granted or issued under a power conferred by an act. This measure is not contentious; it is merely designed to rectify certain anomalies which experience has shown to exist in the Acts Interpretation Act and which threaten to cause considerable inconvenience.
Debate (on motion by Senator Cunningham) adjourned.
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing and Sessional Orders suspended.
Bill (on motion by Senator MoLeay) read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill is designed to make more stringent the existing provisions of the Defence Act relating to fraud in connexion with the supply of food, material and equipment to the Defence Forces. Section 73c of the act makes guilty of an offence any contractor, purveyor or other person, including any employee, who fraudulently supplies for use by the Defence Force certain inferior goods. Honorable senators will appreciate that it is one thing to prove that a contractor has supplied goods of an inferior quality, but quite another thing to prove that he fraudulently did so. The presence of a fraudulent intent may be obvious, but it is one thing for the fraudulent intent to be obvious and another thing to prove it before a court. The purpose of clause 3 is to remove the word “fraudulently”, but, at the same time, to make it a good defence if the contractor is able to show that there was no intent to defraud and that he was not aware of the inferior quality. In other words, instead of the Commonwealth having to prove fraud, it throws on the person charged the onus of showing an absence of fraud. The same section of the act also makes it an offence for an officer of the Commonwealth fraudulently to receive any such goods. Consequently, the clause omits the word “ fraudulently “ in this case also, and casts on the officer the onus of proving that there was no intent to defraud on his part and that he did not know that the goods were supplied in contravention of the section.
As honorable senators are, perhaps, aware, when the Commonwealth enters into a contract for the supply of certain goods for the Defence Force, it usually arranges for the inspection of the goods, and places on them certain seals, or marks, to indicate that they are up to standard. Only goods so marked will then be accepted in fulfilment of the contract. There was a case in which goods bearing a forged mark are alleged to have been delivered. The most effective way to obviate any use of forged marks is to make it an offence for any contractor to have in his possession goods fraudulently marked. If the Commonwealth can nip this sort of thing in the bud, as it were, by catching the offender while the goods are still in his possession, rather than await delivery of the goods, this practice will quickly be stamped out. That is the purpose of the new section 73d which clause 4 of the bill proposes to insert.
To persons of a certain type, who are able to make a substantial profit by their fraud, the imposition of a penalty, however large, may not always be a sufficient deterrent. Unfortunately, a company cannot be imprisoned. The new sections 73e and 73f proposed to be inserted by clause 4 are designed to bring these provisions of the Defence Act in line with the provisions of the National Security Act, and to make every director and person concerned in the management of a company guilty of the offence of which the company is guilty unless he can show that the offence took place without his knowledge, or that he had no reasonable means of preventing it. Proposed section 73f is designed to bring into line with the provisions of the National Security Act the penalties which may be imposed in respect of serious frauds of the nature to which I have referred.
The provisions of the bill will, by virtue of clause 2, be made retrospective to the date on which the present war commenced. The measure is, undoubtedly, drastic ; but I find it difficult to conceive of crimes of a more reprehensible character than those with which this bill deals. This country is at war. To defraud the Commonwealth during a period of war is, in itself, most reprehensible ; but when that fraud takes the form of supplying to the Commonwealth equipment for the use of its forces of such an inferior quality that the safety, and, perhaps, the lives, of men may be endangered the natural hesitation to make retrospective any measure appertaining to the criminal law must disappear. I commend the measure to honorable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Collings) adjourned.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) agreed to -
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Wednesday next, at 3 p.m.
Motion (by Senator McLeay) pro posed -
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I desire to refer very briefly to two important matters concerning which I have asked questions recently. The answers which I have received are most unsatisfactory. On the 19th March, I asked the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce the following questions: -
The answer I received read -
That answer is incorrect. No such fruit is supplied to Gorman House, Canberra. When the women who reside there make complaints to the housekeeper, they are told that it is a matter for the Department of the Interior, and when the complaints are carried to that department, they are told that it is a matter for the housekeeper. In connexion with Canberra hostels, the latest report of the Auditor General states -
With the exception of two establishments, all government-owned hotels and guest houses are leased. The working accounts of Gorman House show that a profit of £530 was returned.
Despite the Minister’s statement that fruit is being supplied to all hostels, 1 say that the women at Gorman House arc not getting fruit. Possibly some who take their lunches to work do have fruit placed in them. I am not quite sure about that, but the fact remains that fruit is not supplied at Gorman House.
