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Thursday, 27 March 1941

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - Insofar as this debate lias constituted a criticism of the Arbitration Court, its personnel, or its decisions, I entirely dissociate myself from it ; but I do not think that Senator Keane went out of his way to criticize either the court or the system of arbitration. What lie endeavoured to do was to suggest to the Government that, whatever lack there was, from his point of view, in the judgment of the court, the machinery of the National Security Act should be put into operation to implement the court's decision. That, I think, would be a most dangerous thing to do, because a period would be reached when the powers that the Government could now exercise in that regard would lapse. It would be rank folly on the part of the Government or of the Parliament to make a provision which would not be permanent in its character. This debate serves to indicate the \viedom of the limitation imposed by the Constitution upon the powers of this Parliament in this respect. The intrusion of industrial questions into the political arena has been one of the most undesirable features of parliamentary life in Australia. In the United States of America, political and industrial matters are kept entirely apart. Unfortunately, we have not implemented what was suggested to us many years ago when the Arbitration Court proceeded to weld on to our wages system a provision for child endowment. To-day, child endowment has become inextricably mixed up with the wage question, although in reality it has nothing whatever to do with it. The purpose of child endowment is to improve social conditions. If this Parliament had had the necessary power it would no doubt have long ago dealt with that problem. In both State and Commonwealth arbitration tribunals, judgments have been delivered awarding a basic wage that provided for nonexistent children.

The object of child endowment should be to preserve the continuity of the race of which we are all so proud. I understand that we shall be entrusted soon with the duty of considering a measure providing for child endowment, which, I think, should cover every child under the age of sixteen years. The distinction that has been drawn with regard to the first child is, to my mind, an artificial one. This Parliament should obtain powers to deal with this matter on a scientific basis. Honorable senators appreciate the limitations of our wage system, and they recall the difficulties encountered in that regard during the last war. The efforts then made were abortive, as the result of skilful political manoeuvring. The Government of the day desired to secure amendments of the Constitution that would enable it to deal with the position, but its efforts were frustrated by its political opponents. This discussion may have done a certain amount of good by having clarified our minds with regard to a measure which I understand will be brought before us, but I deprecate criticism of the Arbitration Court hy Parliament. The judgment read by Senators Keane and Spicer clearly proves what that court had in mind. It said that the present basic wage is sufficient for a man, a wife and one child, but insufficient for a larger family. We should endeavour to have this position remedied, so that the industrial section will have respect for the decisions of the court. The trade unionists should not seek the jurisdiction, first of a State court, and then of the Commonwealth court, or vice versa, as has happened in the past. Under the wages board system, representatives of employers and employees had to be appointed. If one of the members of a board resigned much delay would be occasioned during- the appointment of his successor. In the meantime, the board could not function. An honorable senator contended to-day that lawyers should not be permitted to appear in the arbitration courts.

Senator Keane - Hear, hear!

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