19th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Gordon Brown) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.
– Last week I asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister a question regarding the despatch of Australian troops to Malaya. Since then the Resident Minister in London (Mr.. Eric J. Harrison) is reported not only to have advocated the sending of Australian troops there, but to have criticized the administration of the country in which he now . resides. In view of the exceedingly adverse effect that ‘ this ill-considered, unwise and dangerous statement hae had on India, Pakistan and Ceylon and on the democratic forces throughout East Asia, I ask the Minister if the Government will take immediate steps to prevent the irresponsible Minister to whom I have referred from making similarly provocative and dangerous statements in the future?
– I presume that the .question asked by the honorable senator is based .on a newspaper report. I have not seen the report to which he refers. I do not know whether it is correct or not, but ‘ I shall bring the question .before the Prime Minister.
– -by leave - The Federal Parliamentary Labour party declares ils opposition to the use of Australian armed forces in the present civil disturbances in Malaya. The Labour party directs public attention to the indiscreet utterances of the Australian Resident Minister in the United Kingdom (Mr. Eric J. Harrison), who is also Minister for Defence. These utterances have not been repudiated or qualified by the Australian Government and may, therefore, be assumed to express the Government’s views. The Labour party notes with concern the impertinent action of the Resident Minister in presuming to declare the willingness of New Zealanders to volunteer for the proposed force - an action obviously taken in advance of any declaration of policy by the New Zealand Government. ~
The terms of the Minister’s first statement do not establish any case for Aus-“ tralian intervention in Malaya declaring, as they did, that the rebel forces are outnumbered by at least ten to one. The statement was deplorably frivolous - with loose references to “ the British spirit of fair play being interpreted by the Malays as weakness”. This is an unwarranted imputation of opinions to the Malay people. He made irresponsible references to volunteers who would be “ actuated by. the spirit of high adventure”; to a “ frontier force free of army peace-time regulations . . . free of all peace-time restrictions “. All these expressions convey an impression of Australian irresponsibility and aggression. They suggest that Australians are contemptuous of human rights and indifferent to the safeguards of decency and fair dealing implied in any limitations to military action.
The Labour party warns the Australian’ people of the unwisdom of the proposal with which the Australian Government is toying. At this stage, when such powers as Great Britain, the United States, Holland and France are withdrawing, or have withdrawn, from Asiatic territories, or are conferring wide measures of self-government upon them, it would be dangerously foolish for Australia to assume the task of policing any Asiatic colonial possession. Australia has never been consulted on the subject of any constitutional settlement in Malaya, or any economic or social policy for that territory. The Labour party invites public attention to the Australian Government’s- lack of frankness on the whole matter. No attempt has been made to analyse the attitudes ‘of the Chinese, Indian and Malay populations in Malaya. No real information has been given on the subject of the activities of British, Gurkha or locally recruited troops. No reference has been, made by the Australian Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) . or by the Minister for Defence to the desirability of consultation with the Governments of India or Pakistan, or with any other well-disposed Asiatic government, whose views may, therefore, be presumed to be of little concern to the Australian Government.
The Labour party warns the Australian public against military action having no better basis than the loose and imprecise assertions of the Resident Minister and Minister for Defence. It states, in contradiction of the Minister, that Australian intervention in Malaya would not have the character of a trivial adventure for a force under a minimum of discipline, but would be a grave step. Emphasis on the voluntary nature of the proposed force should not be allowed to conceal the fact that the Australian Government and nation would be fully involved.
– la the Minister representing the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture aware that owing to price discrimination, the hop industry in Tasmania is threatened with extinction? Is he aware that the price fixed for Tasmanian hops of 3s. 4d. per lb. is below the cost of production? What are the reasons for the difference between 3s. 4d. paid for Tasmanian hops and 4s. Id. for Victorian hops? Is the Minister aware that last year Australia spent £800,000 in dollars to buy hops in America and that this year the same quantity will cost about £1,000,000 ? Will the Minister, in conjunction with the Tasmanian Government, set up a factfinding committee to inquire into all aspects of this industry which employs many hundreds of people, and thereby protect the interests of all concerned?
– The appointment of a special committee to go into costs of production is now under active consideration. As the matter raised by the honorable senator is handled by my colleague, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture. I ask the honorable senator to put the question on the noticepaper when I shall be pleased to get an answer for him.
– Is the Minister representing the Prime Minister aware that Sports Goods Federation of New South Wales, Beauty Aids Proprietary Limited, Nyal Company, and Frederick
Stearns and Company (Division of Sterling Drug Incorporated) have refused to supply goods to the cooperative societies of Australia ? As this monopolist action is contrary to section 92 of the Constitution will the Government take action against these companies for restraint of trade?
– I was not aware of the circumstances referred to in the honorable senator’s question. It is not customary for the Government to prosecute in cases such as that, except on a formal complaint. I assure the honorable senator that, if the people who have been offended by the alleged conduct make a formal complaint, the matter will receive the serious attention of the Attorney-General.
– In view of the wide-spread disappointment of the people of Australia at the failure of the Government to make available to the community the benefits of a national health scheme, will the Minister representing the Prime Minister give an assurance that this much-needed reform will be introduced at an early date? If not, how can the Minister justify taxing the people for a service that is being denied to them?
– If the honorable senator would confer with Senator McKenna, he would be informed of many of the difficulties that face those who are anxious to implement a national health scheme. However, I assure the honorable senator that the Government’s health scheme is receiving close and earnest consideration, and I trust, will be in satisfactory operation before very long.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Health say whether, as reported in the press, his colleague is to confer to-day in Melbourne with representatives of the British Medical Association? Will the British Medical Association, which has expressed its antagonism to the national health scheme propounded by the present Minister for Health, ask the Government to abandon that scheme on the ground that it is now prepared to accept the scheme that was produced by the previous Government?
– I have read press reports regarding a meeting that the Minister for Health has arranged with representatives of the British Medical Association in Melbourne. I cannot say whether the national health scheme prepared by the Chifley Government will be discussed at the meeting.
– As more than four months have elapsed since the Government was elected to office and, during that time, there has been a continuation of the prices spiral which has made such necessaries of life as meat and eggs virtually luxuries for aged and invalid pensioners, will the Minister for Social Services inform me whether there is any likelihood of an early increase of the pension payable to the aged and infirm people from the present rate of £2 5s. a week, to at least £3 5s. a week, to offset the increased cost of living?
– It is true that the Government has been in office for a little more than four months, but I remind the honorable senator that the previous administration had not thought it necessary to increase pension rates during the two concluding years of its term of office. Therefore, it ill-becomes the Opposition to accuse the Government of tardiness in this matter. A review of pensions is at present being made but, as I have said before in reply to questions, I am not prepared to forceast the result of that review, other than to say that I shall deal with the whole matter speedily.
– Will the Minister for the Interior request his colleague the Minister for Works and Housing, whose department is erecting government residences in Canberra, to consider eliminating laundries from houses built by it, and substituting in their place modern washing machines? I point out that because of the scarcity of labour and materials the erection of a laundry costs approximately £200, whereas washing machines could be installed on back verandahs for much less than that sum.
– I shall bring thematter to the notice of the Minister for the Interior and obtain a reply as soon as possible.
– In view of the difficulties encountered by flour-millers in Western Australia in the export of flour, 1 ask the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport whether he has discussed thosedifficulties with his colleague, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and also with the Premier of Western Australia, Mr. McLarty, when he recently visited that State?
– The Premier of Western Australia and the Minister of that State who is directly concerned in this matter drew my attention to the difficulty that is being experienced by flourmillers. I have also discussed the matter with my colleague, the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture, and both the Minister and his department are seriously concerned about the competition that we are experiencing from other countries. However, I can assure the honorable senator that they are doing everything possible to overcome the difficulty.
– On the 29th March, Senator Mattner addressed the following question to me without notice : -
In view of the shortage of automatic telephone exchanges in the country, -will the Minister representing the Postmaster-General ensure that the materials that are so urgently needed for these installations shall not be jeopardized by any hurried attempts to instal television equipment?
I have now been informed by the Postmaster-General, that the position is that large quantities of automatic telephone exchange equipment, including 650 rural automatic exchanges, have been ordered from manufacturers in Australia and the United Kingdom, and deliveries are now being made at steadily increasing rates. The installation of this apparatus is proceeding with the utmost speed and the programme of new automatic exchanges will not be affected detrimentally by any action which may be taken in connexion with the introduction of television into Australia.
– Has the attention of the Minister for Trade and Customs been drawn to a report that appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser of the 15th April to the effect that practically all subsidized wool has been used up and that the public are now feeling the full blast of the price of goods manufactured from unsubsidized wool? Because of the big increase of the cost of wool during the last twelve months woollen goods have increased in price very sharply. For example, the price of English blankets has increased from £4 4s. to £96s. a pair. Will the Government consider re-introducing the subsidy on wool so as to keep woollen goods within the purchasing power of the public?
– My attention had not previously been directed to the report in the Adelaide Advertiser referred to by the honorable senator. I am not able to answer his question forthwith, but if he will place it on the notice-paper I shall obtain an answer for him.
– Will the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport say whether, having regard to the fact that many States are now suffering from a shortage of coal, the Joint Coal Board is prepared to purchase surplus coal that may be available in Queensland and Western Australia ?
– I am sure that all honorable senators are aware of the present serious shortage of coal in Australia, as a result of which steel mills are unable to work at full capacity. The Australian Government is giving every consideration to those States, particularly South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland, that are increasing their production of coal. If coal produced in those States is available for export to other States, provided its quality and price is satisfactory, every effort willbe made to purchase it in preference to coal produced overseas.
– In view of the fact that the majority of aircraft now being used in Australia for civil aviation purposes will become obsolete within the next two years, will the Minister representing the Minister for Air inform the Senate of the action that the Government is taking to ensure the replacement of aircraft that will be withdrawn from service in 1952?
– I cannot give offhand the information for which the honorable senator has asked. The Minister for Air, who has a wide practical experience of civil aviation, is aware that obsolete aircraft must be replaced, and everything possible is being done to ensure that as machines become obsolete they will be replaced by modern machines.
– In view of the fact that many ships are now held up at Fremantle awaiting berths, I ask the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport to state what steps are being taken to improve unloading facilities at that port? Does the Government intend to improve the out-ports of Western Australia so that, to prevent congestion and delay, ships can be diverted from a congested port to one that has berths available?
– I have already advised the Minister of Transport in the Western Australian Government that the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool is prepared to lend to Western Australia mechanical equipment that is in short supply there. The question of what can be done to assist to improve port facilities in Western Australia and to secure the rapid handling of cargoes there is under consideration by my department and the Australian Shipping Board. I hope to be able to advise the Western Australian Government shortly of the action that is contemplated.
– Before Easter I asked the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport a question relating to the port of Busselton. The Minister stated that he intended to visit Western Australia and that when he did so he would consider the position that exists at Busselton. At certain periods of the year River class vessels cannot enter the port. I know that the Minister had only limited time in Western Australia. However, Ishould be glad if he would inform me whether he intends to improve the shipping facilities at Busselton, thus relieving the congestion at Fremantle?
– Although it was impossible for me to visit all of the important ports in Western Australia, a survey of all ports in that State that could be used is being carried out. The honorable senator will be pleased to learn that the Commonwealth agreed to withdraw one of the Commonwealth ships from Darwin recently to give priority to Western Australia. During the survey now being conducted consideration will be given to the influence of tides in the various Western Australian ports.
– A statement recently appeared in the Albury Border Mail to the effect that the Commonwealth had set aside £1,209 for babies’ layettes. Will the Minister for Trade and Customs inform the Senate whether the report was correct? If so, for whom are the layettes intended ?
– I am not aware for whom the layettes are intended. However, if the honorable senator is interested, and applies for one, I shall see that his application receives fair consideration.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Treasurer by reminding him that some time ago I brought to the notice of the Senate the fact that ex-Commonwealth employees who had been re-employed during the war period suffered reductions of superannuation payments because of such re-employment. I understand that the Government intended to appoint a committee to investigate the claims of those officers and furnish a report about the amounts deducted. Will the Minister inform me whether the committee has yet been appointed? If so, what progress has been made in the matter of finalizing claims ?
– I shall cause inquiries to be made and will furnish the honorable senator with a reply as soon as possible. I should be pleased if he would place the question on the noticepaper to ensure that the matter will not be overlooked.
– Can the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport say whether the Government intends to allow the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool to be used in competition with private enterprise? If not, will the pool vacate the field when private enterprise is able to supply equipment ?
– I am pleased to be able to report that, all over Australia, harbour boards and authorities responsible for stevedoring are obtaining mechanical equipment on hire from the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool. If that is in competition with private enterprise, it is all to the good. According to reports that I have received, mechanical equipment is still very scarce, and while that situation obtains the Government does not intend to alter the present arrangement.
– Will the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport inform the Senate whether it is a fact that, prior to the present Government assuming office, unloading equipment was provided at Fremantle by the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool?
– I found no evidence of that while I wa3 in Fremantle. If the equipment that I saw at that port had been supplied by the Commonwealth Handling Equipment Pool, all I can say is that it was of very poor quality.
– Quite a number of ex-servicemen who took part in Anzac Day parades yesterday were unable to wear the medals and campaign stars to which they were entitled because the decorations had not been received from the Defence Department. Will the Minister representing the Minister for Defence arrange for the issue of the decorations to be expedited? Will he also ask the Minister for Defence to consider granting the 1939-45 Star to those members of the ground staff of the Royal Australian Air Force who were engaged in servicing aircraft used in England by Australian squadrons during the last war?
– I undertake to place before the Minister for Defence the points raised by the honorable senator, and shall endeavour to let him have a reply as soon as possible.
– On the 15th March, Senator Nash asked questions concerning the number of road accidents involving motor cycles. The Government is fully aware of the high incidence of death and injury on our roads due to accidents in which not only motor cyclists, but also all other types of road users are involved. Accordingly, as I previously intimated, the Government set up in 1947 the Australian Road Safety Council, which consists of six representatives from each State, six representatives from Commonwealth organizations and officers of the Department of Fuel, Shipping and Transport. A grant of £100,000 is made annually to the council. The number of persons killed and injured has remained at approximately the pre-war figures, notwithstanding that there has been a substantial increase in the number of motor vehicle registrations, in motor vehicle mileage and in population. The Australian Uniform Road Traffic Code Committee, which is representative of the Commonwealth, the States and nongovernmental Commonwealth organizations associated with road transport, has been set up by the Australian Transport Advisory Council to consider and recommend uniform national road traffic laws for the Commonwealth. Considerable preliminary research work has been undertaken on behalf of the committee, and it is hoped to convene a meeting of that body at an early date.
– On the 23rd March, Senator Sheehan asked a question concerning the intention of the Government to make hearing aids available to school children requiring them, and the method of distribution. I have now been informed by the Minister for Health that hearing aids will be issued by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories to school children selected by the State education authorities after a survey of needs. The aids will be assembled by the Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories, and will be made available free of cost, remaining the property of the Commonwealth.
asked the Minister for Fuel, Shipping and Transport, upon notice -
What quantity of sterling petrol has arrived in Australia, or has been arranged to arrive in Australia, excluding 9,000,000 gallons for which licence was provided by the Labour Government?
– The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
It is not practicable to subdivide imports into dollar and sterling cargoes for the following reasons. Practically all remittances in payment for petrol and for petroleum products imported into Australia are, in the first instance, made in sterling to the London accounts of oil companies into which are also paid amounts in respect of imports into other sterling area countries. As and when necessary, provision of dollars against the balances standing to the credit of these aggregate accounts is approved by the United Kingdom Exchange Control. The country of origin of shipments of petroleum products imported into Australia does not necessarily indicate the currency in which payment for the cargo will ultimately be made.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
Have any steps been taken by the Government to set up a comparable organization to the British Civil Defence College to train key personnel for civil defence purposes!
– The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answer : -
No organization for the training of any personnel for civil defence purposes has yet been set up in Australia.
The Assistant Director of Civil Defence (Brigadier A. W. Wardell, M.C.) is at present in England studying all aspects of civil defence. He will pay particular attention to the system of training adopted in Great Britain and will attend a full course at the Civil Defence Staff College. He will also visit civil defence training schools in that country.
On his return to Australia in July next the question of training will be considered by the Commonwealth Civil Defence Committee and recommendations made to the Government.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
-The answers to the honorable senator’s questions are as follows : -
However, I am able to state that the refined sugar supply position in South Australia has improved over recent months and the grocery trade is now being supplied with 100 per cent, of the quotas which were established in the trade when the Commonwealth relinquished sugar rationing.
The Glanville refinery is working but its output is reduced below normal by not having available sufficient Newcastle coal for its needs.
Any excess supplies of refined sugar accumulated at the Brisbane refinery are distributed to those States whose requirements are the most urgent.
Arrangements have been made to ship 750 tons of refined sugar from Brisbane to South Australia.
About 500 tons of this quantity will leave Brisbane within the next few days and the ba lance shortly afterwards.
asked the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
In view of the following conflicting reports concerning the lifting of tea and butter rationing, viz.: - (a) by the Leader of the Liberal party in Tasmania (Mr. Townley), who is reported as saying that butter rationing will cease on a certain date in May; and (b) by the Prime Minister who is reported as having denied, at a press conference in Sydney on the 17th April that any early action in regard to the lifting of tea and butter rationing had been decided upon, will the Minister make a statement to the Senate on the matter?
