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Wednesday, 2 April 1941

Senator SPICER (Victoria) .- I also have been somewhat astonished at the attitude of the Opposition to this measure, in its curious attempt to escape from a responsibility which it cannot cast aside. A child endowment scheme is to be submitted to this chamber and the responsibility is placed upon the Senate, not upon the Government, of determining whether a pay-roll tax shall be imposed in order to finance the scheme. I am prepared to accept the proposal that the Government has made, and I do so after anxious consideration of all other possibilities. To those who pretend that we shall solve this problem by saying that the cost should be borne out of consolidated revenue, I say that that is no answer at all. When the Child Endowment Bill comes before us, we shall find a provision in it that the endowment shall be provided out of consolidated revenue, but the difficulty at the moment is that there is not sufficient money available from that source to meet existing charges, let alone the new charge of £13,000,000 a year which this scheme will involve. I should not be prepared to support this expenditure unless I knew the basis on which the scheme was to be financed. I do not believe that it could be financed by credit issued by the Commonwealth Bank without serious detriment to the people as a whole. So far as I am aware this is the only proposal yet made to finance the Government's scheme of child endowment. No critic of the Government's proposals has suggested any alternative. I shall support this method of financing the scheme. I am of opinion that this measure is based on sound and logical grounds. The problem of child endowment is, undoubtedly, associated with the problem of the basic wage.

Senator Keane - When I said that a few days ago the honorable senator denied it.

Senator SPICER - No; indeed, I quoted from the judgments of the Arbitration Court in order to show that that was so. Those judgments made it quite clear that the court found that the present basic wage was sufficient only for a family unit of three. The court said so in so many words. This problem is a social problem which, the community must face. It would be possible theoretically, at any rate, to deal with it as a wage problem. Theoretically, the total amount of wages could be distributed in differential proportions between single and married men. But that would not be practicable because employers would then employ the cheap labour of the single man to the detriment of the married man. This tax, however, is designed to bring about the same result as would be obtained by the payment of wages in differential proportions between single and married men. The Government now says to the employer, "In order to provide a satisfactory wage for a larger family unit than three, you must pay, in addition to your wages, a sum of 2^ per cent, of the amount of your present wages bill ". In other words, there will be added to the wages bill of the employer an amount sufficient to meet the needs of the family unit of more than three in a way which will overcame the social evil to which the Arbitration Court has referred. We cannot got over that difficulty by refusing to introduce child endowment. It is obvious, as I said several days ago, that if the court is obliged to solve this problem it will be forced, perhaps, to make a general increase of the basic wage which would throw the burden on industry, as will he the case with this tax, but by that means the benefit could not be directed into the pockets of the people who are most in need, namely, the larger family unit. This proposal is nothing more than a means to increase the wages of the man with a larger family unit and it ensures that the benefit shall go into his pocket rather than into the pockets of those who do not need it. I support the bill.

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