Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 27 March 1941

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) . - The Leader of the Senate ('Senator McLeay) said that we were committed to conciliation and arbitration. The Opposition answers that we are not challenging arbitration as a principle. What we are challenging is the basis on which the Arbitration Court at present operates; and that is another thing altogether. Arbitration, as a principle, is supposed to be based on equity and good conscience. In its judgments, however, the Arbitration Court works on the basis of a minimum wage, the least on which the workers can live, quite irrespective of the wealth they produce by their labours. It follows, inevitably, that the least the workers receive, the more employers of labour will receive as their share of the total wealth produced. Therefore, our challenge is against the. basis on which the court operates in that respect. We say that the workers do not now receive what they actually earn. They receive a remuneration which is governed by their social influence. When workers are organized as is the case in Australia, they will receive more in the form of wages, or remuneration, than they would receive if they were not organized. When they are organized they exercise an influence which is expressed through the medium of this Parliament, and ultimately brought to , bear upon the subordinate institution known as the Arbitration Court. However, the workers' remuneration up to date has been limited strictly and rigidly to their actual needs. Why? Because this method represents the sum-total of the policy of the Government and the employers. To the degree that the needs of the workers are limited, the workers can be controlled and exploited more effectively. This policy is carried out so effectively to-day that apples and pears and foodstuffs generally are allowed to rot or to be destroyed, and production generally restricted, in order that wages, in terms of commodities which wages can buy, cannot he increased. Broadly speaking, that is the policy being followed in industry to-day. That is why the basic wage, in. terms of what the money will buy, has not been increased since it was first fixed in 1907. The present basic wage in Victoria of £4 6s. will not 'buy a greater quantity of foodstuffs or clothing than was procurable for the basic wage of £2 2s. in 1907. Even if the basic wage were increased to £10 a week, we should find that, in accordance with the policy of this Government as given effect to by the Arbitration Court, prices would rise almost simultaneously. Although the wage increases in terras of money, the actual wage in terms of commodities never increases. The same effect will be produced by the Government's proposed child endownment legislation. Irrespective of the amount of the .basic wage, its purchasing power is limited to the minimum actual needs of the workers. To that degree it will 108 retained as a medium through which the consumption of the workers can be controlled, and their labours exploited in the interests of the. owners of the means by which they live. Senator Keane stated that child endowment will cost £13,000,000 a year. It has also 'been said that an increase of 6s. in the basic wage will also run into many millions of pounds annually. These millions of pounds are merely figures, merely terms of money. While we have available more material in the form of foodstuffs, clothing and housing than is sufficient to meet the needs of the people, money does not count very much at all. So long as we have material in abundance to meet those needs, there can he no legitimate argument why the basic wage should not bc increased. If the wage is not increased, the workers are not able to buy so much meat, bread, fruit, clothing, and so on. At present, however, the result of our wage fixation system, which is expressive of the policy of the Government and of the controllers of industry, is to arouse a self-defence reaction on the part of individuals and groups of individuals. So long as this policy operates as it does to-day, we cannot avoid industrial disputes and strikes. In the present crisis such disputes are as inevitable as the dawn. Senator Spicer said that the present .is not a time to bring this matter before Parliament. If that be so, it is also not a time when the leading monopolists in this country should accept an increase of their profits on an unprecedented scale, as such companies as the Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited, Colonial Sugar Refining Company Limited, Australian Consolidated Industries Limited, and Burns Philp and Company Limited are doing. To the degree to which this process is indulged in, and these companies load up their profits, the purchasing power of wages is almost automa tically and mechanically indirectly reduced, because prices naturally rise. To-day, men arc working in munitions factories under conditions which are highly detrimental to health, and they are now asking for some relief. Senator Spicer says that they should not have relief. Why? Is the Arbitration Court, or the Government, beyond question? Will the unemployed and the workers generally submit indefinitely to that state of affairs? They will not. Therefore, Senator Keane's motion is not only warranted hut also necessary, because, by ventilating the subject in Parliament, thus producing debate and criticism, it is possible that an adjustment will he effected, before there is a further spread of industrial disputes and strikes. Let us deal for a moment with so-called agitators. An agitator in his individual capacity is of no more importance than any one of us. No agitator can exercise the slightest influence on workers who are getting a fair deal; but the position is entirely different when, overnight, workers are driven from their jobs and from their homes. Such happenings create an atmosphere and a background which makes so-called agitators appear formidable and terrible creatures. The cure for agitators, and for industrial disputes and strikes generally, is in the hands of this Government, which, in the circumstances, should do its best' to meet our request. As Senator Keane said, we have given the Government all the power it needs - power that would never have been given in normal times. But, having given, that power, is it reasonable to refuse the relief that we ask? We ask that the workers be given a little more money, not for the sake of the money itself, but because it will enable them to purchase a few more of the commodities that they urgently need.

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator's time has expired.

Suggest corrections