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Thursday, 27 March 1941

Senator DEIN (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I believe that the basis upon which the basic wage is determined is entirely wrong. I should 'have preferred Senator Keane to have dealt with that matter, but he indulged in lime-lighting. He claimed that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is incompetent to fix the basic wage because the high standard of living enjoyed by the judges of the court renders them incapable of deciding what is a reasonable standard for the underdog. I should like to learn whom the honorable senator would select to fix the basic wage. If he selected an unemployed man who had no standard of living the result might be the fixing of the basic wage at a lower rate than that determined by the court. Does the honorable senator consider that Parliament should fix the basic wage? If Parliament had that responsibility the honorable senator and his party colleagues, would have the opportunity to play to the gallery, an opportunity they never fail -to capitalize. Senator Keane did not suggest an alternative to the present system; he merely charged the court with incompetency. He quoted from the court's judgment and pointed out that it agreed that in certain instances the basic wage was inadequate. I agree with him on that point; hut he did not suggest any remedy. The court said, in effect, that the single man and the married man without children were receiving too high a wage, the married man with one child was getting an adequate wage, but the basic wage was inadequate for a man with more than one child. To remedy this Senator Keane advocated an all-round increase of 6s. a week in the basic wage. Is he in favour of the single man receiving an increase of 6s. a week? Senator Keane proposes to give nothing additional to the single man of 20, but the single man of 21, who, except that he has a vote, is often no better than the man one year his junior, is to receive an extra 6s. I should have been the .first to fall into line with the honorable senator had he shown how we could remove the injustices and anomalies which result from the present basis of wage fixation, instead of playing to the gallery in the hope of making some political capital. I believe that a properly constituted authority should fix the adult basic wage and that there should >be added to that wage an allowance, call it what you will, for a man when he marries and endowment for each child. Only by that means can we hope to achieve equity. Senator Keane and his party threw equity to the winds in their search for votes.

The honorable senator, supported by Senator Arthur, dealt with rents as they affect the basic wage. I am appalled by the fact that the wage-fixing authorities, the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and the Industrial Commission of New South Wales, say that in Sydney a fourroomed cottage is obtainable for 18s. a week, and escape criticism. Only in the Sydney slums is it possible to obtain a cottage for as low as 18s. a week. The whole basis is wrong, but Senator Keane, in order to remedy his grievance on that score, wants to have the basic wage increased. He would give the single man, who has no rent to pay, the amount of the increase which would be represented in his proposed rental allowance. Where is the equity? The court has decided that the existing basic wage is sufficient for a man, his wife and one child. That being the case, something additional should be given to the man who has a wife and more than one child. Only then will the basic wage system be fair to the community as a whole. For many years I have been disgusted with the way in which the basic wage is determined. Under the present system the basic wage for females is only 52 per .cent, of the rate for males. In his calmer moments, Senator Keane will agree that there is no equity in that. In order to give the single man under 21 years of age a fair deal, let us first consider the relationship of the junior to the senior wage-earner. At present, a single man of 20 receives about, half the wage of the man of 21. That is entirely wrong, but there are no complaints from honorable senators opposite. Then let us consider the problem of the male and the female wage-earner. It is ridiculous to say that a single woman can hope to live on 52 per cent, of the wage of a single man. Let that anomaly be removed. Then we have to consider the position of a man with a family. The greater his family obligations, the greater should be the amount of money received hy him in wages or in some other form. Endowment, I believe, is the correct way in which to compensate him for his family obligations. I am disappointed that Senator Keane neglected to deal with those problems in his speech. The opportunity to remove those anomalies is provided by the National Security Act, which was mentioned by Senator Keane, but before that aspect can be dealt with, regulations under the National Security Act should be issued in order to standardize hours and the basic wage throughout the Commonwealth. Attempts to standardize the basic wage and conditions by referendum have failed in the past, but regulations under the National Security Act provide the means whereby that can be done. With uniformity achieved, the anomalies and injustices that have been tolerated for years could be removed.

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