-The answer to the honorable senator’s question is as follows : -
The lifting of tea and butter rationing involves Government policy and a statement will be made at the appropriate time.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs, upon notice -
– The Minister for External Affairs has supplied the following information : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for “Works and Housing, upon notice -
– The Minister for Works and Housing has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Works and Housing, upon notice -
– The Minister for Works and Housing has supplied the following answers: -
It is hoped that offers acceptable to the Government will be finalized this month.
The commission now operating overseas is covering a much wider field than the primary objective of the Commonwealth to import 1,000 prefabricated houses. The commission is exploring the capacity of overseas sources of supply to meet total Australian requirements for prefabricated structures, of which State and Commonwealth contracts now being negotiated may be considered as “pilot” contracts.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answers: -
Western Australian Government and the previous Commonwealth Government, provided for a rural and town water supply to approximately 4,000,000 acres in the dry north-eastern corner of the original area, and for a town water supply to the great southern towns between Brookton and Katanning.
asked the Minister representing the Postmaster-General,. upon notice -
– The PostmasterGeneral has supplied the following information : -
Following on the decision of the Government to place the short-wave broadcasting operations under the control of the PostmasterGeneral and to restrict certain transmissions to overseas countries, discussions are now proceeding regarding the extent to which the transmission from Radio Australia should be re-arranged and the short-wave services integrated with transmission for reception in isolated areas in Australia and the territories. It is not expected, however, that any changes made will affect the high frequency channels registered for use by Australia. When definite proposals have been formulated a statement will be issued in connexion with the matter.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
What progress has been made by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization with a view to the eradication of the cabbage moth pest?
– The Minister for National Development has supplied the following answer : -
It is assumed that the question refers to caterpillars attacking cabbages, which comprise two species, the cabbage moth, and the cabbage white butterfly. A five-year programme of experiments on the control of these pests has been completed, and the findings summarized in a paper published in the Journal of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Vol. 21, No. 3, August, 1948. The results of this work indicated that economic control of the caterpillars can be readily secured by the application of DDT sprays or dusts. The replacement of lead arsenate sprays by this insecticide has brought about more effective control and greatly reduced the hazards to human health involved in the production of cabbages free of insect damage. Research is also in progress on the control of the cabbage caterpillars by the introduction of parasites. Two species of wasp parasites of cabbage moth caterpillars have been introduced from overseas, bred under quarantine conditions, and then liberated in all States. Recoveries have been made in widely-separated localities, and it is certain that the species are securely established. Three species of wasp parasites” attacking the immature stages of the cabbage white butterfly have also been introduced and established over a wide area of Australia. Studies of the effect of these parasites on the population of the pests are still in progress,but there is reason to believe that their introduction will eventually result in a material reduction in the damage caused by the cabbage caterpillars. It has never been possible in any country to eradicate a pest completely once it has become firmly established and widely distributed. The cabbage pests are no exception to this rule, and the most that can be expected is the reduction of their numbers to a level at which losses are negligible. Effective means of achieving this object have already been made available, and there is reason to expect that further research by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization will cheapen and simplify the control measures.
In committee: Consideration resumed from the 20th April (vide page 1680).
Clause 1 agreed to.
Clause 2 (Commencement).
– The clause reads -
This Act shall come into operation on the nineteenth day of June, One thousand nine hundred and fifty.
I recognize that the payment of child endowment on a new basis will involve administrative difficulties. I know enough about the matter to realize that very often months must elapse before the necessary orders and instructions can be prepared, printed and circulated. In those circumstances, the proposed date for the commencement of this scheme does not surprise me. I point out to the Minister, however, that on the 19th June this Government will have been in office for six months, that the undertaking relating to the endowment of the first child in every family was included in the pre-election promises that were made on behalf of the present Government parties, and that the persons who supported those parties for that reason naturally expected that, if they were returned, the endowment would be paid at the earliest date practicable. Administrative difficulties may have caused a deferment of the first payment, but has the Government considered making the payment retrospective to, say, the 1st of January? I do not propose to move an amendment relating to this matter, but my colleagues and I desire to know what was in the mind of the Government when it decided that the payments should not commence until six months after it had taken office.
The second question that I direct to the Minister is whether the fact that this legislation is to come into operation on the 19th June means that the entitlement of various persons to endowment for their first children will commence from that date and that no payments will be made under this measure until a period of four weeks from then has elapsed? If that be so, no part of the National Welfare Fund will be used for the purpose of paying child endowment to the first child of a family during this financial year. I leave the matter at this stage with those comments.
– Senator McKenna has admitted that the administrative task of implementing this measure is not a small one. It can fairly be said that it is administratively impracticable to operate this scheme from a date earlier than the 19th June. Apart from that, I do not think it is fair to suggest that a government that was elected on the 10th December of last year will have done other than a very effective job if it puts this scheme into operation within six months of its appointment. The 19th June is the commencing date. The endowment will become payable from the beginning of the next child endowment period after that date, that is, the 20th June, and the first payments will be made four weeks subsequent to that date, that is, on the 18th July. My comment in regard to that matter is the same as my comment upon the other point raised by the honorable senator. Having regard to all the circumstances, the Government is acting efficiently and promptly in implementing its policy.
– I appreciate the answers that have been made by the Minister, but I maintain that there is no administrative difficulty in the way of making the payments retrospective. I have already made the point that under the Government’s proposals the National Welfare Fund will escape all charge in respect of the payment of endowment to the first child during this financial year. I have conceded that it may well take until the 19th June to get the administrative machine ready, but I am not prepared to concede that, once that machinery is ready, there will be any administrative difficulty to prevent the payment from being made retrospective to the 1st January. In one payment made on the 18th July, the beneficiaries could receive the full benefit of the undertaking that was given during the election campaign by the present Government parties. I invite the Minister to say why the Government is not prepared to make the necessary money available to implement its pledge as from the beginning of the year.
– It is extraordinary that, although honorable senators opposite were not prepared to introduce a scheme such as this when the Labour party was in power, they are apparently now so wildly enthusiastic about it that they desire its operation to be made retrospective. If members of the Labour party are so enthusiastically in favour of endowing the first child, they could have done so long ago. When the present Government parties went to the people they specified no date upon which this scheme would come into operation. I bow to the experience of Senator McKenna in these matters, but I am not prepared to say offhand that in the implementation of legislation affecting over 1,000,000 families there would not be administrative difficulties experienced in making the legislation retrospective. I should not like to be taken as having agreed lightheartedly to a suggestion that that could he done merely by the stroke of a pen. The Government is not prepared to make the payments retrospective. It believes that it is acting fairly and quickly by making the scheme operate from the date proposed.
– The answer that has been given by the Minister is not convincing. I gather from_his remarks that his attitude is that the beneficiaries should consider themselves to be extremely lucky because the Government will begin to operate this scheme on the 19th June. That attitude is not the one that the Australian people expected. The people were promised by the present Government parties that, if they returned them to power, this scheme would be implemented. The inference from what was said was that the scheme would be put into operation almost immediately. I know that thousands of people who own motor cars believed that the present Government parties would, if they were re-elected, abolish petrol rationing before last Christmas, but they had to wait until after Christmas. The Government was so emphatic in its declarations about child endowment that many people considered that payments under this measure would be retrospective to the 1st January.
– That could have been so but for the delaying tactics of the Opposition.
– If the Government were to accept the proposals of the Opposition the passage of the bill would not be delayed further. The Government would experience no difficulty in financing the present proposal. There would have been some substance in the Minister’s contention if it were necessary for the Parliament to pass an appropriation bill in order to finance the measure. However, due to the magnificent work of the previous Labour Government, there is now a credit of about £120,000,000 in the National Welfare Fund. Therefore there is no reason why the Government should not make payments under this measure retrospective to the 1st January. From the Minister’s remarks the people of this country could be excused for thinking that the Government is not, in fact, desirous of doing the best possible for the people of this country. The Opposition has been chided because it did not introduce a measure such as the one before the committee during the eight years that it formed the Government of this country. It has already been pointed out, however, that the previous Government considered that the introduction of legislation of this kind should be delayed until the basic wage application now before the court had been decided. The present Government has anticipated what the attitude of the court will be in this matter. To make the extension of child endowment worth while to the people payments should be retrospective to the 1st January. If it wishes to do the right thing, the Government will adopt Senator McKenna’s proposal.
Senator COOKE (Western Australia) 1 4.14]. - During the regime of the Labour Administration, whenever the Government introduced social services legislation and circumstances indicated it to be just and proper payments were made retrospectively. This Government has avoided its responsibility by neglecting to include in the bill the date from which the proposed endowment will be paid. The Opposition agrees with the Government’s contention that the economic relief of families is an urgent matter. However, if the Government is unwilling to accept the proposal of the Opposition that payments should be made retrospectively, the Minister should at least make it clear whether the payment on the 19th June will be in respect of the period - whether a week, or a month - beginning on that date, or in respect of the immediately preceding period.
– I am quite sure that many thousands of people in Australia will be bitterly disappointed that they have been “ done out of “ £6 10s. In view of the fact that there is a credit of about £120,000,000 in the National Welfare Fund the Government has adopted a. very poor attitude in this matter by deciding to withhold the payment until the 19th June. In view of the statements that have been made by honorable senators opposite that the Government has the welfare of the mothers and children of this country at heart, payments should be made retrospectively from the 1st January.
– The interjection of the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) while Senator Sheehan was addressing the committee contained the implication that the Opposition was delaying the passage of this measure.
– If that is not so, honorable senators opposite are making a good imitation of an effort to delay th? passage of the measure.
– I remind the Minister that several honorable senators on this side of the chamber have not spoken on the bill. Every Government senator, however, has supported it.
– That is news to us.
– I repeat, that whilst every honorable senator on the Government side of the chamber has spoken in support of this measure, quite a number of the Opposition have not entered into the debate. I point out that if Senator McKenna’s suggestion were adopted it would not be the first time that a government had made social services payments retrospectively. When I was a Minister in a previous Government payments of social services were made retrospectively, not because of delay in the passage of legislation, but owing to administrative difficulties. There is nothing wrong with Senator McKenna’s suggestion. It would be quite competent for the Government to apply this measure retrospectively. I agree with Senator Murray’s contention that many people who have contributed to the National Welfare Fund are not obtaining the relief from that fund to which they are entitled. I refer to the health services that the Government promised to provide within three months of its return to office. I agree with Senator McKenna that the people who will be entitled to benefits under this measure should not be defrauded. The payments should be made retrospectively from the 1st January.
– I have been provoked to rise because of the extravagant humbug that has just been spoken by Senator Fraser, who has suggested that, if payments are not mad9 retrospectively from the 1st January many people in this country will be defrauded. Senator McKenna chose to place a certain interpretation on the policy of the Liberal party in connexion with this matter. Without citing any portion of the policy speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) the honorable senator has implied that the people were promised that payments under this measure would commence as from the 1st January. That contention is entirely without support. Senator Murray made the ill-informed statement that it would be only following precedent to make the payment of child endowment retrospective. Senator McKenna knows that is contrary to fact. I go so far as to say that to make such payments retrospective would be to create a most ill-advised precedent. Therefore, the suggestion of honorable senators opposite cannot be entertained if only for the reason that the Treasury should adhere to sound financial practice. There was nothing in the policy of the Liberal party, as announced before the general election, that could lead any reasonable person to expect that payments would commence before the authorizing legislation had been passed by the Parliament. Honorable senators opposite, who are now so eagerly offering their strange support of this measure, never once during the election campaign said anything that would lead the people to believe that, if the Labour Government were returned to power, Id. endowment would be paid for the first child. They know well that, when they were faced with the possibility of being in charge of the Treasury, they never intended to provide even a 3d. piece for endowment of the first child. Now, the Government is honouring in a straightforward way the promise made by the then Leader of the Opposition before the election. A date for the first payment has been selected sufficiently in advance, but no more than sufficiently in advance, to enable the Treasury to prepare the necessary administrative machinery. There is no ground for the complaint of honorable senators opposite that the Government is repudiating its promise to the people. Senator Fraser has no right to be resentful over what he is pleased to consider the protracted con- sideration of this bill. If the Opposition had permitted, the bill could have passed through the Senate in a much shorter time, allowing for all reasonable discussion.
– Senator Wright suggested that the discussion of this bill has been unduly protracted. I remind him that every honorable senator in this chamber has the right to express his mind on every matter that comes up for consideration. In addition, the Standing Orders specify the time which each honorable senator may take for his speech. However, some honorable senators who criticize the speeches of others, rarely have anything to say themselves about matters that come before the Senate. In my opinion, the proposal that endowment for the first child should commence on the 1st January last is a reasonable one. We know that, during the election campaign, the leaders of the then Opposition parties promised to endow the first child if they were returned to power. Well, they have been returned, and a considerable time has elapsed since the promise was made. I do not agree that it was impossible to bring this legislation” in earlier. The Parliament was called together on the 22nd February of this year, but it could have been called together early in January. There is certainly no reason why the Parliament could not have met a month earlier than it did. Senator Wright said that the Labour party did not promise to endow the first child, and had not been prepared to provide a 3d. piece for that purpose. We agree. We never promised that we would endow the first child, and the reason has been made plain during this debate. There is a danger that if the first child is endowed, that fact will be taken into consideration when the basic wage is being determined. That is a possibility which we cannot afford to ignore.
– On a point of order, I ask whether the remarks of the honorable senator are pertinent to the clause under discussion?
– The honorable senator may not make a second-reading speech at this stage, but must confine his remarks to the clause under consideration.
– Senator Wright said that the Labour party had not promised to endow the first child, and I was commenting on his statement. I think that I am entitled to do so, but if you, Mr. Chairman, say that I am out of order I accept your decision. The bill provides that endowment for the first child shall commence on the 19th June next, but no difficulty would arise if payment commenced on the 1st January, because there is already in the National Welfare Fund an amount of £120,000,000. We freely admit that members of the Government, when in opposition, did not say when payments would commence, but I am convinced that the people of Australia expected that they would commence as soon as possible. I suggest that in determining the 19th June as the relevant date in this measure, the Government has placed the commencement of endowment of the first child much later than it need have done. It could have called the Senate together much earlier or have taken other action. In view of these circumstances, I believe that the proposal of Senator McKenna is a worthy one and merits the most careful consideration by the Government.
– I wish to put the view of the Opposition back into perspective. The Opposition is not moving an amendment of the bill to alter the date of operation of endowment for the first child. I put two questions to the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner). I asked if the Government had considered making this payment retrospective to the 1st January and, if so, why the Government had decided against such a course. The Minister has not said that there is not sufficient money or that administrative difficulties are formidable and cannot be overcome. The only answer I have had is simply that the Government will not agree. The Minister gave that reply with a smile. It may well be that the Government is not prepared to make the payment retrospective but I put it to the Minister that it will be very poor satisfaction to the mothers of Australia, who voted for the Liberal and Country parties in the belief that they would get endowment for the first child, to know that they will have to wait from the 10th December, 1949, to the 18th July, 1950, simply because the Government does not want to make the payment. What good reason is there for the Government to give to the mothers of Australia who voted for it? If the Minister were to say that there are financial difficulties, the Opposition could canvass that position with him. If he were to say that administrative difficulties are insurmountable honorable senators on this side of the chamber could form an opinion, but to date the answer of the Minister to the Opposition and to the mothers of Australia is simply that the Government has decided not to make the payments retrospective. That is a very clear statement of the Government’s position but it is a very poor and unsatisfying answer to the mothers of Australia.
– If this matter were not so serious, it would be amusing to see the exception taken by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) and the Government Whip (Senator Wright) to the statements of honorable senators on this side of the chamber regarding the legislation that is before the committee. The AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) has said that this payment would have been granted much sooner had the Opposition not opposed it. I remind the AttorneyGeneral that when the bill was brought before the chamber, the date of the first payment “was given as the 19th June. It was not altered and the Opposition has not delayed the measure in any way. All that honorable senators on this side of the Senate have tried to do is to obtain some compensation for mothers for the rise in prices. Even if the Government did not intend to make the payment retrospective, it might have given the suggestion consideration. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber have shown that finance could not be the difficulty because this Government has been left an overflowing treasury. The Opposition contends that if there is no other obstacle, the Government might reconsider the matter irrespective of whether it was in the minds of members of the Government or of the present Prime
Minister (Mr. Menzies) when he made his policy speech. Regarding Senator Wright’s comment on Senator Fraser’s charge that this is a fraud, I remind the chamber ‘that that is what has taken the time of the committee. The Opposition has tried to prove to the people of Australia and to honorable senators opposite, who do not understand industry except its profit making aspect, that this is a fraud. Although honorable senators on the Government side might consider that the Opposition has wasted time, honorable senators on the Labour benches will be able to refer proudly to the records of Hansard when the people of Australia awaken to the fraud that has been imposed upon them.
– I thought the honorable senator supported the measure?
– The AttorneyGeneral interjects. I say frankly that I am prepared to support anything that he is prepared to give to the people but I will not fool the people by giving them three pence or a shilling with one hand when I have the other hand in another pocket taking out 5s. or 6s. That is the point that the Opposition has made. I remind Senator Wright and the Attorney-General that honorable senators who support the Labour party were sent to this chamber by the people, as were all honorable senators. If honorable senators on this side of the chamber take part in a debate, the points that they make are in the best interests of all the Australian people. Because of the rise in prices since December and the extra cost that is imposed on the mothers, I hope that this retrospective payment will be considered by the Government even if it was not in the mind of the Minister or of the present Prime Minister when the legislation was first considered. The worthy mothers of the Commonwealth would thus be granted some little financial assistance to meet the extra costs resulting from the rise in prices.
