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Thursday, 27 March 1941

Senator FRASER (Western Australia) . - I have gained the impression that members of the Labour party who demand social improvements are branded by their opponents as agitators, the term used by the Postmaster-General (Senator McLeay) during this debate. The Minister said in effect that Senator Keane had been instructed by industrial agitators to bring this subject before the Senate. I regret that that remark should have been made because prominent industrial leaders who have been persistent advocates of social reform in the past are now taking a prominent part, not only in the real defence of Australia, but also in the prosecution of our war effort. The history of this country reveals that many social reforms were fought for by men who were branded as agitators. 1 have been described as an agitator, as has, I suppose, Senator Keane. Probably some of those described as agitators at the present time will eventually become members of the Commonwealth Parliament, and, possibly, Ministers of the Crown. A gentleman who once occupied a prominent position in the Senate and was for many years a Minister of the Crown was an agitator in Western Australia many years ago. Not so very long ago I heard Mr. Ernest Bevin, now one of the most respected men in the British War Ministry, referred to as an agitator. I regret that Senator Spicer did not tell the whole story. I admit that the court postponed its decision, but it did so without giving reasons for so doing.

Senator Spicer - The court said that it would not grant an increase of the basic wage at that time.

SenatorFRASER.- It did not decide that the case would not receive further consideration.

Senator Spicer - No ; the court decided that the case would receive further consideration.

Senator FRASER - That amounts to a postponement of a decision.

Senator Spicer - No; it amounts to the court giving the claim a second chance. The honorable senator cannot complain about that.

Senator FRASER - The court had another motive in postponing its decision. I do not desire to criticize the court, because Labour has always stood for conciliation and arbitration.

Senator Spicer - Only when the decision favours the union concerned.

Senator FRASER - That is not so. At any rate, the court did not decide against the workers in this case. It merely postponed its decision. Whether that decision when reached will be for or against the workers, I do not know. My complaint is that the court, having heard the evidence, should either have made a decision or, at least, have given to the claimant unions its reasons for postponing its decision.

Senator Spicer - The court definitely decided that it would not grant an increase of the basic wage at that time.

SenatorFRASER. - The court decided to delay its decision, and, justifiably, I criticize it for its action. It was not prepared to give a decision.

Senator Spicer - It was not prepared to give an increase.

Senator FRASER - No; it said that it was not prepared to give a decision.

Senator Herbert Hays - The judgment provided more than that. It covered several pages.

Senator FRASER - There was no decision, and that is where I fall foul of the court.

Senator Herbert Hays - The judge said that whilst the basic wage was adequate for a man, wife and one child, he doubted whether it was adequate to meet the needs of a larger family.

Senator FRASER - Exactly. That is what leads me to believe that judgment was postponed for the one purpose of enabling this Government to bring about a. scheme of child endowment.

Senator Dein - Provided the honorable senator is right, that is a good reason.

Senator FRASER - I am not far from the bull's-eye. I agree with Senator Allan MacDonald that the Commonwealth basic wage does not apply in a great number of industries in Western Australia, but the basic wage has been set down by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court on a unit of three, whereas the basic wage in Western Australia is based on a unit of 1.85. When child endowment comes into operation, if it ever does, it will affect the decision of the court in regard to units. That is my fear. I hope that it is ill founded.

Senator Allan MacDonald - The honorable senator does not suggest that the Western Australian court may reduce the basic wage in that State by about 5s. ?

Senator FRASER - That may be the effect, because if child endowment is based on a unit of one child, the whole ramifications of the basic wage in Western Australia may have to be gone into and a certain decision reached involving the amount of the wages tax and a re-construction of the court's previous decision.

I agree with a great deal of what was said by Senator Arthur about the 46 commodities which are taken into consideration in the fixing of the basic wage. The manner in which those 46 commodities are averaged sometimes acts to the detriment of the basic wage earner. To give one illustration, the computation of the average per capita consumption of meat in Australia is astray. The British element of the population eats a great deal of meat, but the foreign element does not do so. A better idea of the actual per capita consumption of meat would be gained if foreigners were excluded. I concede that it would be very difficult to do that.

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

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