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Wednesday, 2 April 1941

Senator COLLINGS (QueenslandLeader of the Opposition) . - Before debating the bill itself, I have something to say about the second-reading speech delivered by the Assistant Minister (Senator Leckie), which I was very interested to hear. Early in the speech, the Assistant Minister said -

It sometimes requires a jolt to draw attention to the fact that a reform that we all in our hearts realize is due should be immediately crystallized into legislative action. Such a jolt was administered by the Arbitration Court when it said plainly that a family unit of more than three on the basic wage was suffering hardship.

I am surprised that it took that jolt to awaken the Government to its responsibilities to the children of this country. Without any intention of being ungracious, I remind the Assistant Minister and the Government that a decent rise of the basic wage would he a far greater jolt to the people who are called upon to pay for child endowment. That, in my opinion, explains the presence of this bill in this chamber. Either a rise of the basic wage or child endowment had to come. The Government has made a virtue of necessity because child endowment lets its class down' lighter than a rise of the basic wage would, have done. That does not mean that we are not glad to have this bill; we are more than glad. Another passage in the honorable senator's speech which struck me as being rather good was -

Even if we could choose an average family unit, it would not reflect the situation of the employee throughout his working life. .lt would be too lar.gc at the beginning and end of his working life, when his domestic responsibilities would be comparatively light, and too small, when his domestic responsibilities would reach their peak.

That was a gem. There never has been any time in the history of this or any other country when the amount paid to workers in any circumstances was too much. There never will be any possibility of that until we make a more decent approach to matters and ensure that all men, women and children in the community live, as they are entitled to live, up to the fullest possibilities of the wealth production of the country. Some day we shall have that and then we shall all live in luxury. The Government should not wrap itself up with the idea that anything ever done in the past or even now under the cover of this bill or by any other means will adequately pay the workers of this country a decent wage.

I now proceed to address myself to the bill itself.

The Minister further stated -

We are desirous that the benefits promised under this scheme should be given promptly. We are proceeding with the necessary administrative preparations with a view to having the scheme in operation as from 1st July of this year. We can achieve that result if honorable senators assist the passage of thu necessary legislation. I nsk the Somite to give the bill it speedy passage.

Yet this afternoon supporters of the Government expressed astonishment that the Opposition remained silent during the discussion of the preliminary measures without which this bill could not have reached the Senate. It is common knowledge that in the House of Representatives a determined attempt was made by Government supporters to block the passage of this bill. They were prepared to wreck the measureand members of the Opposition were silent to-day because they declined to join the wreckers. It is to the credit of the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Fadden) that he could not be made amenable to the wishes of those who tried to destroy the bill. We heard half a dozen speeches from honorable senators on the Government side on the two bills which preceded this measure, and they all gave apologetic support to the scheme. They said: "We support the bill but- ".

Had the Opposition been in power and had brought down this measure, I say without hesitation that those honorable gentlemen would not have been found supporting it.

Senator Dein - That' is not correct.

Senator COLLINGS - It is a fact which will be produced in evidence against honorable senators opposite at a later date. That is why members of the Opposition sat silent this afternoon, so that they could gauge the measure of sincerity of the support given' to this bill. I do not wish members of the Opposition to be regarded as so simple that they do not understand why honorable senators opposite favour this measure.

Child endowment has been in operation in Great Britain and on the continent of Europe since 1796, or nearly a century and a half, yet this Government required a jolt in March, 1941, to awaken age-old opponents of every social reform to the fact that this is a long-delayed measure.

Senator McBRIDE (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why has child endowment not been introduced in Queensland ?

Senator COLLINGS - Through the Queensland Arbitration Court, the Labour party in that State last month secured an increase of 5s. a week in the basic wage, and the rate in Queensland is now the highest in the Commonwealth.

Senator McBride - Did the court act under instructions from the Labour Government in Queensland?

Senator COLLINGS - No, but the Commonwealth Arbitration Court is awaiting instructions from the Commonwealth Government and that is the reason why no decision has yet been declared on the basic wage claim. The first attempt to embody the principle of child endowment in the law of a State was made in New South Wales in 1919, but that bill was not proceeded with. Then came the Commonwealth Public Service scheme, which became operative on 1st November, 1920, when, following on the recommendations of the Royal Commission on the Basic Wage, child endowment at the rate of 5s. a week for each dependent child under fourteen years of age was paid to officers, with a limitation of salary plus allowance of £400 per annum. As the result of proceedings before the Public Service Arbitrator in 1923, these allowances were confirmed as a permanent part of the salary scheme, and the necessary fund to meet them was created by deducting the average value of the payment from the basic wage of all adult officers. In effect, therefore, the officers are themselves providing the fund from which the allowance is paid. The deduction was originally £11 per annum, but is now £12. The payment is now' limited to officers receiving up to £500 per annum inclusive of the allowance. In New South Wales, seven years after the first attempt was made in that State, a child allowance measure was passed. The present bill is an improvement on that embodied in the Commonwealth Public Service scheme and is also an improvement on the New South Wales scheme.

Senator McBride - When the Labour Government was in office in 1931 it did nothing about child endowment.

Senator COLLINGS - I remind the honorable senator that no social reform was ever accomplished in this or any other country except as a result of a jolt administered to anti-Labour governments by the pressure of public opinion. The party represented by honorable senators opposite never yielded anything in the way of social reform until it was forced from them by the crowbar of public opinion.