– I doubt if the Government is really sincere on the matter before the chamber. If it were, there would not have been any necessity for Senator Wright to speak. Honorable senators on the Opposition side would like to make a number of points clear to Senator Wright and other supporters of the Government. It is presumptuous for him to indicate that honorable senators on this side should keep quiet. Having discovered a flaw in the bill, or an omission, surely it is their prerogative to point the weaknesses out in the hope that the Government will take appropriate action. I am quite sure that the tens of thousands of mothers who are interested in this matter would be only too pleased to get the £6 10s. which they will not receive under the bill as drafted. .Senator Wright must be very naive if he believes that no reasonable person would accept or ask for £6 10s. if he could get it. That is testing human nature too far. I have always acted on the assumption that I should ask for whatever I am entitled to receive. On behalf of tens of thousands of mothers and families, honorable senators on this side of the chamber ask if the Government will take into consideration the reasonable request that has been made by the Opposition and make this payment retrospective.
.- The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) in the early committee stages of this bill, is missing a golden opportunity to practice what he and his colleagues have preached. They have asked the Labour Opposition to give them all the consideration and assistance possible. On this occasion the Opposition is offering the Minister assistance. It is not only the right of the Opposition but also its responsibility to improve a bill wherever it possibly can. Honorable senators on this side believe that at the poll on the 10th December the people gave the present Government a mandate to govern. Undeniably the Government was given a mandate to endow the first child.
– Five shillings a week endowment for the first child.
– I thank the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) for his assistance. When the matter came before the Senate, honorable senators of the Opposition believed that it was their duty and responsibility to try to keep the Government as close as possible to the promise made to the people of Australia. That promise was interpreted by the people to mean that the Government would introduce endowment of the first child at the earliest opportunity. If the Minister in charge of the bill would ask the Government to do that instead of hiding behind that beaming smile of his, he would be practising the co-operation with the Opposition that he has sought. He would be listening to something which is, after all, very reasonable and would benefit the people. Honorable senators have strayed a long way from the point raised by Senator McKenna when he asked for the endowment of the first child to be made retrospective. Whether honorable senators on this side of the chamber choose to speak and use their privileges has nothing to do with the clause under consideration. At all times I reserve my right to speak as long as I am entitled to speak and I did not speak on the second reading of this bill. I appeal to the Minister for Social Services at this late stage to say that he will at least give consideration to the matter which has been put forward by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the chamber in a most earnest manner.
– of the Opposition is most amusing. Unfortunately in defeat it appears to have lost its sense of humour. Senator Hendrickson suggested that this measure was a fraud. Nobody except Senator Hendrickson takes Senator Hendrickson seriously, but much as I like honorable senators on the Opposition side, if I were asked to defend them against a charge of utter humbug and hypocrisy I could have only one defence. That would be the defence of complete irresponsibility. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot be sincere and still be sensible in regard to the proposition that they are putting before the chamber now. Senator McKenna in the course of his secondreading speech said -
I have presented a case to the Senate out of the mouths of the Arbitration Court judges themselves.
The Opposition is asking why endowment of the first child is not being made retrospective. Senator McKenna said he was presenting a case out of the mouths of the Arbitration Court judges themselves. Precisely the same circumstances existed long before the Labour Government went out of office. I should like Senator McKenna to tell the chamber - and I am sure the people of Australia would like to know if the Opposition is sincere in this suggestion - the reason why the Labour Government did not bring the measure in when it was in power.
– We have told the Minister why.
– But no reason has been given. I submit that the Opposition has either completely lost its sense of reason and responsibility or has seriously underestimated the common sense of the people. It is attempting to pull wool over the eyes of the electors.
– It is unfortunate when members of the Government, and particularly responsible members, have to descend to abuse of the Opposition to make a point in the course of a debate. The chamber is dealing with a matter which is important to a great many Australian mothers. About 2,100,000 children in 1,000,000 homes are concerned in this measure. Whatever the Minister may say the fact remains that the mothers have been obliged to contribute more than they should have had to pay to the maintenance of their children from the 1st January this year. Australian mothers, who have to carry on their households in this time of rising prices, will derive little consolation from the statement by the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that the question of putting more value into the £1 is one for the people themselves and not for the Government. That abdication of responsibility by a government which made so many promises to the electors, is a matter of grave concern to parents who are faced with the obligation to maintain their children adequately. The amount proffered by the Government is not large but, as one honorable senator has pointed out, if the payment were made retrospective, a lump sum of approximately £6 10s. would be owing, to each family. If the rate were 10s. a week instead of 5s. a week, the lump sum would be £13. From the viewpoint of the people of Australia, particularly the mothers, it is not sufficient for the Government to say, “ We did promise to endow the first child of each family, but we did not specify a date for the commencement of the payment, and we are going to please ourselves about that”. If the Minister were to tell us that sufficient money was not available to make the payment retrospective, we would examine that matter. If he were to say that the administrative difficulties involved were so great that an earlier payment was not possible, we would examine the merits of that argument; but, in his only contribution to the debate on this clause, he only smiled blandly and said that the Government was not prepared to make the payment retrospective. That is no answer to the mothers who are charged with the responsibility of maintaining their children, week after week, over the interim period of six months. I do not concede for one moment that adequate funds are not available to make the payment retrospective. With a full sense of responsibility, on behalf of the Opposition, I ask the Minister to state the reasons for his refusal to make the payment retrospective. We want a clear statement on that point. It is not sufficient for him to say baldly, “ We have decided not to do it”. He must have a reason for his refusal, apart from the arbitrary statement that the Government, having fixed the 19th June as the date of the commencement of this legislation, proposes to stick to that date, regardless of the fact that the people whom this legislation is designed to benefit will then have been waiting for six or seven months. They will want a better reason for the delay than that given by the Minister to-day.
S»nator SPOONER (New South Wales - Minister for Social Services) [4.48]. - I think I can be pardoned for smiling when the Opposition’s proposal to make the child endowment payment retrospective was first submitted to the Senate because, during the election campaign, the Labour party opposed the Government’s proposal to extend child endowment to the first child of each family. If my memory serves me correctly, in the opening stages of the long debate on this measure, Senator McKenna raised some doubt about whether the Government had a mandate from the people for the proposal contained in this bill.
– I rise to order. Is the Minister for Social Services in order in re-hashing what happened during the election campaign?
– The Minister is not in order in referring to anything that took place during the second-reading debate.
– Senator McKenna claimed that I had not given reasons for the Government’s refusal to accept the extraordinary proposal, made at this late stage, to make the child endowment payment provided for in this measure retrospective. In reply to the honorable senator’s query as to whether the Opposition’s proposal was given consideration, I say quite frankly that it was not given consideration. When I received the portfolio of Social Services my first concern was how soon I could bring this scheme into operation. I spent many hours with departmental officers, examining what had to be done and we came to the conclusion that the earliest date upon which this legislation could become operative was the 19 th June. That is still the position. I am not prepared to agree to a retrospective payment. No case has been made out for such a payment. The Government parties promised to introduce this legislation, and they have done so at the earliest practicable date. Despite statements to the contrary, there is no foundation for the claim that social services benefits have been made retrospective in the past. Child endowment has never operated retrospectively. I am informed that the only occasion on which a social service payment has been made retrospective was when pension increases were ante-dated three months several years ago. In providing for the payment of child endowment under this legislation from the 19th June, the Government is fulfilling to the hilt a promise on which it was elected. It is doing the job that it 9aid it would do. efficiently, promptly, and to the great satisfaction of Australian mothers.
– It is rather surprising that while, tile Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) is adopting the role - of Shylock his colleague, Senator Wright, has said that Labour would not have endowed the first child of each family at all. It is ridiculous for honorable senators opposite to argue that because the Labour party did not promise at the last election to endow the first child of’ each family it is being inconsistent now. Labour has never made social services the subject of election promises. For instance, the increased child endowment payments granted under Labour’s administration were not made as the result of election promises. We did not promise the increase of the invalid and age pensions which as has been pointed out, was made retrospective. The issue now under consideration is not a party quarrel. In this chamber, all parties are agreed that the first child of each family should be endowed. They are agreed, too, that this legislation should not affect the basic wage, and that the bill should become operative at the earliest possible date. The buoyancy of the National Welfare Fund has been increased considerably as a result of the Government’s failure to introduce a national health service. Surely, therefore, it is not humbug for the Opposition to suggest that the child endowment payment provided for in this measure should be made retrospective to the 1st January. Acceptance of that proposal would show that the Government was sincere in its professed wish to introduce this benefit at the earliest possible date. I deplore the tendency of the Minister and his colleagues to describe the logical arguments of the Opposition as humbug.
. The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) said that he could see no case for a retrospective payment. He failed to point out that, by the 19th June, six months will have elapsed since the election campaign during- which the raising of child endowment as a political issue led to the suspension for several weeks of the hearing of the claim for an increased basic wage. The recipients of the benefit provided by this legislation, as well as other people in the community, will now have to wait at least a month longer before the court gives its judgment in the basic wage case. By making this child endowment legislation retroactive, the Government would be providing at least some compensation for the delayed introduction of an increased basic wage. The case for a payment retrospective to the 1st January can be supported not only because the increased amount of money would be of great benefit to mothers, but also because the Government would be fulfilling a promise it made during, the election campaign - merely for political advantage, of course. I believe, therefore, that the date of commencement of this benefit should be the earliest suitable date after the election.
– The issue is whether the- child endowment payment provided for in this legislation should be deferred or made retrospective. The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) is to be congratulated upon the inclusion in the bill of the date of its commencement. In view of the Opposition’s allegation that the promise to endow the first child of each family was merely a vote-catching device on the part of the present Government parties, one can readily imagine the howl that would have been raised by honorable senators opposite had the bill provided for a retrospective payment. One good feature of the argument upon this clause is that the Opposition has at least acclaimed publicly the benefits of this bill. Honorable senators opposite have now justified the Minister’s actions. It will be to the advantage of the Opposition to exercise common sense and .to observe sound business principles by agreeing to payment commencing on the 19th June.
, - I congratulate the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) upon the complete frankness of his statement that he has given no consideration at all to making the proposed payment retrospective. It is refreshing that a Minister should be so completely frank upon any subject as the Minister has been. I am afraid that he may grow out of that frankness, but I trust sincerely that he will not. I put it to him now in all seriousness that there are 1,000,000 mothers in 1,000,000 homes in Australia who rely upon the promise made by the Government parties during the recent election campaign that if they were returned to power they would grant first child endowment at the rate of 5s. per week. Why should not that promise operate as from the effective date from which it was made, which was the 10th December, or, failing that, from the 1st January of this year? The Opposition does not propose to move in this matter, and I want to make that quite clear. We content ourselves with urging the Minister to give serious consideration to this matter. Obviously neither he nor his colleagues have directed their minds to the matter whether it is right and proper that child endowment should be paid from the 1st January last. The Opposition does not want to rush the Minister into a decision, but if he cares to suggest that the clause he postponed in order to give him an opportunity to review the matter, in conjunction with other aspects of the measure, the Opposition will support him.
The suggestion that we make now is made in the interests of people who are having a difficult time because of the constant increase of prices. As I said previously, it is clear that neither the Minister nor the Government, nor indeed the supporters of the Government, have until this moment given any consideration to whether endowment should be paid retrospectively from the 1st January last. Therefore, I suggest that the Minister would be rash, and his colleagues would be rash, if they dismissed our suggestion without having given proper consideration to it. If the Minister could advance any reason, other than his statement that a decision has been made by the Government and that he is not going to alter it, to justify a refusal of our request I could perhaps understand his attitude. If the Minister is not prepared now to consider our representations he must appear before the Senate a9 one who arbitrarily makes a decision and refuses, under all circumstances, to review that decision. In this instance his decision affects the welfare of 1,000,000 homes. I repeat that the Minister should move that the clause be postponed until after all other clauses have been dealt with in order to give him an opportunity for full and mature consideration of the suggestions that we have made.
– I should not like to be thought discourteous by not replying to Senator McKenna, and it is only because I desire to avoid giving that impression that I reply now. My own instinct was not to reply, but to permit the clause to be debated, because I say, with respect, that Senator McKenna has not made out a case. I would not in any circumstances rush in and make arbitrary decisions on my own responsibility ; but, in any event, I see no justification at all for the suggestion made by Senator McKenna, nor can I detect any substance in hi9 case. I believe that what the Government has done is in accordance with what the people expect it to do. I should think that, by and large, the mothers of Australia would be most agreeably surprised that we should be able to implement a big scheme such as this from the 20th June next. On those grounds I should like the clause to be accepted as it stands.
.- I appreciate very much the difficulties that confront the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner), who finds himself in charge of an important measure so early in his parliamentary career. He became a Minister of the Crown before he was actually sworn in as a member of the Senate. Because the Minister no doubt finds his new environment strange, and is eager to give effect to at least one of the Government’s election promises, I can quite understand that he did not think of making the measure retrospective. Doubtless his thoughts were concentrated on getting the measure into operation as soon as possible; he was probably straining at the leash. However, after the discussion that has ensued, and in view of the fact that no financial difficulty arises out of the Opposition’s suggestion, because the cash is in hand and is ready to be spent, I appeal to the Minister to give consideration to making the bill operate retrospectively. He might at least place our suggestion before bis colleagues in the Cabinet. I have no doubt that when this matter came before the Cabinet originally some, at least, of the Minister’s colleagues, possibly with as little parliamentary experience as himself, failed to grasp the significance of the” proposals contained in the measure and offered no help to the Minister.
It is of no use for Government supporters to chide the Opposition with doing something that they did not expect lis to do. Concerning this matter of child endowment, the fact is that our thoughts were running in another direction. Whatever might be said in favour of endowing the first child of each family, we believed that the most important matter was for the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to fix a new basic wage. The fact that the trade unions were asking for a review of the basic wage was known to us, because for some considerable time the unions had been seeking a review of the basic wage. The date of commencement of this additional endowment is very important, and it is quite wrong for the Minister to suggest that the Labour party has been guilty of inconsistency in submitting that the bill should be made retrospective in its operation merely because we have criticized the Government’s proposals. We knew that the unions were going to approach the court, and we appreciated that there was a great deal of doubt about the attitude that the court would adopt. When it fixed the basic wage on the previous occasion the court bad something to say about social service legislation.
– Is that what deterred the former Labour administration from acting in the matter for eight years ?
– Whatever Labour does it does properly. Labour did not rush in at election time with a promise that would tempt the people to vote for it, knowing all the time that what it offered with one hand it might have to take away with the other. The Minister has admitted that no consideration has been given to making the operation of the bill retrospective. I now suggest to him that he should at least give the committee an undertaking that the bill will be further considered. I remind the Minister that when the bill is passed through this chamber that is not the end of the matter; the bill has then to be passed through the House of Representatives. The Cabinet will also, no doubt, want an opportunity to discuss the matter further. In order that the measure, when passed, may be as beneficial to the people as possible I suggest that proper and full consideration should now be given to the matters urged by Senator McKenna. For that purpose the Minister should, seek the agreement of the committee to report progress on the measure. If he is not prepared to do that, then I think that he should at least undertake to consider in the time that will elapse between the passage of the measure in this chamber and its return from the House of Representatives the submission made by Senator McKenna. There is very real substance in the claim made by the Opposition, and our submission should not be brushed aside with a smile. Furthermore, in the long run it may pay the Government to make its legislation as effective as possible. I suggest therefore that further consideration bo given to this important clause.
.- The only matter under discussion is the date that the clause will become operative. The pressure exercised upon the trade unions to ameliorate the hardship caused to the working population of Australia by the continuing increase of prices and the spiralling cost of living has been so great that the trade unions have been impelled to seek from the Commonwealth. Arbitration Court an interim increase of the basic wage while the court is conducting its inquiry to fix a new basic wage.
– I rise to order. Is this relevant to the clause?
– It is. The honorable senator is quite in order.
– It is apparent that, in certain circumstances, all honorable senators are in favour of child endowment being paid in respect of the first child in every family, although there is some difference of opinion as to the rate at which it should be paid. The only question that is now being discussed is the date from which the payment shall be made. Senator McKenna suggested to the Minister that the date proposed by the Government for the commencement of the payments should be reconsidered. There is no question of compelling the Government to do anything in this connexion. I believe that the Government would be acting in the best interests of the mothers and children of this country and would not be breaking any of its election pledges if it acceded to the suggestion of Senator McKenna.
– It has been suggested that honorable senators on this side of the chamber desire to prolong the debate on this clause. We could quite easily have proposed an amendment that the payments shall be made retrospectively. We could then have moved, “ That the question be now put” and secured the acceptance of that motion and of the amendment. Instead, we decided to discuss the merits of a request that the proposed date should be reconsidered. That is a reasonable request, especially because, as has been pointed out, this measure must be discussed in another place. It seems that the Government has failed to appreciate the measure of cooperation that we are prepared to give it upon this bill. The last word has not been said upon this matter. In view of the fact that we could, if we so desired, force the acceptance of an amendment to make the payment retrospective, our request that the matter should be reconsidered by the Government is a reasonable one, to which the Government could agree without loss of prestige or dignity. If the Government is to adopt in relation to other measures the attitude that no suggestion by the Opposition is to be considered, that will be an invitation to honorable senators on this side of the chamber to adopt an arbitrary attitude in relation to them. I believe that I am speaking for every member of the Opposition when I say that we do not wish to do that and that, we prefer to discuss all questions upon their merits so that they may be better understood by the people. I repeat that our request is reasonable and that it should be agreed to.
