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Thursday, 3 April 1941

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - Child endowment will be of great benefit to the present generation of children and mothers, but its full effect will be felt in the future. Improvement of the quality as well as of the number of its people should be the aim of every country. No one would deny that the Australian-born child is our best immigrant. It is imperative, therefore, that the Government should do everything possible to assist in rearing healthy Australian-born children and in fitting them to take a useful place in the community. The approach of honorable senators to this subject has been facilitated by the Parliamentary Librarian, Mr. Binns, and his staff, who for our benefit listed the literature of all countries on this subject. I thank the Librarian for what he has done.

Honorable Senators. - Hear, hear !

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - In the House of Representatives the Minister for Labour and National Service '(Mr. Holt), who had charge of the bill, gave the history of social and industrial legislation. A beginning was made in the House of Commons in 1795 by Pitt the younger, but practically nothing was done until the end of the last century and the beginning of this century, although legislation forbidding the employment of children in factories was passed in 1834. In many countries, systems of child endowment are in force. The Russian scheme is not compulsory, but it consists in the State taking charge of and rearing the children. The objection to such a system is that the children are removed from parental control and are deprived of the filial love that has such an important bearing on their upbringing. All will admit that in social and industrial legislation Australia leads the world.

Senator Cameron - But that is no argument against further improvement.

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.No, but we still lead the world and that is something of which we should be proud. Our arbitration system provides a reasonable standard of living, but experience has shown that we cannot rely on it to assist in the rearing of children in the way that they should be reared, especially if the family be large. Statistics show that practically half of our adult population refuse or are unable to assume the responsibilities of matrimony. In those circumstances irb is impossible to compute a wage which would satisfy the needs of everybody. Children are our greatest asset and their birth must he encouraged. For that reason I am prepared to support the bill which is now before the Senate. My principal regret is that the Government neglected to tate this opportunity to overhaul the whole of our industrial and social legislation. What a splendid opportunity this would have been to end the controversy over the basic wage! Since its inception the Commonwealth Arbitration Court has whittled down the basis on which it computes the basic wage from a family unit of seven, consisting of a man, his wife and five children, to the unit of three, consisting of a man, his wife and one child, but the basis is by no means pegged. That is one aspect of wage fixation that should, be settled. Another aspect .is the conflict between the decisions of the Commonwealth and State arbitration courts. We have seven parliaments each of which is supposed to be the master of those for whom it legislates, but they are powerless to restrain unions from using the Commonwealth court.

Senator Keane - The way in which to settle that problem is to abolish the States.

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Whatever be the remedy it should be applied. Honorable senators will make their own deductions from the unequivocal statement by a judge of the Queensland Arbitration Court when he fixed the basic wage in that State and when he said that the Commonwealth child endowment scheme was not considered. I have no doubt that the judge knows his own business and that he was right, but it appears that this social legislation will involve Australia in the expenditure of £13,000,000 per annum and that within a short period expenditure will be further increased by another £20,000,000 as the result of determinations by the Arbitration Court. These anomalies should have been removed before child endowment was introduced. Australian parliaments have laid down so many laws relating to the welfare of the industrial sections of the community that departmental officers either cannot intrepret them intelligently, and if they do other officers disagree with their interpretation.

Dissatisfaction has been expressed regarding the method by which this scheme is to be financed. No doubt a good method has been chosen by the Government, and it is equally certain that the cost will be passed on by those who will be required to contribute the tax. Taxation has already reached a very high level in Australia and this year many employers will find it necessary to meet the pay-roll tax, not out of profit, but out of capital. I have some sympathy with manufacturers and distributors who will claim that the child endowment tax is an impost upon them, because they will be paying tax to provide for the children of persons who are in some cases much better off than themselves. Child endowment should be determined on a salary or wage basis, and on a graduated scale. It should apply to the first child, and the payment should increase as the number of children increases. The argument has been advanced that it would be difficult to determine the amount of child endowment to be paid on a salary or wage basis ; but I claim that, since a formula has been evolved for the fixation of the basic wage, it should be possible by means of the same formula to decide at what wage or salary a man should be able to maintain his own family. An argument used against that contention was that it would require more to finance that scheme and to employ the necessary staff for the job, than the extra money that might be raised would be worth. To my mind, that argument is grossly exaggerated. Considering that the adult population of Australia is about 4,500,000, and that the public servants throughout Australia number nearly 400,000 - there is about one public servant to every twelve persons in the community - the statistical position should be fairly well tabulated and annotated.

Senator Collings - Does the honorable senator suggest that there are too many public servants ?

Senator JAMES McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No; I merely say that it should not be difficult to knock over the Aunt Sally that has been erected. So closely are the affairs of citizens investigated by public servants, that, a short while ago, a gentleman whom I know, whose income runs into four figures, and who, unfortunately, overlooked the fact that he had received interest to the amount of 24s. on a sum which he had in a savings bank account, was requested by the taxation authorities to include that interest in his income tax return.

We have been told that the financial basis of this legislation is temporary, and that eventually the payments under it may have to be taken from Consolidated Revenue. That is the source from which I contend the money required should be raised from the outset. If all classes are to reap the advantages of child endowment, they should all help to pay for the' scheme. Spinsters and 'bachelors should be taxed on a graduated scale. The present basic wage is stated by the court to be sufficient for a man, his wife and one child, and, therefore, I see no reason why bachelors and spinsters should not contribute to this tax. The people of Australia are now being taxed to the limit, and it will be necessary to explore fresh avenues by which revenue can be raised.

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. J. B. Hayes). - The honorable senator must confine his remarks to the bill.

Senator JAMESMcLACHLAN.The bill provides that child endowment shall he payable to aborigines and halfcastes if they are living under conditions comparable with those of the people of Australia generally, but it will be difficult to ascertain the nature of their living conditions. In South Australia there are two aboriginal mission stations, and I think that the total loss incurred by them is £12,000 a year. The .birth-rate is increasing rapidly among aborigines and half-castes, and their inclusion in the scheme will prove costly.

I have always been a sincere advocate of child endowment. I welcome this measure, and I hope that on a future occasion amendments on the lines that I have indicated will be embodied in the statute.

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