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Thursday, 3 April 1941

Senator KEANE (Victoria) .- Again I voice my perennial complaint that copies of the second-reading speeches of Ministers on important bills are not supplied to honorable senators. Since second-reading speeches are usually prepared by Ministers with the assistance of their departmental officers, a few extra typed copies could be distributed without difficulty. Many questions arise as to how child endowment payments should be made, and who should be eligible to receive them, and one is not easily able to find answers to these questions by a perusal of the bill.

I welcome this measure, because it marks a milestone in the social history of this country. It is amazing that after many years, this scheme has been introduced by a government of the political colour of the present Ministry. No doubt the credit for the introduction of the scheme will be claimed by the Government, and I have no complaint in that regard. The onus of financing it will also rest on the present Ministry, but this legislation could not have been passed without the active cooperation of the Labour party, which has advocated child endowment for the last 40 years. Unlike the present Government, the Labour party has not been in office for 25 years, and, therefore, it cannot be said that it has been dilatory in regard to this measure. The bill was introduced primarily, I believe, as the result of the recent abortive basic wage decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. My only reason for that utterance is that the working people of Australia were relying on a favorable decision by the court, but the judgment was of a negative character. The Government has acted wisely in submitting this proposal, which, I believe, will be welcomed in thousands of homes. Thousands of mothers will bless this Parliament for an epic act in the midst of the greatest war in which the Empire has ever been engaged. Despite colossal war expenditure and unprecedentedly high taxes, this Parliament will furnish to the mothers of Australia the well-deserved and necessary assistance for which the bill provides.

I should have liked the measure to have applied to all children up to the age of sixteen years. Perhaps, at some future time, an amendment in that direction will be embodied in the scheme. I regret that the payment will not be slightly higher than that proposed. It may be possible to liberalize and widen the scope of the scheme when normal conditions are again experienced in Australia. In season and out of season it has been urged that the present wage system does not make fair provision for married men, but I point out that that position will not be altered by the passage of a child endowment scheme. Although this legislation will afford relief to married workers, the fight for an adequate basic wage will continue.

Senator HERBERT HAYS (TASMANIA) - This measure is an invitation to the workers to ask for an increase of the basic wage.

Senator KEANE - It is an invitation to them to press for industrial justice, because they still contend that the basic wage is inadequate. The combined effect of this calamitous war, a wholly unsatisfactory decision by the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, and the fact that a shrewd government is in power, has been to provide the people of Australia with this excellent scheme of child endowment. The interest bill of the Commonwealth has grown to more than £1,000,000 weekly. The Minister for the Army (Mr. Spender) when interviewed in Melbourne recently said : " We have decided to have a mechanized unit. It will cost £30,000,000." He made that statement calmly, as though the money were already in hand. One would imagine that Australia did not have to meet an interest bill of £1,000,000 a week, whether the war be won, lost or drawn. Therefore, I confess that the Government has been courageous in introducing this measure. Had the Labour party been in power it would probably have submitted a similar scheme. My friend Senator Darcey is fighting strenuously for the release of additional national credit, in order to finance certain activities, but I do not think that at any time he has suggested that social services should be financed by inflation of the credit of this country. Owing to our huge war expenditure, the gradual drying up of the loan market and our heavy overseas indebtedness, I consider that the Government will be forced to proceed somewhat on the lines advocated by Senator Darcey.

Senator AllanMacDonald stated that he welcomed the bill and thought that it would be of great assistance to the working people ; but it will be recollected that, only four days ago, the honorable senator said that if there were a little more restraint by the workers in spending their money there would be less talk about wage-slaves. I do not believe that there are wage-slaves in this country. Australian workers are not the kind of men who are likely to become wage-slaves, and I suggest that men like Senator Allan MacDonald are not sincere in their professed regard for the welfare of the workers.

I was very worried when I noticed that supporters of the Government in the House of Representatives were doing their best to wreck this bill, because the employers are to be required to contribute a moiety of the cost of the scheme. When the next federal general elections occur, the people will be reminded that the only party that solidly supported child endowment was the Labour party. That is my answer to Senator A. J. McLachlan, who is always clever and never abusive. If he used some of his oratorical and persuasive powers in his own caucus, the workers might obtain further social reforms. If members of the Opposition in this chamber remained silent during the discussion of the machinery bills relating to child endowment, it was because they knew that the Government had thus committed itself to a scheme which the Labour party had strongly supported for a great many years.

The Minister who moved the second reading of the bill said that the Government of which he is a member took credit for its introduction. I have no complaint to make about that, but, in 1931, when the Labour party waa in office, it was not actually in power, because it was unable to pass vital measures through the Senate. At that time the greatest industrial crisis ever experienced in Australia had to be faced by the Scullin Government, -which was forced to reduce the invalid and old-age pension and to cut down the wages of government employees by 25 per cent. Although Senator James McLachlan and other honorable senators opposite were 100 per cent, behind the action taken by the Labour Government at that time in fearlessly reducing the wages of public servants, the United Australia party was foul enough to misrepresent the motives of the Scullin Government at the ensuing elections. I do not forget those things. But whenever I am talking of child endowment I shall be fair to the Government and admit that it brought down this legislation. However, we would not have this measure now before us but for the co-operation of the Opposition in both Houses. Honorable senators opposite are not solid on the matter ; they want to wreck child endowment because some employers might lose a little of their income.

Senator Dein - The Opposition is divided on this matter.

Senator KEANE - We have displayed absolute solidarity, to-day we are marching to victory with child endowment, one of the greatest planks of the Labour party's platform about to become, at long last, an accomplished fact. At the same time some disgruntled honorable senators opposite are fighting to the last ditch for the boss. When this scheme is put into operation the boss will find that his staff is more contented ; and the women of this country will bless every member of this Parliament for passing this legislation. We can now afford to forget the recent unfortunate decision of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. We had a long debate on that subject several days ago when I moved the adjournment of the Senate, but we did not get much opposition from honorable senators opposite. Had I been dictating the tactics of the Opposition I should have divided the Senate in order to see exactly whether honorable senators opposite really believe that the present basic wage is adequate. I compliment the Government upon making this measure allembracing. I am delighted to see that its benefits will apply to the illegitimate child, the children 'in. our orphanages and the children of some aborigines. All of those children are to share in these benefits; that is a wise decision. I sincerely hope that this allowance will be remitted to mothers through the post. I understand that that will he so. An investigation will show that that system is more efficient and less costly than that under which recipients are obliged to to collect their allowances at post offices, when many mothers would have to walk long distances and suffer irritating delays in long queues. The unfavorable features of that system have been avoided in the payment of widows' pensions in New South Wales. Those pensions are posted to recipients, who thus have not the responsibility of leaving their little ones at home while they go out to collect their pension. That system is easily the more effective and economical.

I support this measure wholeheartedly. I have always advocated child endowment. I believe that when the clouds of war have cleared away it will be possible to improve this scheme. The Government has done a job which has been long overdue, but which, I again emphasize, will evoke from the workers a recognition of the fact that this national parliament is doing something in the interests of every mother in this community.

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