– I was astonished when the Minister for Social Services (Senator
Spooner) said that he considered that the Government had done very well by providing that this legislation shall begin to operate on the 19th June, six months after it assumed office. I suppose that it may be regarded as very good for the Liberal party and the Australian Country party to do something of this kind in six months, because usually they are very slow to move. It is important that the Parliament should try to give effect to social services legislation as early as possible. This Parliament met for the first time in February, but it is still discussing the measure in April. The Government has shown no desire to expedite the payment of this endowment. Without having tested the opinion of the Senate regarding when the measure should begin to operate, it fixed the date as the 19th June. It is only fair that this endowment should be paid as from a reasonable date, and Senator McKenna has suggested that it should be paid as from the 1st January. I believe that the Minister would have agreed to the request that the proposed date should be reconsidered had he not been badly advised by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer). In the second-reading debate, the Attorney-General said that the bill might be withdrawn because of the temerity of Senator McKenna in foreshadowing amendments to it. He is now sitting beside the Minister for Social Services and apparently advising him on. the replies that he should give to points raised by honorable senators on this side of the chamber. I believe that, in view of the increased cost of living, the Australian people are eager to receive this endowment as soon as possible.
Senator Wright accused the Labour party of not being desirous of paying child endowment, but I point out that the Labour party in New South Wales was responsible for the introduction of child endowment, widows’ pensions and other social services, which were in existence in that State before they were introduced elsewhere in Australia.
– I rise to order. Is this relevant to the clause?
- Senator Amour must confine his remarks to the clause.
– When honorable senators on this side of the House endeavour to improve social services legislation, they should not be referred to as hypocrites. We believe sincerely that social services legislation is the baby of the Labour movement, and when the baby is being attended to we shall talk about the clothes in which it is to be dressed.
We have suggested that the payments under this bill should be made from the 1st January, not from the 19th June. As I have said, I believe that the Minister would have considered that suggestion had he not been badly advised by the AttorneyGeneral. I do not know whether another Minister is now advising him, but I hope that if he is he will advise him to accept our suggestion, and thus ensure that the proposed date shall be further considered by all members of Cabinet, and not only by the Attorney-General.
, - One of the main arguments that the Opposition has advanced against this bill is that the proposed endowment may have an adverse effect upon the basic wage. If the Government will accede to the suggestion of Senator McKenna that the operation of this measure shall be made retrospective to the 1st January, that will indicate to the Arbitration Court that the Government does not desire that the payment of this endowment shall be taken into consideration in the computation of the basic wage. Some Government supporters have said definitely that the payment of the endowment will not affect the basic wage, and the Minister has said that the Government does not desire that it shall do so. The adoption of Senator McKenna’s suggestion would be an indication to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court that the Government does not consider that this endowment should be taken into consideration in determining the basic wage, because it would have been paid for some months before the court announced its decision. T believe that our suggestion is worthy of consideration. The discussion of this clause could be deferred until the sitting is resumed after the suspension for dinner, so that the Minister and his colleagues may consider the suggestion that has been made.
– I was astonished at the attitude adopted by the Minister to the very reasonable request that was made by Senator McKenna. The present Government parties promised the people that, if they were returned, this endowment would be paid. That promise was made prior to the 10th December. .Surely it is reasonable that the payment should be made as soon as possible. To be perfectly fair, the Government should make the payment retrospectively. That is a reasonable suggestion. The Minister’s reply was evasive and tended towards the dictatorial. He admitted that he had not given any consideration to the desirability of this additional child endowment being paid retrospectively. In effect, he admitted that if the proposal were not adopted each mother of children under the age of sixteen years would be deprived of approximately £6 10s. I support the suggestion that the Minister should, during the suspension of the sitting for dinner, consider the advisability of postponing further consideration of the clause until the remaining clauses have been disposed of, to enable him and his colleagues to consider this aspect of the matter fully. By so doing he would not lose prestige and would prove the Government’s sincerity to the people of this country.
– In the absence of any indication by the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) that he intends to make any further contribution to the debate on this clause I shall summarize the position that we have now reached. It was the Government of this country, not the Opposition^ that promised the electors of Australia that it would introduce child endowment in respect of the first child under the age of sixteen years in each family. Reasonably soon after its election to office the Government introduced a bill to honour its promise, and fixed the 20th June as the date on which entitlement to endowment for the first child would commence. In other words, there will be no payment to any person, pursuant to this bill, until the 18th July. The Minister has been good enough to admit that neither he nor the Government gave any consideration whatsoever to the proposal to make payments effective from the 1st January. The Minister does not contend that money is not available, or that administrative difficulties would prevent the Government from adopting the proposal. His sole answer was that the Government had fixed the date upon which entitlement would commence as the 20th June, and that the first payment would be made on the 18th July. The Minister declared that the Government did not intend to change that date, and he is not even prepared to defer consideration of the clause in order to consult the other members of the Cabinet. I suggest that that is the exact position that we have reached in this debate.
– Plus my statement that I thought that that would be a reasonable date on which payments should commence.
– I suggest that that is not a very satisfactory answer to the mothers in at least 1,000,000 homes who are waiting for this benefit, many of whom voted for the present Government because of their faith in that promise. In the absence of any financial or administrative difficulty about making the payment at an earlier date the least that the Government should do is to postpone dealing with the clause finally until it has considered making the payment retrospectively. The Opposition does not intend to take this matter out of the Government’s hands, but I warn the Government that we on this side of the chamber intend to point out to the people of Australia that the date of commencement of payment was arbitrarily fixed despite the fact that, as the Minister has frankly admitted, the Government gave no consideration to its obligation to provide endowment for the first child in every family under the age of sixteen years from the earliest possible date, which could be the 1st January last, and in complete disregard of the plight of mothers in these difficult times of rising costs. Under the administration of the present Government prices are rising higher and higher. If the Government were prepared to accept the proposal that has been advanced my colleagues and I would not be likely to have very much more to say about the matter.
Clause agreed to.
– Before proceeding to a consideration of clause 3,I refer to a roneoed sheet of proposed amendments that is at present being circulated to honorable senators. I propose to move for the insertion of a new clause after clause 2. If adopted, it will have the effect of inserting a new clause 2a into this bill, and of inserting a new section 94a into the principal act. The first sub-section deals with a declaration of the intention of the Parliament in connexion with the effect that child endowment might have upon the basic wage.
– I suggest that the honorable senator defer his comment until all honorable senators have received a copy of the roneoed sheet, in order that the proposed amendments might be followed more clearly.
– I am endeavouring merely to deal generally with the proposal, in the hope that by the time I have completed my general remarks all honorable senators will have received a copy of the sheet.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Nicholls). - That will be satisfactory.
– In dealing with the projected amendments I intend merely to place before the Senate at this stage that portion which deals with the declaration and intention of the Parliament. I do not want to confuse the statement of the intention of the Parliament with the operative clause that will tend to put that intention into effect. There are two entirely different sets of arguments and considerations that will weigh under the two heads. At this stage I formally move -
That, after clause 2, the following new clausebe inserted : - “ 2a. After section ninety-four of the Princi pal Act the following section is inserted : - 94a. - (1.) It is hereby declared -
that endowment payable under this Part is intended to be and is a social service for the welfare of children of all members of the community, that it bears no relation to the prevention or settlement of industrial disputes or to any industrial matter and that it is to be enjoyed quite irrespective of whether either parent of a child is an employee earning salary or wages, is an employer or has any other means; and
that the benefit of the endowment is not to be defeated or reduced by fixing the salary or wages of employees at rates less than the rates which would be paid if the endowment were not payable.”.
I shall pause there. It is 11Ot my intention, at this stage, to place before the Senate the other sub-sections that are indicated in the amendment sheet that has been circulated. I shall confine my remarks to proposed new sub-section (1.) that I have just read. At the outset I make it clear that I am in complete accord with almost every word that the Minister said both in his second-reading speech and in his reply to the second-reading debate about the close relationship between family allowances or child endowment and the basic wage. I suggest that in the minds of the industrial tribunals of this country the close relationship to which he referred is so intimate that it could be described as a marriage. I think it is completely true to pose the proposition that even to-day there are unanalysed elements of both wife endowment and child endowment in the basic wage, as declared by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and other industrial tribunals in this country. In both his secondreading speech and his reply to the debate the Minister made it perfectly clear that the Government favoured endowment of all kinds, not only, I take it, for the first child, but also for the second and the third child in addition to whatever wage may be declared by the industrial tribunals. We on this side of the chamber are in complete agreement with the Government in the view that that should be the position that the Parliament ought to take up. I point out that the court has never considered child endowment since it became a legislative factor in this country. The last basic wage judgment, early in 1941, was pronounced at a time that child endowment, as a Commonwealth scheme, had merely been announced. Therefore the basic wage application now before the court will provide the first real opportunity for the court to determine its attitude and the precise relationship of child endowment to family allowances and the basic wage. That matter already is in issue before the court. It has been put in issue by employers and by various State Governments. Accordingly the court must face acutely that particular question. Again I say that if one wanted proof that the two matters are related very intimately one got it during the election campaign. Plainly the court adjourned the basic wage hearing not because of anything that the Australian Labour party had done but because of the proposals that were made by the Liberal and Australian Country parties in the first instance.
– Can the honorable senator tell me why the hearing is not still adjourned?
– -I shall have very much pleasure in doing so. Two political parties were on the hustings seeking votes. When the issue was introduced into the Parliament one of those political parties formed the Government of the day and the other the responsible Opposition of Hie Majesty. Day by day, at a national level, in the forum of the Parliament, they have debated the measure. Those are two entirely different and separate sets of conditions. If the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) would direct his mind to the great distinction between them he would realize that the court, at the height of an election campaign, adjourned the basic wage inquiry until the controversy was over. It did not do so when this matter, which is one peculiarly for determination by the National Parliament, was exercising the mind of Hi9 Majesty’s Government and His Majesty’s Opposition. They are two entirely different situations. Let me make it clear why the court adjourned. The basis of the matter before the court was a proposed re-distribution of the national income. I quote the following from the statement of the court : -
Since these matters have been raised for consideration in another field, since, in other words, they lie at the basis of an issue raised at the coming elections for the Federal Parliament . . .
And these are the words to which I invite particular attention - . . by the references made to the possible supplementation of the basic wage by changes in the amount and incidence of child endowment . . .
I pause again to point out that the only references to those possible changes were made by representatives of the Liberal party and the Australian Country party. No such references were made by the Labour party. The statement of the court continues - . . the court (which must not be taken to express any criticism of these references) has decided that it is its duty to proceed uo further with the present case while the issue remains the subject of election controversy.
– Who began the controversy ?
– The court pointed out that it was the introduction of these issues into the election campaign - and I repeat that they were introduced by the Liberal party and the Australian Country party - which led it to adjourn the case. The court felt constrained to take that action while- political parties were in disputation on the hustings, but the same considerations do not apply when the issue is being considered at the elevated level of the National Parliament. The Government has recognized the possibility of the court taking child endowment into consideration in fixing the basic wage, because it has been stated by responsible members of the Government that if computation of the basic wage is based on a family unit of a man and -wife, then child endowment will be increased from 5s. to 10s. for the first child.
– That was stated in the policy speech delivered by Mr. Menzies.
– Yes, and it was stated in the Minister’s second-reading speech when this bill was introduced, anr* it was repeated by the Attorney-General himself that child endowment had nothing to do with the principle applied by the court in determining the highest amount that industry can pay. It comes back to a matter of child endowment in relation to the basic wage. If the court takes into account the fact of child endowment, and focuses its attention on a family unit of a man and his wife alone, it will establish the principle that the court shall properly take child endowment into account at the rates declared by this Parliament, namely, 5s. for the first child, and 10s. for subsequent children.
– In that event, endowment for the first child will be at the rate of 10s., as stated in the present Prime Minister’s policy speech.
– If the will of the Government prevails, the amount will be 5s. If the bill is passed in the form in which it has been presented by the Government the court, in reaching its conclusions, will consider endowment for the first child at the rate of 5s., and. at the rate of 10s. for other children. If the court fixes a certain wage for a man and his wife, and the Government then increases endowment for the first child from 5s. to 10s., the court will have to take that fact into account, and reduce the basic wage by 5s. on the very first occasion that an employer or a State Liberal government makes such an application. Of course, no Labour government would do so. I challenge the Government to controvert that statement.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– As no other honorable senator has risen I shall take my second period. I trust that the Government appreciates the force of the point 1 have been making. In view of the complete agreement between the Government and the Opposition that child endowment shall be in addition to whatever is determined by the court for wage or salary, surely there should be no difficulty . agreeing upon a form of words which, when embodied in this legislation, will inform the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and the arbitral tribunals throughout Australia, of the intention of thiParliament.
I suggest to the Attorney-General that there is no reason to be concerned about the constitutionality of a declaration of the intention of the Parliament. The intention itself, whether given effect or not, cannot be challenged. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of discussion about the constitutionality or otherwise of the operative sections of the amendment we propose, but there can be no argument in the court or elsewhere about the constitutionality of a bare statement of the intention of the Parliament. Even if I were wrong in my submissions in this connexion, there still ought to be no hesitation on the part of the Government in accepting the amendment. It can do no harm, and it may do a great deal of good by inducing industrial tribunals to give effect to what all parties in the Parliament desire. The amendment we are submitting to the committee merely seeks to translate a relatively unimportant ministerial statement - and I say that with all respect - into legislative form expressing the mind of the Parliament.
I do not want any one to scoff when I say that the amendment is designed to help the workers. The distinction I draw is between the workers and the employers. It is clear that the employers and the selfemployed are not in the slightest danger of having any part of the child endowment to which they will be entitled under this measure stripped from them. The only possible danger can be to the employees, and the amendment is designed to protect them. The Government has declared that it wishes the workers to enjoy the highest standard of living. We are putting forward an amendment designed to ensure that the workers will receive the full benefit of child endowment without its affecting the basic wage. In view of all that has been conceded by the Government, and agreed to by all parties, we shall be astonished if there is any opposition from the Government to the proposed declaration of intention. The Minister said that some one - he did not say who - would be sure to bring before the court his remarks about the intention of the Government. I submit that it is the responsibility of the Government, holding the views it does, to instruct counsel which represents it in the proceedings before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court that the intention of the Government is that child endowment shall be something in addition to any wage or salary, and the Government should arm and support its counsel by accepting the amendment.
– Before the adjournment I was putting to the Senate the proposed amendment to the bill now before the chamber. I would like to refresh the minds of honorable senators by reading again the terms of the proposed new sub-section which the Opposition suggests should be included in the bill to protect the wage-earners of Australia in the matter of endowment as it is proposed to be conferred by the bill.
It reads - “ 2a. After section ninety-four of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: - 94a. - (1.) It is hereby declared -
I shall summarize rapidly some of the points that I made earlier. The first is that the basic wage application now before the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration provides the first opportunity that the court has had to consider child endowment since it was introduced in 1941. The relationship of child endowment to the basic wage is a very live issue now before the court. The Minister for Social Services has expressed the view that his Government wishes this endowment to be paid in addition to whatever payment is made by the court. In the course of his second-reading speech not only did he say that once but on page 8 of the printed copy of the speechhe mentioned that very fact three times.. The Minister said of the Government in referring to child endowment as an addition to the basic wage -
It holds that view irrespective of whatever may be the basic wage determined and however the court may reach its determination.
So that, in essence, the Government and the Opposition are as one in their desire to ensure that the court shall not cut down or defeat the benefit intended to be given in the child endowment provisions bytaking endowment into consideration and either reducing the basic wage greatly or proportionately, or giving less than it would have given otherwise. It is not enough for the Minister to say that it is inconceivable that the court will not have, from some quarter, the views held by the Government in introducing this measure. At this stage I am not questioning the sincerity of the Government hut I suggest that to demonstrate it3 sincerity, the Government should be prepared to go into the Commonwealth Arbitration Court through its counsel and say in the court what it has said in this chamber - that it is the desire of the Australian Government that the basic wage shall not be affected by child endowment in any of its forms. It can also take this legislation as expressing the wishes of not only the Government or the Opposition, but of the Parliament itself, and I suggest that that is a very much stronger position than to leave its expression merely to what was said in a second-reading speech.
The proposal of the Opposition is designed to protect the workers of Australia. The employers and the self-employed people are not affected in any way. The alteration of the basic wage cannot have the effect of cutting down child endowment in their hands. That can happen only to the employees and workers of Australia. Accepting the Minister’s concern to preserve the living standards of the workers of Australia to be an expression of the mind of the Government, he and the Government should be very ready to join the Opposition in putting into legislative form the intention that is common to both sides of the chamber. I repeat that what the Opposition proposes in this new clause is in complete accord with what the Minister said in his second -read ing speech and in his reply to the second-reading debate. I trust that on thU particular point the Government will not be adamant about accepting amendments. What is proposed is for the welfare and protection of the workers of this country. Surely the grant of endowment to mothers for the first child under sixteen years should not have the effect of cutting down the family income in some other direction or prevent the income from being greater than it would have been otherwise.
– Order ! The honorable senator’s time has expired.
– In supporting the amendment I wish to enlarge a little on a few points brought out by Senator McKenna which had previously been covered quite well in the second-reading speech of the Minister for Social Services. This proposal embodies the crux of the argument that has been put forward by the Opposition in the Senate in regard to this bill. In hie second-reading speech the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) said -
There is no certainty on what basis the court will reach its decision.
