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Thursday, 3 April 1941

Senator AYLETT (Tasmania) . - I welcome the bill, although I consider that it is many years overdue. It does not contain all that I desire, but I regard it as the most important measure that has been introduced since I became a member of the Senate. Now that a start is being made with child endowment, Parliament will be able to enlarge the scheme in the near future. The Assistant Minister (Senator Leckie) stated in his secondsreading speech that the payment of endowment in respect of the first child* was unwarranted.

Senator Leckie - I did not say that it was unwarranted.

Senator AYLETT - That was my interpretation of the words used by the Assistant Minister. He based his argument on the decision of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration that the basic wage is sufficient for the needs of a family unit of a man, his wife and one child. There are tens of thousands of breadwinners in Australia who do not receive the basic wage, and there are thousands whose only income is what they receive in social service payments. These two classes of persons should be entitled to receive child endowment for the first child. There are also the widows left with one dependent child. Their income is probably not one-half of the basic wage, but they will not be entitled to draw child endowment.

Senator Dein - I think that most of the States have widows' pensions schemes.

Senator AYLETT - I do not want charity provided for these people. It is true that widows with young children receive charitable allowances under State legislation. I consider that charitable allowances tend to have a demoralizing effect on some people. Although I am grateful to the Government for having introduced the bill, I hope that in the near future the scheme will be extended so as to provide endowment for all children under the age of sixteen years, or at least that payment will be made in respect of one child when the father does not receive the basic wage. Many young married couples are more in need of child endowment when the first child arrives than they are after the birth of the second or third child. When the first child is born they are paying rent and probably meeting time-payment charges on furniture in an effort to establish a home. No doubt the operation of the scheme will give a great stimulus to the birth-rate, which has been steadily declining for some years. We cannot expect people to bring children into the world when they cannot be sure that a means of a livelihood will be available to them. I intend to comment on the criticisms of two or three honorable senators opposite who, I am sure, would have liked to have wrecked the bill. They argued that child endowment should be paid out of Consolidated Revenue. My answer is that it will be paid out of that fund. Although those honorable senators criticized the method by which the Government intends to raise the bulk of the money required for child endowment, they did not submit an alternative proposal.' The Government has been guided by the advice of experts, who examined various proposals for raising the money required, but they arrived at the conclusion that the only practicable method was a pay-roll tax. The Labour party has not had the assistance of expert advisers, and in this case it is prepared to accept the recommendations of the Government's advisers.

Sitting suspended from 12.45 to 2.15 p.m.

Senator AYLETT - The Opposition's desire to see child endowment legislation on the statute-book is so great that it accepted the Government's claim that a tax on pay-rolls is the only means by which to raise the money with which to finance the scheme. Industry must be prepared to set aside reserves to provide for the maintenance and replacement of its man-power in the same way as it sets aside reserves for the maintenance and replacement of its plant and equipment. I was amazed at the opposition shown to this legislation in the ranks of the Government's own supporters. Had it not been for the solidarity of the Labour party in support of the Government yesterday when the Pay-roll Tax Bill was before the Senate, I dare say that we should not have had the privilege of debating this measure to-day.For 25 years child endowment has been a plank on the Labour party's platform, but during the last election campaign, when child endowment had a prominent place in the policy speech of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Curtin), members of the Government accused the Labour party of trying to bribe the electors, and said that during a war was not the time for social improvements. I am glad, but a little astonished, that the Government has now come to our way of thinking. This bill does not go so far as I should like, but I welcome it in the hope that, with a further accession of wisdom, the Government will bring down amending legislation in order to include in the benefits first-born children and to strengthen the scheme in ways which have been suggested by members of the Opposition.

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