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

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . - The court has laid down two principles on which it arrives at its decision. One is the workers' needs and the other is the capacity of industry to pay. I shall deal briefly with each, first, with the needs of the workers. To use the words of the judge, there is definitely not sufficient in the basic wage to meet the needs of the workers. That was stated definitely when the judge said that the basic wage was adequate only for a man, wife and one child. No provision is made for the needs of families in which there is more than one child. That in itself is sufficient proof that the basic wage should be raised. The argument advanced by some honorable senators opposite, especially Senator Dein, that it would not be fair to raise the basic wage and to give the same basic wage to single men and married men with no children as to married men with children, will not stand examination. Why should it not be fair? The Government has its taxing powers, which it can use to remove inequalities as between married and single workers. It is more unfair for the court to delay its decision until the middle of this year, especially when it has admitted that the prevailing wage is insufficient to meet the needs of a family of more than three. Larger families are being deprived of the necessaries of life until such time as this or some other Government introduces a scheme of child endowment, or until the court considers it wise to increase the basic wage in order to make provision for them. Senator Spicer tried to evade the issue by introducing child endowment into the debate. Child endowment would be a boon if it were in operation, but so would a scheme of national insurance. The fact is that neither a child endowment scheme nor a national insurance scheme is in operation, whereas both have been promised.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Senator AYLETT - Honorable senators can dismiss from their minds the belief that child endowment would be of benefit to the workers until it is an accomplished fact. That is entirely different from saying that the Opposition does not want to see the scheme introduced, as some honorable senators opposite would have liked me to say. I claim that the need for an increase of the basic wage is more evident to-day than at any time during the last quarter of a century. It is true that the statistics take into account rises and falls of the cost of living, but these increases have been greater than the increases of the basic wage. Therefore, there was justification for an increase of the basic wage in response to the application recently made to the Arbitration Court by trade unions representatives. The decision of the judges was to the effect that industry could not afford an increase of the basic wage, but it is only necessary to consider the present profits of the large companies, as compared with the profits made by them at the commencement of the war, to be convinced that they could afford to pay an increased basic wage.

Senator Dein - That does not apply to all companies.

Senator AYLETT - It applies to the larger companies in Australia which control the major industries. I do not say that it would apply to the primary rural industries, but it does to the manufacturing industries. The financial position of 70 large companies representing " big business " in Australia has been traced from the 30th June, 1936. The 1937 basic wage declaration was based on the figures available at that time. The companies to which I have referred had paid-up capital amounting to £124,000,000, their disclosed reserves totalled £53,000,000, and their net profits had increased from 1936 to 1939 by 36.8 per cent. and their reserves by 40.5 per cent. If industry could not afford to pay an increase of the basic wage I am at a loss to know how it could pay for the proposed child endowment scheme. Whether the cost were raised by means of taxes, by deductions from pay-rolls orby means of revenue, it must come out of industry. If industry will be in a position to finance such a scheme- and I hope that child endowment will be an accomplished fact at some future date - it would have been able to meet an increase of the basic wage from the time when the court last considered an application in regard to it. Had the court granted that increase from that time, those families which are not now getting sufficient wages would not have to go short of the necessaries of life which they will be deprived of until the present

Government, or some future government, introduces a child endowment scheme.

Suggest corrections