The proposed new clause gives the answer and is a clear statement of the mind of the Government that this additional endowment is intended to be, and is a social service for the welfare of children of all sections of the community. That is in accordance with the expressed intention of the Government and of the Opposition. It is also in accord with the Government’s wishes in that it bears no relation to the prevention or settlement of industrial disputes or any industrial matter, and that it is to be enjoyed quite irrespective of whether either parent of a child is an employee earning a salary and wages, or is an employer or has other means. During his second-reading speech the Minister pointed out that the Government had already made clear what it would do if the Commonwealth altered the principle of computing the basic wage and took as- the basis the needs of a married couple without children. The inclusion of this amendment would make certain that child endowment would not be taken into consideration in computing the basic wage; and it is quite evident that the basic wage will have to be reconsidered if the present spiral of prices continues. I consider that this proposal expresses the mind of the Government and of the Opposition in regard to this bill. I abo support it on the ground that it sums up the whole argument put forward by the Opposition in relation to this bill, that it protects the basic wage and draws a clear line of demarcation between child endowment and the basic wage. I am certain that in respect of future computations of the basic wage and even in the present case, it gives a clear indication that this Parliament desires that child endowment and social services generally should not be taken into consideration.
Senator SPICER (Victoria - AttorneyGeneral) [8.10 J. - The amendment of the Opposition is not confined in its operation to the child endowment which is to be paid in accordance with the bill now before the chamber. It is a proposal which is directed to the whole of the act that provides for child endowment, including not only endowment for the first child, but for other children as well. It is perhaps not without significance that the Opposition, although it had the power to do so over the last eight years, at no time advocated such a proposal as it has put before the committee to-night. Even at this stage, the Opposition seems to have very great difficulty in making up its mind exactly what it wants to do. Honorable senators had circulated to them an amendment which was intended to introduce a new section into the act and ‘ which included three sub-sections, but when the honorable senator proceeded to place his proposal before the committee, he confined it to the first sub-section of the proposed amendment that had been circulated. One would be entitled to assume that at this very late stage, and notwithstanding that the amendment has been circulated, the rest of the draft proposal is to be abandoned.
– I indicated that 1 would move it later.
– I do not understand how the honorable senator can move a part of a new clause and then proceed to move another part. It seems to me to be a very curious way to approach this proposition. At least it suggests that the moving of a part of the amendment was designed to give some political advantage to the Opposition The position of the Government in this matter is perfectly clear as it has been from the start. The Government made its position quite clear to the electors of Australia in the policy speech delivered by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies). Any one who reads that speech can understand perfectly well what the present Government intended to do and can see quite clearly that what the Government is doing is an exact performance of the promise that it gave to the people of this country. Let me read two passages from that speech, and I suggest that the proposals in the speech created none of the difficulties to which the Opposition has referred. With reference to the basic wage the (present Prime Minister said -
That wage is at this moment under complete re-examination by the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration whose decision we cannot anticipate and have no desire to influence.
That statement remains true to-night. The right honorable gentleman continued -
But the financial difficulties of family life must be eased. We therefore state our proposals in the alternative. If the basic wage, whether increased in amount or not, remains on the same foundation as at present, we will give some extra help to families by providing an endowment of 5s. a week for the first child under sixteen years, the second and subsequent children continuing to be endowed at 10s. per week.
That is a plain statement. The method of determining the basic wage is left, as I suggest it should be, to the Commonwealth’ Arbitration Court. We also made it perfectly clear in our policy statement that the 5s. a week provided for in this bill was to be in addition to whatever basic wage is fixed by the court. Having regard ,to what had taken place before the court wc recognized the. possibility of a change in the method of calculating the basic wage.
– What prompted the honorable senator to think that?
– Because of what had happened in the court. The Prime Minister’s statement on that subject is just as clear as the other one I read. He said -
If the foundation of the basic wage is altered and its amount is calculated by reference to the needs of a married couple without children (and we have noticed that such - a basis has been suggested), then we shall of course provide endowment for the first child on the 10s. rate. “We are now fulfilling the first part of our promise in. accordance with the precise terms of the Prime Minister’s declaration. We do not intend to depart from that declaration. We do not intend to insert in this bill anything that is designed to influence the court. The terms of the Opposition’s amendment are strange and one cannot help coming to the conclusion that it is merely a series of meaningless expressions that have no legal effect at all. 1 f that is so, the amendment has no place in an act of this Parliament. It should appear in the bill only if it intended to have legal effect, and the only legal effect ;.hat it can have is by way of direction to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.
– The Government says (hat such a direction would invalidate (he bill.
– I say in all seriousness - and I need not go any further than this for my present purposes - that the amendment, if made, might very seriously delay the present proceedings before the Arbitration Court for the determination of a new basic wage. If the amendment is intended as a direction to the court on how it should go about its business, and the court were to make an award which obviously took the amendment into consideration, is it not likely that some party to the present proceedings would test the validity of the new clause that the Opposition seeks to insert?
– Who would do that s
– I am not concerned about that. I do not control the employers and they do not control me or any member nf the Liberal party, but if I were setting out to devise some means to delay the ultimate decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, I doubt whether f could find a more effective method than to insert a provision such as this into the bill now before the Senate. That is a consideration which should weigh with members of the
Opposition who claim to represent the interests of the people who are claiming an increased basic wage. We are as much concerned with the interests of the trade unionists as are Opposition senators, and we should like to see the present Arbitration Court proceedings completed within a reasonable time, but trade union supporters of the Opposition will not thank honorable senators opposite for the job they are doing to-night if the result of their efforts is to involve thu unions in lengthy proceedings before the High Court to determine the constitutionality of this provision, and perhaps of an award that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court may make if it takes this provision into consideration. These are matters that should weight very heavily with every member of this chamber in considering this amendment. As I said before, unless these provisions are intended to have legal effect, and are designed as a direction to the court, they have no proper place in an act of Parliament, and should not be included in this legislation.
The proposed new section is not by any means easy to interpret. One moment we are told -
Endowment payable under this Part . . . bears no relation to the prevention or settlement of industrial disputes or to any industrial matter. . . .
If the endowment is to bear no relation whatever to industrial disputes or to any industrial matter, it is rather strange that we should be told in sub-section (1.) (b) of proposed new clause 94a - that the benefit of the endowment is not to be defeated or reduced by fixing the salary or wages of employees at rates less than the rates which would lie paid if the endowment were not payable.
– That is quite clear.
– It may be clear to the honorable senator, but I must confess that it is most obscure to me.
– Yes, but I am not a lawyer.
– That may be a confession that the honorable senator does not understand English.
– Order! The Attorney-General’s time has expired.
Senator Sandford having been called,
– I take it that the new clause, which proposes to insert a new section in the principal act, has been moved as a whole, but that it will be discussed in sub-sections, the first of which is now under discussion.
– I submit, Mr. Chairman, that that is not the position. I indicated to the committee that I had circulated an amendment providing for the insertion of a new section consisting of three sub-sections, but that I was moving at that stage only for the insertion of the first proposed new subsection which is the one declaring the intention of the Parliament.
– I think it would be best to regard the proposed new section as having been moved as a whole but to confine the debate at this juncture to the first sub-section.
– The only matter before the Chair at present is the first proposed new sub-section. The Opposition has a reason for proceeding in this way.
– There is not much to be said about this amendment except that it puts the acid test of sincerity on the Government. Quoting from the present Prime Minister’s policy speech, the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) indicated that the Government’s desire was. that payments under this legislation should be in addition to the basic wage. If that is so, what possible objection can the Government take to this amendment, acceptance of which would indicate clearly to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court that it was not to take endowment of the first child into consideration in determining the basic wage? In view of the Government’s reluctance to accept the amendment one is forced to the conclusion that what I and other honorable senators of this side of the chamber have said about the Government’s motives in introducing this legislation is true. That is that an overall reduction of the basic wage is expected. Opposition senators pointed out repeatedly during the second-reading debate that although 1,000,000 families would benefit by the endowment of the first child. If this legislation were taken into consideration by the court in fixing the basic wage, the employers generally would benefit by many millions of pounds because approximately 2,000,000 wage and salary-earners, not eligible for child endowment would have their wages reduced: That of course is the Government’s objective as has been shown clearly to-night by the refusal of the Attorney-General t-o accept this amendment. The AttorneyGeneral claimed that this provision should not be inserted if it is not intended to have a legal affect. The Opposition does not say that the provision will have a legal effect, but at least it would make the intention of the Government clear to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The Attorney-General went on to say that if this legislation were taken into consideration by the court in fixing the basic wage - indicating of course the Government’s belief that that would happen - the payment would be made 10s. a week instead of 5s. a week; but one does not have to be a lawyer to realize that if a payment of 5s. was considered by the court, a payment of 10s. would meet the same fate. Therefore I say that there is no sincerity in the Government. All along we have feared that this measure conceals an attack on the basic wage. The AttorneyGeneral referred to the fact that although we were in office for eight years we did not introduce a measure to provide for child endowment. But is that any justification for the inadequacy of the measure introduced by the present Administration, or for the harm that it may do to the working people of Australia, nearly all of whom are dependent on the basic wage? Why keep talking about what happened during the past eight years? If the Government is sincere it will accept the amendment, and thereby ensure that the over-all basic wage will not be reduced in consequence of the proposed increase of child endowment. I support the amendment.
– I assume that the Opposition means something by the proposed amendment, otherwise it would be a complete futility. If it can have any legal effect at all it can mean only one thing, and that is to direct the Commonwealth Arbitration
Court about the manner in which it should fix the basic wage. The first part of the proposed new section states specifically that it bears no relation to the prevention or settlement of industrial disputes ; yet Senator McKenna, if not other honorable senators opposite, knows perfectly well that the power of the Parliament to legislate in such matters is restricted to matters involving industrial disputes, and even then only to certain types of industrial disputes, the details of which I do not intend to outline now. Then it proceeds to outline antecedently something that is not within the jurisdiction of the Parliament. If the amendment is nothing more than the expression of a pious hope with no real claim to recognition, it is not the kind of matter that should be included in a piece of legislation made by a responsible deliberative body. If however, the amendment is intended to have any serious effect at all, that effect can only be interpreted as an attempt to dictate to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court the manner in which it should decide a matter within its jurisdiction, and that is a direction from which this Government, and, indeed, any administration conscious of its responsibility, would shrink. I oppose the amendment.
– In answer to the amendment moved by Senator McKenna the Attorney-General (‘Senator Spicer) said that it w.as strange that the Australian Labour party had done nothing in this matter during the past eight years. The Minister was quite entitled to make that comment, but I thought that I had already supplied the answer to it during my speech on the second reading of the bill. I pointed out then that when child endowment was introduced in 1941 the basis on which the basic wage was computed was a family unit of three members - mim, wife, and one child. Therefore, the Australian Labour party was not concerned about endowment for the first child of a family because provision had been made for the first child in the basic wage. The first intimation that we received of any possible alteration in the compilation of the basic wage was supplied by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies).
There is no need for me to relate what happened because we all know that after the right honorable gentleman had delivered his policy speech the Commonwealth Arbitration Court immediately suspended the basic wage inquiry. It said that owing to the right honorable gentleman’s statement it would wait until some decision had been reached. The right honorable gentleman himself was quite clear that consideration might be given to child endowment payments by the court when fixing the basic wage, because he said -
If the basic wage, whether increased in amount or not, remains on the same foundation as at present, we will give some extra help to families by providing an endowment of os. a week for the first child.
The right honorable gentleman went on to say -
Xi the foundation of the basic wage is altered and the amount is calculated by reference to the needs of a married couple without children - and we have noticed that such a basis has been suggested - then we shall, of course, provide endowment for the first child on the 10s. rate.
The right honorable gentleman’s reference to the possibility of the basic wage being assessed on the needs of a married couple without children is very clear and definite. The Attorney-General contended that the Prime Minister’s statement made the position quite clear. However, I am satisfied that the amendment proposed by Senator McKenna possesses much more clarity than does the statement made by the Prime Minister. For one thing, there is no ambiguity in the amendment proposed by Senator McKenna. In conclusion, I trust that the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) will protect the interests of those whom the bill is intended to benefit by providing a proper safeguard for the basic wage. I support the amendment.
– To my mind the consideration that transcends all others in determining this matter is whether the proposed amendment is legally sound. If we have to answer that question in the negative, then there are no other arguments of consequence. If we incorporate in the measure an amendment that is legally unsound we shall destroy the benefit of the whole legislation. The legal validity of the proposed legislation must he the paramount consideration in considering its acceptance, and that is why I asked the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) to make the first reply in the debate on the amendment. The Attorney-General has expressed the view that the proposal is not good legally. I do not want to be unkind to our immediate predecessors, but as a member of the present Government I hope that we shall not have their experience. After having prevailed upon the Parliament to enact a number of major pieces of legislation, they had the bitter experience of having much of their legislation declared unconstitutional. After having overcome all the difficulties associated with the preparation of legislation and securing its passage through the Parliament, I cannot imagine any more mortifying experience than to be told by the High Court that the legislation is unconstitutional and therefore void. The AttorneyGeneral has made the legal position in this matter clear to the committee, and in the face of his advice I suggest that it would be nothing short of midsummer night madness to accept the amendment. Indeed, the acceptance of the amendment may even have repercussions on the basic wage. I believe that the case that the Government has advanced in support of this measure is unanswerable. No one can impugn our bona fides in introducing this legislation. For four years we have been striving to have thi9 legislation placed on the statute-book, and we are not going to jeopardize that legislation now by enacting it in such a form that the High Court will probably pronounce it invalid. In conclusion, I can only say that I resent with every fibre of my being the statement made by Senator Sandford that the Government hopes in some way to torpedo this legislation. Indeed, the boot is on the other foot; Labour would like this legislation to be wrecked. For four years we have been fighting for this. We have gone through two Commonwealth election campaigns and have consistently advocated the introduction of child endowment for the first child of every family. In neither of those elections has the Australian Labour party supported our proposal. Although that party was in office for eight years it made not the slightest attempt to provide child endowment for the first child of a family; yet now honorable senators opposite are expressing views, probably in a fit of jealousy, and advancing proposals that they would not consider when they were in office, and are trying to undermine the effectiveness of this legislation. I oppose the amendment.
– I am surprised by the attitude displayed by the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) and his supporters. They have agreed that there is some doubt about the practicability of their proposals. The Minister had something to say about the folly of enacting legislation that is afterwards found .to be unconstitutional; but I point out to the Minister that the purpose and meaning of the amendment that has been moved by Senator McKenna is quite clear. We desire that amendment to be incorporated in the measure, not so much because we fear that the passage of the bill in its present form may enable the employers to save a lot of money, but because we are anxious to protect the employees from being robbed in the aggregate of a considerable sum of money. It is acknowledged that child endowment is paid from a fund derived from the workers by various forms of direct taxation. The Parliament is administering that fund on behalf of the people and our duty is to provide adequate and proper social services for them. Labour has always taken the view that any payments made in respect of social services are paid for by the workers themselves in taxes and should not be taken into account when determining the basic wage to which the worker is rightly entitled from industry. The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) has suggested that if it becomes clear subsequently that the court in fixing the basic wage has taken into consideration a child endowment payment of 5s. then certain other action will be taken by the Government. He has also said, as have other Ministers, that it is impossible to ascertain the components of the basic wage and that it is not incumbent upon the court to dissect the basic wage or to state the manner in which it has been determined. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court has vacillated in its approach to the basic wage. At one stage it was a social and economic wage. The concern of the court then was that the lowest-paid worker in industry should be able to earn enough to provide for a frugal existence for himself, his wife and his family. The court followed the Christian principle that the head of a household should be enabled to earn a wage sufficient to enable him to support his family and thus to maintain his dignity as a human being. In 1931, the court determined the basic wage upon economic grounds only, and that had a devastating effect upon the morale and living standards of our people.
The Government and the Opposition agree that child endowment should not have an adverse effect upon the basic wage. Why should the Government cavil at the insertion of a clause that is designed to make the intention of the Parliament perfectly clear? We all believe that the National Welfare Fund should be utilized to give social benefits to the people and to increase their standard of living and that of their children. We all agree that child endowment in respect of the first child in every family should not be taken into consideration by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in determining the basic wage. If this clause is inserted, the Parliament will not be directing the court to take into account a factor that might lead to an increase of the basic wage. All that it will be doing is to say that this payment shall not be taken into consideration in the computation of the basic wage. I believe that when the Commonwealth expends money it has the right to ensure that that expenditure will achieve the objective that it is intended to achieve. If the Parliament passes legislation that is intended to confer a benefit upon the people by providing for the expenditure of money from a fund to which the people have subscribed - from a fund that is in fact an insurance fund - it has the right to say that that expenditure of public money shall not affect the wages of the workers. If this clause is inserted, the intention of the Parliament will be made clear in the legislation itself. Should the Government persist in opposing the insertion of the clause, it will be clear that it is the intention of honorable senators opposite to destroy the economic aspect of the basic wage. If the position of the National Welfare Fund deteriorates and adjustments of social services have to be made, the people will suffer a decrease of their purchasing power. If this endowment is paid at the rate of 5s. a week, and if the court takes it into consideration in determining the basic wage, single men, single women, widows and other persons who will not benefit by the provisions of the bill, will be penalized until this position is clarified. Should payment of the endowment be made at the rate of 5s. a week, which is thoroughly inadequate, and the Attorney-General, having been able to dissect the basic wage, as apparently he thinks he may be able to do, discovers that the court has taken it into account, the endowment will be increased to 10s. a week. That will result in the unfair position, which has always existed in relation to the workers, of the dog chasing its tail. Having given the workers an additional 5s. a week, we shall then wait until the Attorney-General, by devious means, has discovered that the court has taken that payment into account in computing the basic wage, and we shall then increase the payment to 10s.; but it will take some time to do that, and during that period men with children will derive no benefit from this legislation, while single men and single women and a host of other persons will suffer a reduction of their incomes. It is essential for the Government to make its intentions clear, and to state that it upholds the principle that when public funds that have been derived from taxation specially levied for the purpose and placed in a fund are expended for the specific purpose of benefiting Australian families, such expenditure should not adversely affect wages. Unless that is done, some industrial authority may be prepared to nullify the effect of the payment of this endowment by deducting from the wages of the workers an amount equal to it. That process may continue until all our endeavours in the field of social services are nullified.