The first basic wage introduced in Australia provided for a man and his wife. The first award in New South Wales was £4 5s. a week for adult males - rural employees were awarded £4 4s. a week - plus 5s. a week for each dependent child. The total earnings were not to exceed the basic wage and 5s. a week for each child. Thus a worker with three children, and earning £5 a week, would not receive an endowment allowance until the arrival of the fourth child. The measure now before the Senate is an improvement on former schemes and for that the Opposition is glad. On the 28th September, 1927, a royal commission was appointed, as a result of a conference of Commonwealth and State Ministers called by the Commonwealth Government in June of that year, to consider fully a national scheme of child endowment. A report was presented by that commission, and there was also a minority report, but the government of the day did nothing in regard to the matter.

Senator Spicer - The Labour party was. in office after that.

Senator COLLINGS - The profound ignorance of honorable senators opposite is staggering; but Senator Spicer has told the truth. The Labour party was in office, but it was not in power, because owing to a hostile Senate its vital measures were rejected. Among the members of the commission was Mr. John Curtin, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives. The other members were Mr. T. S. O'Halloran, K.C., chairman, Mrs. Florence M. Muscio, M.A., and Messrs. Ivor Evans and Stephen Mills. A minority report was submitted by Mr. Curtin and Mrs. Muscio. The reports presented by the commission were pigeonholed, and it was necessary for this Government to receive a jolt in March, 1941, in order that it might be brought up to the barrier. The Government of the day in 1927 " passed the buck " to the States. It said that the responsibility of initiating this reform rested with the Parliament of the States, and, therefore, nothing was done regarding child endowment.

Senator Spicer - The honorable member for Barton (Mr. Evatt) said that it would be unconstitutional for the Commonwealth Parliament to deal with it.

Senator COLLINGS - But the minority report contained no such comment. There is nothing new in the impelling motive which makes the people demand a family allowance. When I was a young man, a gentleman named Malthus acquired a considerable reputation in the older countries by advocating the limitation of families. He said that the population was increasing at such a high rate that it was impossible for wealth production to keep pace with it, and that disaster would result if parents continued having the large families that were common in those days. That doctrine received a good deal of credence, because in those days a knowledge of political economy and- economics generally was as rare as it was in the dark ages. Very few people understood anything about those subjects. But to-day w-e know that no reason exists to limit the family insofar as the wealth productivity of this, or any other country, is concerned. Nature is bountiful enough to supply for all children the good things of life. No insurmountable reason exists for poverty and malnutrition. When honorable senators opposite talk about their virtue in bringing down this belated measure, I remind them that when a Labour government, under the leadership of the late Mr. Andrew Fisher, a common working miner, decided to establish a maternity allowance, their predecessors in political economy opposed that measure. ex-Senator St. Leger, whom I knew very well, achieved unenviable notoriety because he said that Fisher's maternity allowance was a sop to profligacy. I have not forgotten his statement, although I have no doubt that most honorable senators opposite have never heard of it. It was said recently that proposals of this kind should not be made the plaything of party politics. I said then, and I now repeat, that those who believe in Labour's policy have no need to be ashamed of party politics. I am proud of Labour's policy; but I was never more proud of it than when the late Mr. Andrew Fisher brought in that bill, At the same time, when ex-Senator St. Leger made that remark I resolved to follow him and his tribe, so far as it was possible to follow them, and to confront them with their crimes whenever I got the opportunity to do so. I am presented with such an opportunity to-night. I am glad that our opponents are now converted. We on this side are delighted to welcome such converts, because we are always glad to see political penitents coming to the footstool of the Opposition, and declaring their sins and asking for forgiveness. That is why we speeded the passage of the bills which were passed through this chamber this afternoon. I draw the attention of the Assistant Minister to a fact which I regard as most significant. The Commonwealth 'Statistician recently declared that the birth-rate in Canberra is the highest in Australia. I wonder whether honorable senators opposite know what that means? Some of us on this side have not had the advantages of the superior education enjoyed by some honorable senators opposite, but the veriest neophyte on this side knew what those figures meant immediately he saw them. They mean that wherever men are given security of employment there will always be an increase of the birth-rate. Honorable senators opposite have only awakened to the fact that this matter is so important, and their awakening is due solely to their discovery that in a few years sufficient man-power will not be available in this country to do some of the things for which we require manpower to-day. Just as employers make provision in their balance-sheets and financial arrangements for depreciation iu respect of their machines, so they must be forced to provide for the replenishment of their human machines, the family, the boys and girls coming on.

Senator Leckie - I thought that the honorable senator objected to the payroll tax.

Senator COLLINGS - I said that that was the responsibility of the Government. The birth-rate in Canberra is the highest in Australia. Prom that fact it is clear that the Government can accomplish something immediately it gets a jolt strong enough to awaken it to the fact that, if men are paid good wages, and women are given a decent chance in life through the payment of a proper allowance - and this allowance cannot be so described, although, in the circumstances, it is sufficient to go on with for the time being - no trouble in respect of the birthrate will be experienced. Of the 1,800,000 children in Australia under the age of sixteen years, 1,000,000 will benefit under this measure. We should like to see the benefits of the bill extended, but, at the moment, we are not asking that that be done. Our immediate concern is that this bill be placed on the statutebook, because, once that is done, it will not be long before a Labour Government will be able to mould this measure to its own desires. I shall conclude by reading an extract from a brochure which was circulated among members of Parliament during the week by a women's organization operating in New South Wales. This extract will serve as a fitting conclusion to my remarks -

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