In answer to my second question, the Minister said -
That may be true. I said that apples were not procurable for less than 2d. each. When I spoke of apples, I meant good apples and I also included “ pears. We had some pears supplied to us at the Hotel Kurrajong last week. They looked exceedingly nice, but the first one I sampled was rotten inside, and I tried a second which was in the same condition. I say definitely that good apples, free from fruit fly, arc not procurable at any capital city iu Australia at less than 2d. each. When in Sydney last week, .during the visit of the American warships, I did see some apples on the barrows at less than 2d., but they could not be bought in the shops at the same price.
– They were being sold at David Jones Limited for a Id. each.
– Well, I did not see them. The Minister’s reply continued -
The Apple and Pear Board has arranged to provide fruit free of charge to the New South Wales Government for distribution to charitable institutions, hospitals, &c. Supplies of fruit to be provided under this scheme are being made available by the board according to requirements.
The answer given to my third question was -
I draw the attention of the Senate to the following report published in a Sydney newspaper recently: -
While cases of hail-marked fruit are being fed to the pigs, Sydney residents are being asked to pay as much as 2d. for an apple for which the grower receives but id.
I contend that, in view of the inf ormation I have given, I am justified in bringing this matter before the Senate.
The other matter to which I wish to refer deals with a question asked by me on the 26th March. I regret that the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce is not in the chamber at the moment, but I hope that my representations will be passed on to him. I asked the following questions: -
When I resumed my seat, the Minister interjected that he would be very surprised if my statements were correct, because he understood that there was a greater quantity of wool being scoured than ever before. However, he referred ray questions to the proper authorities, and then gave me the following answers : -
That agreement should have been reached. It seems to me that there has been an utter lack of consideration for people whose employment depends entirely upon such an arrangement. The answer to my first question continued -
By arrangement with the British Wool Control, the Central Wool Committee has to date allocated large quantities of wool for scouring and carbonizing in Australia.
That is a delightful generalization which does not mean anything. My charge is that the quantity available for scouring has been reduced’. It may be quite true that large quantities have been made available for scouring. For instance, 22,000,000lb. is a large quantity, but if the quantity for the previous year was 33,000,000 lb., it represents a substantial reduction.
The answer given to my second question was -
– Is the honorable senator suggesting that the wool should be scoured for the British Government?
– I suggest that, so far as possible, the wool should be scoured in this country so that our people can get the advantage.
– What would the honorable senator do with the wool when it was scoured?
– It has already been sold to the United Kingdom Government. The honorable senator is quite wrong, because the Minister does not take that stand at all. The answer to my second question continued -
For the season 1940-41, the quantity of greasy wool allocated ex appraisements to date is 29,716,000 lb. The annual capacity of 70,000,000 lb. would appear to include output of scoured skin wool, as most of the scourers in New South Wales are also fellmongers. Fellmongers are at present seeking more sheepskins than in normal times and, in addition, the Central Wool Committee is allocating for treatment a large number of sheepskins which have been appraised for and on behalf of the Government of the United Kingdom.
The answer to the third question was -
That, of course, is exactly what I said, and what I had authority to say. The Minister appeared doubtful at the time, and now these answers prove that my statement was correct. I take this opportunity to place before the Senate figures issued this month by the Commonwealth Statistician concerning the quantity of wool scoured in Australia -
In order to bring the figures up to date - because it is the current position of which I am complaining - I quote the following table for 1939-40 : -
It will therefore be seen that the total of 158,229,551 lb. for 1938-39 was reduced to 80,050,939 lb. in 1939-40.
We on this side of the chamber are interested in the question of employment. Here we find that 200 men have been sacked and another 200 more are to be put off. As the figures which I have quoted indicate, that is taking place, not only in New South Wales, but also in every State of the Commonwealth, because in every State there has been a serious reduction of the quantity of wool scoured. The Minister, by way of interjection, suggested that my information must be wrong, and that he believed, as I am sure he did, that the position was the reverse. To make quite sure of my grounds, I obtained these statistics, which show conclusively that I was right.
– in reply - I shall refer the matters raised by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Collings) to the Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) and obtain his replies as soon as possible.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
The following papers were pre sented : -
Audit Act - Finance - Treasurer’s Statement of Receipts and Expenditure for the year 1939-40, accompanied by the Report of the Auditor-General.
Commonwealth Bank Act - Balance-sheets of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Commonwealth Savings Bank as at 31st December, 1940, and Statement of the Liabilities and Assets of the Note Issue Department at 31st December, 1940; together with Auditor-General’s Reports thereon.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired at Cronulla, New South Wales - For Postal purposes.
Supply and Development Acts - Regulations -Statutory Rules 1941, No. 56.
Senate adjourned at 4.13 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 27 March 1941, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1941/19410327_senate_16_166/>.