– The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) said that this proposed new clause includes a reference not only to the first child but also to the second child, and proceeded to chide me for having taken the matter further than the bill proposes to go. I remind him that clause 3 of the bill covers not only endowment for the first child but also endowment for the second child, the third child and children in institutions. In short, the bill is a completely comprehensive one, covering the whole field of child endowment. If there were any doubt about that, the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) resolved it in the course of his second-reading speech.
– I rise to order. I understood, Mr. Chairman, that you ruled this afternoon that references to remarks made in the second-reading debate were out of order.
– I ruled this afternoon that honorable senators could refer to the second-reading debate provided their remarks were relevant to the clause under discussion.
– I refer Senator Wright to Standing Order 413. The Minister, in his second-reading speech, dealt not only with endowment for the first child but also with endowment for all children. He said, speaking of the Government’s intentions -
It contemplates that, in addition to wages earned, or other income enjoyed, a family which has one child under sixteen years should receive 5s. a week; that a family with two children under sixteen years of age should receive in addition to wages earned, &c, child endowment benefits totalling 15s. a week; that a family with three children under sixteen years of a.ge should receive in addition to wages earned and other income, child endowment of 25s. a week - and so on, endowment of an additional 10s. a week being paid for all subsequent children under sixteen years of age. It holds that view, irrespective of whatever may be the basic wage determined, and the methods by which the Court may reach its determination.
I point out to the Attorney-General, who sought to chide the Opposition for having proposed a comprehensive amendment covering more than the endowment of the first child, that this bill covers endowment for all children and that the Minister for Social Services dealt with the situation upon that basis in his second-reading speech.
The Attorney-General said that the Government has no desire to influence the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I invite the Senate to compare that statement with what the Minister for Social Services said in the course of his reply to the second-reading debate. Dealing with the circumstances in which the Government would increase the endowment for the first child from 5s. to 10s. a week, the Minister said -
I have deliberately repeated that statement because it is inconceivable that during the hearing of the basic wage case now Before the court, the court will not have before it from some quarter the views held by the Government when introducing this measure in this chamber.
Why did the Minister say that if it is not the purpose of the Government that some person shall take a copy of his second-reading speech and put it before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, thereby influencing the mind of the judges? It is clear that the Minister intends that the view of the Government shall be put before the court. Why should not that be done by the Government itself ? Why should the Government leave it to some irresponsible person or to some person who is not the true and proper spokesman for it? What would be wrong in the Government instructing its own counsel in the court to put its views before the judges? To carry the matter a stage farther, what would be wrong in the Government supporting this proposed new clause, which is expressive of its intentions and those of the Opposition ?
The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan) joined with the Attorney-General in claiming that this amendment is not intended to have legal effect. The lawyers in the Senate know perfectly well that a law is interpreted as expressed, that the courts are always groping for the true mind of the legislature, and that it is helpful to a court to have a clear expression of the intention of the legislature. I agree with the Attorney-General that this proposed clause standing alone might be open to some objection. It is a clause that specifies quite clearly the intention of the Parliament. If it stood alone, not very much would be achieved, but we shall proceed shortly to another phase of the bill. We shall come to operative clauses translating that expression of intention into practical effect. This is an important prelude that casts a great deal of light upon the operative clauses that the Senate will consider shortly.
– And it casts a great deal of shadow on this clause.
– The honorable senator will be in a position to reflect the light backwards at a later stage. The Attorney-General has intimated that contests about the validity of what the Opposition proposes may delay the basic wage hearing for some considerable time. Who is likely to raise any question of the validity of the amendment? Certainly not the employees, for whose protection it is designed. It could only be the employers of Australia or some of the State governments of this country.
– The employers are parties to the proceedings.
– I am making it clear where any attack will come from. If there is to be an attack it will come from the employers or from some of the State governments. It is possible that the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration itself might state a case for the consideration of the High Court if it had any doubt. What is the alternative to making a provision such as that proposed? According to the Attorney-General the alternative would be to throw the employees wide open to all of the dangers that I indicated in my speech this afternoon, which I do not intend to repeat. The alternative to making a provision such as this is to leave the workers abandoned.
– They would be in the tender care of the court.
– I raise the question of the constitutionality of the provision that we are now considering. It is a plain statement of intention by the Parliament. The Attorney-General did not controvert the proposition that this is merely a statement of intention. Its validity could not be challenged. Whatever the Parliament declares to be its intention is a fact. That is its intention. It is quite another matter whether in law that legislation can be given valid effect. Although an attack might be made on clauses that seek togive effect to its intention, there could be no attack upon the constitutionality of a bare statement of the intention of the Parliament. The argument that I address to the committee is that such a statement is not open to attack at all, but it could be an entirely different matter when we come to consider the clauses that give effect to that intention. I have no doubt that we shall hear from the Attorney-General on that subject. We on this side shall be prepared to give very good reasons for our belief that what we propose would be constitutional and valid.
The Minister for Social Services who, I thought, had relegated the legal argument to the Attorney-General, was unable to stay out of the fray. He embarked on the legal issue as to whether the proposed amendment was sound or otherwise. Doubtless his first thought was the better. I have already indicated that in my view questions of the validity or otherwise of a bare statement of intention by the Parliament simply do not arise. I regret that the Minister, for the first time in the course of his appearances in the Senate, allowed himself to be a little bit ruffled in attributing spite and jealousy to the Opposition, which, with a sense of responsibility to the great mass of workers of this country, is seeking the adoption of these amendments to protect them. In attributing those motives to the Opposition the honorable senator behaved in a manner not quite worthy of him, and not in keeping with the form that he has displayed in this chamber to date.
– Senator McKenna has expressed the view that opposition to the proposed new section is based upon a misreading of the very provision that he has proposed. He now says that this is a mere statement of intention and nothing more. The proposed new section reads - , 94a. - (1.) It is hereby declared -
– Is not that desirable?
– I am not discussing that question at the moment. Senator McKenna has said that this is a mere statement of intention and nothing more. Clearly it is a declaration intended to have effect - if it is to have any legal meaning at all - on the operation of bodies that fix wages. It quite definitely directs those bodies that there are certain ways in which they are not to fix those wages. This is more than a mere declaration of intention. It is a direction to unspecified bodies in relation to a matter which may enter into the fixing of the basic wage. It tells them what they are to do. That is the real foundation of my suggestion that the validity of this provision is at least. open to the gravest doubt. In this connexion I emphasize that we have to concern ourselves not only with the effect of this provision upon the measure but also the effect which its operation might have upon an award made by the court in obedience to it.
– That is not interfering with the jurisdiction of the court.
– -If the court is told that it shall not take into account certain matters, and that it is to fix rates in a. particular way only, surely that is a direction to the court. T shall not engage in a legal argument with Senator McKenna, because we should not get very far in the settlement of the dispute that might arise between us on legal questions. I am content to accept the position that hp himself accepts, that there is grave doubt about the constitutional validity of this provision, if it has any legal effect at all. The point that T want to emphasize - because I think that it is of very grave importance to many of the trade unionists in this country - is that a stage could well be reached at which, having obtained an award of the court, given in accordance with the provisions of proposed new section 94a(1.)(&), attacks could be made upon the validity of that award after it was made. It is not impossible - I do not say that these things are certain - that after the already long hearing and after the still further delay that may take place in its completion the award obtained might be upset by the High Court of Australia because the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration had fixed its award upon a false legal basis. It is not part of my purpose to raise unnecessary fears, but I suggest that this is a reality. It is of no use asking who will contest this provision and suggesting that the employees will not do so. I point out that the employers also are parties to these proceedings, and it would not be the first time - I know that Senator McKenna will not disagree with this assertion - that a party to proceedings had challenged the validity of the ultimate award of the court. This goes much further than the mere question of the validity of child endowment, although that is important enough in itself. I suggest that those who have the interests of the great body of the public of this country at heart are not desirous of introducing into the present basic wage dispute problems which may very seriously affect the length of time that will be devoted to the consideration of that case, and may seriously delay the operation of any award that the court may make, if it gives effect to the type of provision that the Opposition seeks to have included in the bill.
Senator ARNOLD (New South Wales) [9.12 j. - The debate has taken a very curious turn since Government senators have tried to explain why the Government is not prepared to accept the amendment. We have listened to the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) telling us at some length his views on the constitutionality of the bill. The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) has told us that the whole case rests on that point. After hearing the Attorney-General’s views T am still not clear about the legal position. He is a very cautious Minister, who is anxious that the bill shall not be amended in the manner proposed. He has told the committee that the proposed amendment could be dangerous and having had some experience of constitutional law during the last few years in this Parliament I believe that that is true.
Anything that one does can be dangerous. I hope that honorable senators will not be over-awed by his expression of opinion. The Minister himself has said that the court must take into account what has been said in the Parliament. However, the Government has said that it does not want to influence the court. He led the committee to believe that the Government and the Opposition desired the court to take into consideration that family allowances should be left outside its purview when fixing the basic wage. If I have misunderstood the Minister in this connexion I should be glad if he would correct me. Government senators have said that child endowment is something additional to the basic wage. The implication in the remarks of Government senators is that the Government is trying to give to the people something in addition to the basic wage. We have been told that if the proposed amendment were, adopted it could have no effect at all, that the Parliament could not give a direction to the court. It has been claimed that, the Parliament has no constitutional power to give a direction to the court. I take it that the Minister would be prepared to accept the amendment if he could be sure that it did not constitute a direction to the court, and that the court would not be affronted. If we wish to indicate clearly to the court that child endowment is to be something over and above the basic wage, and shall not be taken into consideration in fixing the basic wage, we should state our intention clearly in this legislation. The AttorneyGeneral said that some one, presumably, would go to the judges and whisper to them what had been said by Ministers in the course of debate, but I maintain that the intention of the Parliament should be stated clearly in this legislation. During the second-reading debate, it was stated time after time that the judges wanted some direction. The Opposition is now merely seeking to do what the Government lias said that it wants to do ; that is, to ensure that endowment shall be paid in respect of the first child without that fact being taken into consideration by the court when assessing the basic wage. The only effective way in which that intention can be made known to the court is to incorporate the amendment in this legis- lation, so that the court may know that the Parliament intends that it shall disregard family allowances when fixing the basic wage.
– With one comment of the AttorneyGeneral (Senator Spicer) I can agree. He said that it was scarcely worth while to argue in the Parliament abstract legal and constitutional propositions because, ultimately, such matters were the concern of the High Court. However, the honorable senator invited me into the fray when he referred to the grave doubts that I allegedly entertain regarding the constitutionality of what the Opposition proposes. I have never at any time expressed grave doubt on this point. In the course of my second-reading speech on the bill, I said -
I am prepared to concede that there may be constitutional difficulties in the way of doing what I have suggested, but at least let , us explore the possibility’ of doing it.
And I now come to the important pari; -
The Opposition believes that it would be possible to direct the court in the manner I have suggested.
At the risk of embarking on a legal dissertation, I say this in justification of the faith that is in the Opposition. If the Parliament had to rely on the very limited power it enjoys in the industrial field, under which it has authority to legislate in respect of the settlement of industrial disputes, then I should have very grave doubts because, under that head, all the Parliament can do is to set up arbitral tribunals and conciliation tribunals, which come into action only when there is an interstate industrial dispute. Then, the parties are heard and, in due course, the tribunal gives an award, untrammelled in its judgment. Honorable senators must remember, however, that late in 1946 the people of Australia wrote into the Constitution a great new power, a whole series of new powers, in fact, to make laws covering the provision of child endowment. That great, plenary, unqualified power in relation to child endowment, together with the power already provided under the Constitution to do anything incidental to any other power, enable this Parliament, with certainty, we believe, to make such laws as will ensure that child endowment will achieve its object - the welfare of children - and that this purpose will not be defeated or prevented in any way. Under that provision, the Parliament has power to say to the industrial tribunals of Australia, whether Commonwealth or State, and to all other wage-fixing bodies, that it is the intention of the Parliament that endowment shall be devoted to the purpose of promoting the welfare of the children of Australia, and to direct them - I put it as strongly as that - not to take child endowment into account in determining wages.
Even if I were wrong in that view - and I believe that I am not wrong - why does not the Government take the slight risk that may be involved, seeing that it is of the same mind as the Opposition in this matter? I believe that the risk is slight, and the Government would be justified in taking that risk in the interests of the mothers, and to protect the endowment payable to all categories of workers throughout Australia. There are incidental risks of a slight delay in the hearing of the basic wage case, but that is insignificant compared with the danger to the basic wage structure if child endowment is married to the determination of the basic wage, and if this should result in cutting down the salaries and wages of a great proportion of workers. I invite the Minister to forget about spite and jealousy, and to admit the real concern of the Opposition over this issue. Let him admit that the Opposition and the Government are at one in their desire to keep child endowment intact, and to prevent it from being cut down or interfered with, openly or covertly, by any tribunal. Section 109 of the Constitution gives the Commonwealth Parliament power to override State law9 that are inconsistent with the Constitution. That being so, wherein lies the offence in directing relatively subsidiary bodies, such as wagefixing tribunals, whether State or Commonwealth? Despite what the AttorneyGeneral said, paragraph (b) of subsection 1 of the proposed new section is primarily declaratory. He said that paragraph (b) was a substantive provision. He quoted part of it and then slipped in the words, “this is a reference to unspecified bodies”. As a matter of fact, there is no reference in that part, either expressed or implied, to any body. The purpose of the paragraph is to lay the basis for the operative sub-sections that follow.
In view of the unanimity of all honorable senators on this point, I urge the Government to demonstrate its sincerity by joining with us, and accepting the proposal we have put forward. If Government supporters refuse to do so, they will lay themselves open to the suspicion that they are not earnest in their declared desire to divorce endowment from wages. The Government will also lay itself open to suspicion if it fails to instruct its counsel before the Commonwealth Arbitration Court regarding the views it has expressed on this issue., Why take the view that some one will tell the court what Ministers said in their second-reading speeches on this bill? Why should not the Government itself tell the court through its representative at the hearing? The Government should also elevate its declared intention above the relatively unimportant level of a ministerial statement, and embody it in a legislative enactment. If it fails to do so, its bona fides will be wide open to question.
– Insofar as the argument of honorable senators opposite suggests a want of sincerity among Government supporters, the most charitable thing I can say is that the members of the Opposition are victims of their own delusions. As for the legal submissions of Senator McKenna, it is obvious to me that he is floundering in deeper and more dangerous waters. He has already moved from his primary proposition, and now rests his submissions on the child endowment power written into the Constitution in 1946. Years ago, when the Labour party did not indulge in legal gymnastics for the purpose of endeavouring to bamboozle its opponents, but endorsed the sane and judicious views of its then leader, John Curtin, who had at his elbow no le9s a lawyer than Dr. Evatt, it committed itself to this declaration -
There is no relevant relationship between the wages fixed by arbitral authorities in Australia and a system of family allowances. Judge Beeby said quite recently that the wage now operative met the requirements of a family with one child; if there were two children there was hardship, and if there were more than two, there was actual suffering. That cannot be denied. It is clear that something must be done nationally, in order to equate the disabilities of larger families to the standard accepted conventionally, or declared juridically, as the average or standard family.
But the Johnnies-come-lately seek now to improve upon that position, not in order to clarify the issue, but to confuse it. So the tanglefoot before the Senate tonight consists of this amendment, which for some obscure and unexplained reason, has been divorced from its company. It is printed along with two other subsections to which reference has been made indirectly by the mover of this amendment, but for some reason the other two little nigger boys are to be left silent while honorable senators discuss subsection (1) of proposed new section 94a as a separate proposition. The first thing about that sub-section is that it is not confined to a declaration as to the effect of child endowment in relation to the first child. Senator McKenna has taken trouble to explain that point in attacking a submission made by the AttorneyGeneral. It extends to a declaration in relation to child endowment for all children.
– So does the bill.
– The honorable senator says, “ So does the bill “, but he is a very superficial student of the bill who does not recognize that the only substantive alteration made by the bill to the law which has been in force since 1941 is to add endowment for the first child under sixteen years to the endowment which was available throughout those years to the second and subsequent children. So that the interjector who said, “ So does the bill “ is just wasting the time of the Senate to make an interjection so insignificant. Proposed new section 94a extends endowment to all children. Honorable senators are told on the confession of those who so roundly plump for this amendment that for the last seven years they have left the basic wage exposed to the risk that is expressed in this sub-section. Honorable senators arc supposed to believe that Mr. John Curtin stated a false doctrine when he said in 1941 that there was no rele vant connexion between child endowment and the fixing of the basic wage. Despite the fact that it is now alleged that the introduction of child endowment was a trap to reduce the basic wage, this amendment was not thought necessary when two subsequent increases of child endowment were made during the period that the Labour government was in office. What has enabled the light to dawn so that this amendment becomes a matter of urgent defence of the basic wage and has caused the Labour Opposition to seek to discredit a most notable Liberal party measure extending social service to 1,000,000 families to whom we heard such plaintive reference this afternoon?
Let me next turn to the argument of Senator McKenna when he said that this first sub-section that he has been so careful to isolate is simply a declaration of intention and is not an operative clause. I am reminded of the ill-fated but momentous declaration of intention that was equally piously introduced into the famous Banking Act 1947, recently so aptly described by the Leader of the Opposition in another place as a completely dead horse. This declaration of intention is almost equally ill-fated. First of all, it declares that child endowment - bears no relation to the prevention or settlement of industrial disputes or to any industrial matter and that it is to be enjoyed quite irrespective of whether either parent of a child is an employee earning salary or wages, is an employer or has any other means ;
That is phrased simply, of course, so that he who runs may read. Then the next branch of Senator McKenna’s argument is that paragraph (6) is only a declaration of intention and has no operative effect and he says that he was confirmed in that conclusion by the AttorneyGeneral’s statement which said that it was a direction to unspecified bodies. Surely Senator McKenna will be the first to concede that it is that lack of specification that increases tremendously the risk of its invalidity because the Parliament of Australia has only limited powers. It is necessary for the Parliament to confine its legislation so that it comes within the four corners of the powers conferred on it by the Constitution. Whether the
Parliament makes one wild sweep and declares that the benefit of child endowment is not to be reduced by the fixing of salaries by unspecified bodies, or, in other words, by any body, it quite obviously runs great risk of exceeding its constitutional power. Let me introduce one indirect reference that Senator McKenna made to the relationship between proposed section 94a (l.)(a), and the other two sub-sections as printed which the honorable senator says, will have the purpose of giving sub-section (1.) its operative effect. I shall not trespass by referring at length to a matter that is not before the Senate, but by way of absurd hypothetical illustration I draw attention to sub-section (3.) (e) which purports to say that the Parliament shall direct every authority having power under the law of a State.
– The honorable senator cannot refer to sub-section (3.) (e). It is not before the chamber.
– Is that a ruling that applies to the Senate and not only to me?
– The honorable senator can deal only with the amendment before the Chair.
– I shall not refer to that proposal. Let us suppose that the committee had before it this absurd hypothetical proposition for the purpose of interpreting sub-clause (1.) of the proposed section. It is not before the Senate. I am not referring to it as fact. But supposing that it were before the chamber and contained a direction to any tribunal set up by the State having power to fix wages under State authority. One supposes, Mr. Chairman, if that were so - -
– I rise to order. I consider that Senator Wright is referring to a matter which it not before the committee. I ask for a ruling.
– I have .pointed out to the honorable senator that he is not in order in referring to anything except the amendment that is before the Chair.
– I fully understand that. As I believe that Senator O’Byrne did not follow my line of argument, let me state it quite clearly.
– When the interjections subside I shall ask honorable senators what they would say if they were told that a possible interpretation of sub-section (1) was that it should have operation in respect of State wagefixing bodies.
– Is this a surreptitious way of getting round the Chairman’s ruling ?
– I ask the honorable senator to confine his remarks to the proposition before the committee. Honorable senators do not want any supposition either.
– Let me proceed on a clear basis. I understand that I am not allowed to illustrate by reference to a hypothetical basis.
– Well, sir, I cannot accept your ruling.
– The honorable senator will have an opportunity to discuss other amendments when they come before the committee.,
– My submission is that sub-section (1.) (b) of proposed section 94a is a declaration that earnings shall not be reduced by the fixation of wages by State authorities.
– The honorable senator’s time has expired.
.- The purpose of this measure is to protect the recipients of child endowment. It would appear that some honorable senators especially Senator Wright, are chiefly concerned with finding ways and means of enabling the Arbitration Court or some other tribunal to defeat the purpose of the bill which provides child endowment. It is well known that child endowment is paid out of the National Welfare Fund that is provided by the employees on the one hand and the employers on the other hand through the instrumentality of the pay-roll tax. I cannot understand the reason for the opposition to this amendment because it3 objective is to protect child endowment. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber do not desire either that the employees shall pay for it, or that the employers, on the other hand, shall benefit from a reduction of the basic wage while the workers themselves are paying for child endowment. That is one reason why this legislation has for its purpose an intimation to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court that in the compilation of the basic wage, it should not take into consideration any child endowment. Let me say further, more especially to some of those on the Government side who have been complaining about the court not desiring any instruction from Parliament, that I recollect clearly, and it is on record, that in the 1941 basic wage case, Judge Beeby wanted the Parliament to give a guide to the court as to what it intended should be done in relation to the basic wage. The court at the time knew perfectly well that the increase that would have been necessary to support a man, wife and family would have meant such a huge increase of the wages bill that the court was afraid to declare what it considered would be a correct family wage. Chief Judge Beeby himself deliberately pointed out that the wage provided at that time was insufficient to provide ordinary frugal comfort for a man, wife and two children. He said he was pleased that the government of the day had considered the introduction of child endowment. Honorable senators opposite say that if the court decides to fix the basic wage on the basis of a man, his wife and one child, the Government will increase the 53. payable under this legislation to 10s. To be consistent with that argument, the Government should be paying 15s. a week in respect of the first child but, of course, it does not intend to do anything of the kind. Its sole aim is to finance this child endowment legislation out of the National Welfare Fund, and so make the workers pay for the endowment themselves, while, at the same time, employers will be saved millions of pounds a year in basic wage payments.
The Labour party is charged with having failed to extend child endowment to the first child of each family in the eight years that it held office in this Parliament; but the Labour party is not in office to-day. The Liberal party and the Australian Country party occupy the treasury bench. I challenge those parties to double child endowment payments as the Labour Government did. Of course, they will not do that. Indeed, they have devised a scheme under which child endowment is to be extended to the first child in each family at the cost of the workers. The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) said that the trade unionists would not thank the Opposition in this chamber for the job that it is doing to-day; but the trade unionists know very well that we are endeavouring to safeguard the basic wage. We believe we can do that best by submitting this amendment. We have no desire to see any of the rights of the working man whittled away. We believe the amendment to be in the best interests of the workers.
– In rising to support the amendment, I am almost inclined to address you, Mr. Chairman, as “ Your Honour “ because, to-night we have listened to a most interesting discussion between legal members of this committee. The Opposition is supporting an amendment providing for the insertion in the bill of a clear statement that the Parliament of the Commonwealth wishes that, in future, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court shall not take child endowment into consideration when fixing wages. Senator McKenna, a former Attorney-General, has stated the case for the prosecution. The Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) has dealt at length with the pros and cons of the proposal. The main argument against the amendment, as far as I can see, is that the legal minds cannot agree on whether an expression of the will of this Parliament would stand the test in the High Court should it be challenged. That may be, but I remind honorable senators opposite, particularly the Attorney-General, that the Government and the parties for which he speaks are largely responsible for the fact that there can be disputation on this amendment. When this Parliament asked its masters, the people, to clothe it with full industrial powers so that there could be no argument about its authority to legislate upon industrial matters, the people rejected the proposal because the present AttorneyGeneral and his associates were able to so confuse the issue that the people decided upon a negative vote. Consequently, a greater part of to-day has been occupied with disputation amongst legal members of this chamber. After the AttorneyGeneral had fired his big guns, the junior, the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) had a word or two to say. Then the office boy or articled clerk, who had been delving in the archives, discovered that, at some time or other, the late John Curtin had made a declaration, as leader of the Australian Labour party, that child endowment was in no way connected with the basic wage. T agreed with that until a few months ago, when my colleagues and I became rather apprehensive that the Government’s child endowment proposals might adversely affect the basic wage that is to be awarded to workers at the conclusion of the present proceedings in the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Who was responsible for those misgivings? The responsibility rests solely with those who to-day form the Government of this country. Towards the end of last year, when the then Opposition parties announced during the election campaign that, if elected to office, they proposed to endow the first child of each family, the court immediately adjourned its hearing of the basic wage case. It said in effect, “ We must have a good look at this. We refuse to go further with our investigation of the basic wage until we know what is in the minds of the people who have raised the child endowment issue. We want to know what will happen if the people of Australia decide that there should be a change of government “. I say, therefore, that honorable senators opposite must accept ‘ the responsibility for the doubt that has been raised about the possible effect of the Government’s child endowment legislation upon the basic wage. We would be mo9t foolish if we, as a responsible Opposition and as a party charged with safeguarding the interests of those whom the fixing of a new basic wage most vitally concerns, were not to endeavour to insert in this legislation a provision expressly stating the intention of the Parliament. Honorable senators opposite ask why the Labour Government did not take this action. The answer is that, when Labour was in office, there was no fear such as that existing to-day. Both the Curtin and
Chifley Governments legislated for the introduction of social services such as sickness and unemployment benefits, without causing an alteration of the basic wage. Those benefits were granted to the workers in addition to the basic wage. However, now that doubts have been raised about the possible effect of this legislation, we believe that it is necessary for us to move this amendment. The Government has not suggested through its legal members that the amendment is not good. Their argument is that the High Court may declare the provision unconstitutional. . We all know that we cannot expect lawyers to agree. Otherwise, of course, there would be no need for lawyers, because everything would proceed smoothly. Even on the bench of the High Court there is not always unanimity. I understand that whatever differences of opinion may be expressed during the deliberations of the Privy Council, all differences are submerged when a decision has been reached and the recommendation to the King is made unanimously. Possibly the Privy Council is the only tribunal on which the disagreements between lawyers can be hidden. The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) pleaded with the committee to be courageous and to do something new. The Government could well adopt that suggestion. It should be courageous and accept the Opposition’s amendment so that the intention of the Parliament may be made clear to the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The people of Australia by referendum clothed the Parliament with authority to enact legislation providing social services for their benefit. It seems to me, therefore, that the hostility shown to our amendment and the legalisms that have been expounded are mere devices to dissuade us from pressing the amendment. No doubt Ministers hoped that, as mere laymen, we would be afraid to press the amendment. However, I can assure honorable senators opposite that the Labour party knows where it is going and knows what it wants. It knows that the people whom it represents are in need of something more than they are receiving at the moment. It also knows that the payment of child endowment should not prejudice the claims of the workers for a fair basic wage. We are not dismayed by the legal arguments advanced to-night against our amendment. Of course, we are laymen in these matters, but I liken us to the members of a jury, who, after hearing all the arguments and eloquence of learned counsel, make a final decision in a case quite irrespective of the fact that they come from more lowly walks of life than the counsel who appear before them. The committee will do the same thing. We shall support the amendment because we believe it to be a necessary safeguard.
– Having spoken at considerable length during the second-reading stage of the bill, I do not propose to take up much of the time of the committee now. Let me say at once that I hope that neither this Parliament nor ‘ any other Parliament in this country will ever attempt to indicate to the courts how they should discharge their duty or will seek .to interfere with them in any other way. We have noted the remarks made by judges on various occasions when misguided attempts have been made by legislatures to interfere with them in the discharge of their judicial duty. I think that it would be a most retrograde step for the Parliament to endeavour to influence the Commonwealth Arbitration Court by making such a declaration as is proposed in the amendment. I also express my intense astonishment at the vehemence with which the Opposition is now pressing the case for endowment for the first child. As late as 1946, when a member of the Liberal party in the House of Representatives moved an amendment that owing to the increased cost of living child endowment should be extended to include the first child of a family, and a vote was taken, the Labour party, which was then in office, defeated it by a solid party vote. Even at the risk of repeating ad nauseum the fact that Labour was in office for eight years and did nothing to remedy the injustice to the first child of a family, I contrast the difference between Labour’s attitude when in office and when it is in Opposition. The reception given to this bill by members of the Opposition has been one of complete hostility. While saying to the microphone that they are in favour of the bill they have in fact done everything possible to discourage and to prevent the passing of the bill. Although no mention has previously been made of the fact by any honorable senator on either side of the chamber, I take the opportunity now to point out that, in addition to providing the proposed 5s. a week endowment for the first child, the present Administration also proposes that every child up to the age of twelve years shall receive free milk while at school.
– Order ! The honorable senator must confine her remarks to the clause under discussion.
– The child endowment that is offered by the Government is commendable, and if Opposition senators were as truthful about the matter as they would have the people believe they would do everything they could to assist the passage of the bill. I oppose the amendment because, taking an overall survey, and having regard to the amount of money that the Government has available at the moment, I consider that the proposal is a fair one. In saying that I stress the words “ at the moment “. Furthermore, the Government is spreading its money over every part of the community, including a large number of necessitous cases. In conclusion, I oppose the amendment and repeat that I trust that neither this Administration nor any future Administration will attempt to interfere with the courts of the land.
– Like Senator Sheehan, I have no legal qualifications, although, unlike him, I have a great deal of admiration for the legal profession - at times. I have always endeavoured to keep out of the hands of the law, and, therefore, I do not propose to indulge in any legal argument to-night. As a layman, it seems to me that the real test of any bill is not the number of words it contains or the sentiments it professes, but whether the effects will be good or bad, or, in other words, whether it is in the interests of the people as a whole. I believe that the amendment brings out certain points of weakness or omission in the bill as originally drafted. Of course, we all know that no bill of any importance has been passed without some opposition, and that no worthwhile measure has ever been enacted that has not affected some one adversely. The true test of the soundness of a measure is whether it is calculated to do the best for the greatest number of people. Because we represent a very large cross-section of the Australian people, and because it is our duty to protect the interests of those people, we desire to ensure that the proposed increase of child endowment will not adversely affect wages and salaries. The amendment moved by Senator McKenna, therefore, provides that the benefit of endowment is not to be defeated or reduced by fixing the salary or wages of employees at rates at less than would be paid had the endowment not been granted. Surely that is a reasonable request. Is it not reasonable to expect that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court will make certain re-adjustments in the basic wage ? Does the Government expect that honorable Senators on this side of the chamber would ignore that important point? Of course, whether the Government accepts our amendment is its responsibility; but our duty is to make these facts known and put them before the Government as forcefully as we can. The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) questioned the legal effect of the amendment that Senator McKenna has proposed. My experience of the High Court has indicated that its decisions are quite unpredictable. However, because we believe that the interests of the people can be properly safeguarded only by directing the courts not to pay attention to the increase of child endowment when fixing the basic wage we support the amendment.
The Minister complained that our attitude was dictated by jealousy, exasperation or frustration. That is not so. As members of this chamber we have the right and the duty to express our opinions. If honorable senators opposite choose to regard our attitude as obstructive we cannot help that. I do not propose to canvass all the contentions raised by other honorable senators opposite. However, I was rather surprised at Senator Wright’s histrionic references to political tangle-foot, bankruptcy, dead horses, and legal and political gymnastics. Of course, these are subjects on which he is better informed than I am, but I thought that as a matter of plain reasoning the only question that we have to ask ourselves now is whether we consider the bill in its present form to be good or bad, and whether we should amend it. In my opinion the amendment proposed by Senator McKenna is highly desirable for reasons that have been amply stated, and is sound in law. Furthermore, it has been introduced for the best possible reasons and from the highest possible motives, and I therefore commend the amendment to the Senate.
– Three main and substantial reasons have been advanced in opposition to the amendment. Before dealing with them I desire to say that although the arguments put forward by Senator Robertson were expressed with considerable warmth they left me quite cold. The amendment under consideration does not propose to direct the court to do anything; it merely brings certain facts before the court. My mind goes back to the grim days of the depression-
– 1930 again!
– Yes, because the suffering in those days was so intense that the recollection is vivid and bitter. Although the Commonwealth Arbitration Court fixed the basic wage, that did not prevent a former administration from reducing wages by 10 per cent. On another occasion in Western Australia a judge, after finding that the ‘ C ‘ series index indicated that a rise of the cost of living had taken place, decided on two occasions that no increase of the basic wage should be granted. At that time I was one who petitioned the Government to request the judge to carry out his duty in accordance with the law. As I said at the outset, three reasons have been put forward by honorable senators opposite against accepting the amendment. First, they contend that it is not necessary; secondly, they repeat parrot-like, “ Why did not Labour do it during the eight years that it was in office? “ ; and thirdly, they argue that because of certain legal complexities we should not interfere with the measure as it stands at present. The third reason was thrown in by the
Attorney-General (Senator Spicer) at a very late stage and was accompanied by all sorts of overt threats that if we interfered in this complicated legal matter all sorts of things might happen in the court and that the hearing of the basic wage inquiry might be further delayed. The AttorneyGeneral must know that it will not be the people that we represent, the employees, who will try to hold up the basic wage case.
I shall now deal with the suggestion that the proposed new clause is unnecessary. May the Senate and God forgive me, because I am about to quote from a legal document!
– I hope that the honorable senator understands it.
– I understand it better than the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’sullivan) does. Chief Judge Beeby, dealing with a decision of the Full Court in 1934, said -
This suggests that the adoption of a family unit is not necessary, and that what should be sought is the independent ascertainment and prescription of the highest basic wage that can be sustained by the total of industry in all its primary, secondary and ancillary forms. That no doubt is the object, but the adoption of something like the real average family as the unit to be provided for is not without its use in the attainment of that object. There is no clear means of measuring the general wage-paying capacity of the total industry of a country. All that can be done is to approximate, and one of the methods of approximation is to find out the actual wage upon which well-situated labourers are at the time maintaining the average family unit. We may be pardoned for saying that Mr. Justice Higgins very wisely used this criterion in the Harvester case.
The reason why it was not necessary for the Labour party, when it formed tho Government of the country, to do something about this is that never before had the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, postponed the hearing of a case because of the utterance of a political leader. I shall quote a passage from a judgment by Mr. Justice 0’Mara. He said -
This comment is not quoted to dispose of the submission that a family unit of five should be selected but merely to illustrate the futility of attempting to do justice to the large family by means of a basic wage fixed on average requirements and to show to what extent such a wage favours those without dependants and neglects those with many.
Surely that is an indication that the endowment of the larger families did not throw a strain upon the basic wage, but now that we are dealing with the only child in a family that is not receiving child endowment, and having regard to the reasons that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court gave for adjourning the hearing of the basic wage case during the last general election campaign, it is clear why we on this side of the chamber have some fears regarding the possible effects upon the basic wage of the payment of the proposed endowment.
The Minister for Social Services has said that it is his intention that this endowment shall be paid over and above the basic wage. We are all in agreement with that view. Even if the whole of our argument is wrong, the Government is exhibiting an almost unprecedented degree of stubbornness in resisting our proposal to write into the bill, in order to make assurance doubly sure, a provision stating that payment of this endowment shall not affect the basic wage. The supporters of the Government, with broad smiles and outstretched arms, have time and again asked honorable senators on this side of the chamber to give the Government assistance in relation to all sorts of things, but they seem to forget that the Opposition also has a duty to the people. There are some persons who are unkind enough to suggest that the aim of the Government in introducing this measure is to upset the basic wage. We want to protect the basic wage and to ensure that the misgivings that have been expressed will not be realized. The Government has nothing to lose by agreeing to the insertion of this clause. If what the Attorney-General has stated may occur does in fact occur, the whole of the responsibility for it will rest fairly and squarely upon the shoulders of those of us on this side of the chamber who have suggested that the clause should be inserted. I cannot see why the Government is opposing the insertion of a clause that could do no harm and may possibly do a great deal of good to the mothers of Australia.
.- The Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner), in replying to the statements made by Senator McKenna and other honorable senators on this side of the chamber, based his argument on the opinions expressed by the Attorney-General (Senator Spicer), which are, I assume, backed by the opinions of the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan). Both of those honorable senators are lawyers, but .it is remarkable that they have contradicted one another. The Attorney-General told us that the proposed new clause, if inserted in the bill, would have no legal effect and, therefore, that it should not be inserted. If it would have no legal effect, surely the Attorney-General should not have gone on to point out what its legal effect would be, but he did so. He said that the legal effect of it would be to direct the Commonwealth Arbitration Court to do certain things. Either the clause has no legal effect or it has a legal effect. Many people believe that when two legal men come together an argument ensues, but in this instance we have a lawyer who is arguing with himself.
Notwithstanding what the lawyer from Tasmania, Senator Wright, ‘has ‘said, there is a difference between fact and law. What we are trying to do is to write into the bill a statement of fact. It is -true that it is in the nature of a preamble to a further statement that will give certain directions. I do not think any member of the Opposition denies that we want to give a direction to any court that is determining any basic wage or, for that matter, any wage, that it shall not take the payment of this endowment into consideration. It is not our intention to direct the Commonwealth Arbitration Court how it should assess the basic wage. The direction to that court or to any other court will come later, but it will not be a direction how the basic wage should be assessed.
– It will be’ a direction upon how it should not be assessed.
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has had his say. I listened very carefully to him and took a note of what he said. The statement of fact that we desire to be inserted in the bill will not direct the Common- wealth Arbitration Court how to assess the basic wage. All that it will do, in conjunction with another clause, will be to tell that court or any other court that it shall not take the payment of child endowment into consideration. That is enirely different from directing a court as to the means by which it shall assess the basic wage. There is a difference of opinion upon this matter between two very eminent lawyers who are members of the Government.
– I agree entirely with the Attorney-General.
– Apparently it is the opinion of the Minister for Trade and Customs that the proposed clause has some legal effect.
– None whatever.
– The Minister now says that, in his opinion, the proposed clause will have no legal effect. Nevertheless, he says that we are attempting to direct the court. If we are attempting to direct the court, then the proposed clause must have some legal effect.
The Attorney-General and other honorable senators opposite have indulged in a campaign of fear., They have said that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has no jurisdiction to act upon the provisions of any act other than the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act and that the insertion of this proposed clause in this measure may have the effect, not only of invalidating child endowment payments but also of leading to a challenging in the High Court of the judgment of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. I do not think that the man in the street will take any notice of suggestions of that kind. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court, in determining the basic wage, will take into consideration whatever it does take into consideration. There is some argument about what it is, but I do not propose to go into that matter now. All that we shall do by the insertion of this clause is to declare that the payments made under the provisions of this measure shall not be considered in the computation of the basic wage. How such a declaration could affect the validity of the judgment of the Commonwealth
Arbitration Court is a matter that I leave to the lawyers to .discuss. No person other than a lawyer would think of it.
Honorable senators opposite forget that we are dealing with a statement of fact that is a preliminary to a subsequent direction. All their arguments about giving directions to the court have no bearing upon the clause that is now under discussion. If the Government really believes that the payment of this endowment should not be taken into consideration in the computation of the basic wage, surely it would not be wrong to state that in the bill.
Senator Wright quoted a statement by Mr. Curtin, which he said had been supported by the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt), that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court’s assessment of the basic wage has no relation to child endowment. Possibly it did not have such a relation at that time, but we know that because of the payment of child endowment the basic wage was not increased.
– In what case was that?
– In 1941, when the adjournment of the basic wage inquiry occurred.
– That was before Mr. Curtin made his statement.
– The Commonwealth Arbitration Court adjourned the hearing of the basic wage case in. 1941 to let the government of the day do something in relation to child endowment, and then gave its reasons for adjourning the case further. No decision has been given since then. We have had the experience of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court not adjusting the basic wage because child endowment had been introduced.
A number of honorable senators opposite have pointed out that the Government has said that child endowment for the first child should not be taken into consideration in assessing the basic wage and that if it is taken into consideration the proposed payment will be increased from 5s. to 10s. a week. There is a doubt about the matter. The Government has said that if the court takes this payment into consideration and alters the unit basis from a man, wife and one child to a man and wife, the payment will be increased to 10s. a week. What would happen if the court continued to adopt the basis of a unit of three but reduced the basic wage because of the payment of child endowment in respect of the first child at the rate of 5s. a week? In the original basic wage case in 1907, 12s. 6d. was the amount mentioned as the assessment. Since then the wage has been increased, adjustments have been made and anomalies have been corrected. To-day, that 12s. 6d. would be the equivalent of approximately 17s., or probably more under the new assessment that may be made by the court in the case that is now being heard. If the court takes into consideration this proposed payment of 5s. a week and. continues to work on the basis of a unit of three, the 17s. will be reduced to 12s., or 6d. less than the original assessment, but because the court has not reduced the basis to a unit of two, the endowment will not be increased from 5s. to 10s. a week.
I suggest that it would not be wrong for the Parliament of the Commonwealth to declare tha.t child endowment shall not be taken into consideration by the court in its assessment of the basic wage, and thus ensure that a payment made to the people in one way shall not be taken away from them in another way. There is nothing wrong with sub-section (&) of the proposed new section, which declares that the benefit of the endowment is not to be defeated or reduced by fixing the salaries or wages of employees at rates less than the rates that would be paid if the endowment were not payable. Every honorable senator opposite who has spoken on this bill has said that that is what the Government is aiming at and that if the court does take the payment into consideration the amount will be increased. We are asking the Government to write that into the bill.
– We all appreciate the manner in which Senator O’flaherty has addressed the committee. He was genuinely addressing himself to this problem, but I remind him that Senator McKenna advised the Minister for Social Services (Senator Spooner) to leave legal questions to the
Attorney-General. One cannot but appreciate the difficulties that are involved in discussing these legal questions generally. All parties supported the legislation under which the Commonwealth Arbitration Court was established, and it is the judges of that court who have propounded the principles upon which the basic wage is determined. We are now concerned with the application of this legislation to that conception of the basic wage. We are bound by the Constitution. We must arrive at the best possible understanding of the legal problems involved. I can do no better than to refer the committee to a unanimous decision of the High Court in the Ozone Theatre case which was delivered last August. It is reported in 78 Commonwealth Law Reports, at page 301. The decision was -
The power of the court is constitutionally limited by the word “ disputes “. The court can make orders or rewards in relation to particular disputes, but cannot independently ot disputes prescribe a system of industrial regulation. An order or award of the court in its arbitral jurisdiction must be an award or order directed to the prevention or settlement of some particular industrial dispute. It follows that when s. 25 refers to “ the basic wage or the principles upon which it is computed “, the reference cannot ( if the provision is valid) be to a generally declared basic wage or to generally declared principles of computation. If any effect is to be given to the provision the reference must be taken to be a reference to a basic wage to be discovered in an award or awards as a wage or element in a wage or wages payable to persons entitled to the benefit of the award and to the principles upon which that wage or element in the award is computed.
I have intruded this reference on the attention of the committee because I believe that it was a very weighty pronouncement, representing the unanimous opinion of five judges. That clearly shows that any declaration by the Parliament generally upon principles for the computation of the basic wage has no legal validity.. That authority, if authority were wanted, completely supports the submission that I made to the Attorney-General. It should show the danger of encumbering this measure with technicalities involving constitutional questions which may be agitated by any party, and confident though Senator Willesee is that only employer interests would challenge this wage I suggest that a little reflection would convince any one that the person disappointed by an award would be the one likely to seize upon any valid constitutional objection to upset it. Obviously, therefore, the attack may come from any interested or disappointed section of the community. When I attempted previously to submit an argument to the Senate the amendment was confined to proposed new section 94a. (1), but it has since been signed in accordance with Standing Order 138, and the signature is such as to embrace the whole of the amendments proposed, including subsection (3) of proposed new section 94a.
– Order! The only question before the committee is the amendment that has been moved. Although other amendments have been foreshadowed, they are not before the committee at the moment. The honorable senator should confine his remarks to the amendment before the committee.
– With respect, I draw attention to Standing Order 138, which provides -
– Order ! I am aware that Standing Order 138 provides that proposed amendments shall be signed.
– The signature to this proposed amendment includes -
– Order! The honorable senator is entitled only to discuss the amendment that has been moved by Senator McKenna.
– I accept your ruling, Mr Chairman.. However, will you inform me, please, what the amendment that has been signed in accordance with Standing Order 138 embraces?
– Other amendments have been foreshadowed. When they come before the committee at a later stage the honorable senator will have an opportunity to discuss .them.
– I am under the impression that the amendment that has been signed includes a reference to an authority having power under the law of a State to fix wages-
– Order ! Although Senator McKenna has signed at the bottom and on the back of the sheet containing the proposed amendments he could have signed each proposed amendment separately. The only matter before the committee at present is the amendment that has been moved by Senator McKenna.
– Do I understand, Mr. Chairman, that your ruling precludes me from discussing the other proposed amendments?
– I consider that the. remarks of Senator Wright in reference to what the High Court had to say about what constitutes a basic wage have added nothing to the matters that have been before the committee to-night. On behalf of the Opposition I had already advanced that very position in considering the limited industrial power of the Commonwealth, It is quite obvious from Senator Wright’s reference to the High Court that we are considering the ambit of one constitutional power only. As I have already indicated, we are not relying upon the. industrial power, which limits the court to a dispute with an interstate aspect. We are looking far beyond that to a new and later power in relation to child endowment. I content myself at this stage by pointing out that the portion of the clause that we are considering at the moment contains no reference whatever to the basic wage.
– There is a reference to the fixing of wages.
– That is so. But Senator Wright referred to the technical term “ basic wage “ and pointed out that that can be fixed by the Common.wealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration only as a result of a dispute between employers and employees. That process is multiplied over many unions and many employers. For that reason, care was taken in drafting the amendment to make no specific reference to the basic wage. Although Senator Wright has directed an argument as to the meaning of the term “ basic wage “, it is not in point, because there is no reference in the amendment to the basic wage. I do not argue that the term “wage3 and salaries” is not wide enough to include the basic wage, but we have not restricted it- to that. The amendment has been deliberately framed in such a way as to avoid running into the difficulties envisaged by Senator Wright.
– I realize the difficulties with which Senator McKenna is faced, but I should like him to deal with this proposition: I think there is common agreement that the Commonwealth Parliament can legis-late in regard to industrial matters only when there is a dispute.
– I agree with that.
– Only in respect of matters that are in dispute can it enact legislation such as will have impact on the Commonwealth Arbitration Court in any of its jurisdictions.
– Even then, the dispute must be interstate in character.
– the moment I was- taking the wider new. The amendment states that endowment is to bear no relation to the preven-tion or settlement of industrial disputes or to any industrial matter. Thus, it is to be taken entirely out of the realm of those matters upon which, this Parliament can legislate. The effect of the amendment would be to make of child endowment such a matter that the Parliament would have no power to give any direction to the court respecting it, or to pass in respect of it legislation that would have any impact upon the Commonwealth Arbitration Court.
, - I think we agreed previously that it is not very profitable to pursue these discussions, but out of courtesy to Senator O’sullivan, I shall comment on the point he raised. He concentrated entirely on the power possessed by this Parliament over conciliation and arbitration.
is the only power it possesses in the industrial field.
– Yes, so far as that placitum is concerned, but in 1946 an entirely new power, that over child endowment, was written, into the Constitution.
– That did not extend the Commonwealth’s industrial power.
– It is an entirely new head of power, and I submit that it gives the Parliament authority to make such laws regarding child endowment as will achieve its object, namely, the welfare of children, and to pass legislation to prohibit anything that would prevent the achievement of that object. I remind honorable senators of what the Chief Justice of the High Court said in the first pharmaceutical benefits case in 1945. This Parliament, having no power to legislate in respect of such matters, relied on it3 power of appropriation, endeavouring under that head to provide pharmaceutical benefits. The High Court pronounced the legislation invalid, holding that it went a great deal further than the appropriation of money, and sought to regulate the fields of medicine, chemistry, &c. In his judgment, the Chief Justice Sir John Latham, drew particular attention to the fact that if the legislation had been a true exercise of the appropriation power, then, under its incidental power, the Parliament could have made laws to ensure that its purposes were achieved, and to prevent the taking of any steps designed to defeat the intentions of the Parliament. That, I suggest, was a very important observation from a very high authority. Applying it to child endowment, which is now the subject of a new head of power under the Constitution, it seems clear that the Parliament is authorized to say to industrial bodies : “ Do not take child endowment into account in fixing wages or salaries, because, if you do, you will whittle down the power of the Parliament to legislate regarding endowment “.
Senator Spooner said that there might be constitutional difficulties. I say that the Commonwealth’s power in respect of child endowment is complete, and that its full extent has not yet been explored. Any doubts I entertain are of the view that the High Court might take of the inter-play between the full and complete power of the Commonwealth over endowment, and its restricted power over industrial matters. However, I should infinitely prefer to be arguing before the High Court in favour of the validity of the Opposition’s proposals than to be arguing against it.
– Courageous man!
– I am always courageous. I take heed of the remark of Senator Spooner, who urged the Opposition to be courageous.
– Courageous, but not foolhardy.
– Even if there is a modicum of legal doubt, it is a fine thing to be developing the Constitution. The High Court itself has said that the Constitution is dynamic, that it moves with the times. Laymen will be amazed to hear that in the banking case, an august body like the Privy Council said that the problem it had to settle in determining whether Section 52 of .the Constitution forbade the nationalization of private banking was less a legal one than a social, political and economic one. The High Court might also take a wide view of constitutional provisions, rather than be bound by a coldly legal interpretation. I was struck by the frankness of the Privy Council in conceding that its interpretation of the Constitution might be swayed by social, political and economic considerations.
– The whole judgment was very candid.
– It was very interesting. For instance, Section 92, which says in express terms that trade and commerce between the States shall be absolutely free was, by a delightful process of argument, made to support the contention that something which should be absolutely free might nevertheless be subject to complete prohibition if the country had reached a sufficiently advanced social state. I can readily understand that such an argument must be puzzling to a layman. I think we can confidently expect that the High Court, when interpreting this provision, will realize the forces that activated the giving of the power by the people of Australia, and will take no narrow view of it. It is true that the industrial power under the Constitution is confined within very narrow limits, which themselves have been the cause of as much industrial disputation as any other factor by causing a conflict of laws between the Commonwealth and the States ; but in respect of child endowment, the Commonwealth has a great new power with no qualification at all - power to make laws for the provision of child endowment. One does not have to be a lawyer to realize that this complete power must carry with it authority to enact legislation that no one shall act to defeat that power. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator O’Sullivan), who provoked me into this unpremeditated dissertation -
– And unconsidered, also.
– The honorable senator’s remark is wholly unjustified. I doubt very much whether he can controvert any of the propositions I have put before the Senate. I invite him to do so for the entertainment of the Senate, if he thinks he can.
– In the light of the academic argument that is taking place in this chamber, one does not wonder that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has taken fifteen months over the. basic wage case. Whatever factors may be taken into consideration by the courts, the fact remains that this amendment expresses the intention of both the Government and the Opposition, not only in respect of the present basic wage and present rate of child endowment, but also in respect of any future adjustments that may be made. Payments from the National Welfare Fund should be made for the purposes which the Parliament had in mind when passing legislation authorizing the endowment of the first and succeeding children. On that point I consider that honorable senators are arguing the present basic wage case in conjunction with child endowment and the result may have a bearing on future cases. That is a direction for future deliberations on the basic wage to show that the Government does not wish child endowment or social services of any sort to be taken into consideration when the basic wage is being computed. This amendment makes the mind of the Parliament clear. Although legal argument is interesting, laymen and those who are to get the advantage of this legislation should understand that the issue is clear-cut, and is not wrapped up in legal phraseology. I hope that the Government will see its way clear to incorporate this amendment in the act.
Question put -
That the proposed new clause be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman - Senator T. M. Nicholls.)
Majority . . 13
The following papers were pre sented : -
Commonwealth Public Service Act - Appointment - Department of Supply - K. H. Bradshaw.
Customs Act - Customs Proclamation - No. 765.
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired for - Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization purposes - North Ryde, New South Wales.
Department of Civil Aviation purposes - Derby, Western Australia.
South Perth, Western Australia.
Postal purposes - Burwood, New South Wales.
Life Insurance Act - Fourth Annual Report of the Insurance Commissioner for 1949.
Senate adjourned at 11.9 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 26 April 1950, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1950/19500426_senate_19_207/>.