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Wednesday, 1 October 1941
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Mr CURTIN (Fremantle) (Leader of the Opposition) . - What we have to consider in this budget is, in effect, the problem of the ways and means of war. I put it in that way because I think it is desirable that the whole world - and more particularly our enemies - should know that whatever may take place in this Parliament this week will not in any way affect the complete unity of the Australian people, or the determination of this Parliament as a united body to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion. We are here concerned with how we can best and most fairly organize the nation so as to secure the greatest possible degree of efficiency in the prosecution of the war, and in that way the more early attain victory. Ways and means of war involve a consideration of the relationship of people to one another, and of how we shall get those things which are requisite for the conduct of the war. The war is a physical thing. It is fought by fighting men, supported by the economic strength of the civil population. The fighting men have the first claim upon anything the country can do. The families of the fighting men have the first right to any special privileges that the country is capable of conferring in time of war. It is important that we should ever keep in mind the fact that no amount of legerdemain in the form of either fantastic theories of credit inflation, or of taking money from the poor, can add anything to the physical capacity of the country to wage the war. We cannot fight this war by inventing money; we can fight it only with guns and materials, with the physical things that soldiers and fighting men use, and we cannot add to the sum of those things by merely taking away from the lowest paid and most poorly circumstanced sections of the community that which is essential to their physical strength, and therefore to their morale. The Labour party regards this problem as one of social organization. When a government begins to tax incomes of £150 for the purpose of financing the war, it is beyond all doubt taking everything that the people in receipt of those incomes possess. Such persons are being called upon to give everything except their lives. Everything they have must go. Their standards of living go at once. They are the first victims of the sacrifices imposed by war. Our view is that, apart from the soldiers and their families, the persons on low incomes should be the last victims of financial policy.

It is no new thing for the Labour party to be in opposition to the financial policy of the Government. We were opposed to it a year ago. We have been opposed to it in principle for more than 25 years, and more particularly since 1924. Our conception of how to organize Australia socially and economically is different, apparently, from that of the Government, and different from the plan upon which this budget is founded, and upon which the last budget was founded. Let us consider the problem of the fighting forces. Without divulging actual numbers, I can say that there are about 400,000 men in the fighting forces of Australia to-day, and they have a great number of dependants. They are the men who are doing the real work of war. Behind them the workers are performing the task of providing the fighting forces with the equipment of war. The Government, since the war commenced, has made six proposals indicating its opinion of what is a fair thing to do for the fighting forces of Australia. As a matter of fact, in iNovember, 1939, in this very chamber, the present Minister for Commerce (Sir Earle Page) contended that the Government's first proposal was to pay to the soldiers 5s. a day, and a meagre 6d. for each child. I merely cite that example without regarding it as a proposal, because it was put forward by the present Minister for Commerce at a time when he was not a member of the Government. Thus, I shall disregard it, and discuss the proposal which the Government actually brought down on the 5th November, 1939. That proposal was to pay to the soldiers 5s. aday, with1s. deferred pay, 2s. 6d. for a wife, and 9d. for each child. It was not acceptable to this Parliament, and therefore the Government brought down its second proposal, which still prescribed 5s. a day and1s. deferred pay for the soldier, but raised the rates for his dependants to 3s. a day for the wife and 1s. a day for each child. Improved conditions had been extracted from the Government. In December, 1939, as the result of constant pressure from this side of the chamber, the Government brought own its third proposal, which was to icrease the deferred pay of the soldierto 2s. a day after embarkation. That was one more concession wrung from a government which, apparently, was not disposed to regard the soldiers as having the first claim on the financial resources of this country. A year passed; in November, 1940, the Government introduced its fourth proposal which provided for an increase of the child allowance to 1s. 6d. a day. The Government's fifth proposal was introduced in December, 1940. It provided that the soldier was still to get 5s. a day, and 2s. a day deferred pay, the wife 3s. a day, and 1s. 6d. a day for each child, and, in addition, a wife with a child, or children, was to be given an extra 7s. a week. The sixth and latest proposal of the Government provides that the soldier shall be paid 5s. a day, with 3s. a day deferred pay after embarkation ; the wife is to get 3s. a day and1s. 6d. a day for each child; whilst a wife with a child, or children, is to receive 7s. extra a week, or if without children, she will get an extra 3s. 6d. a week.

Mr Holt - Child endowment operates in addition to those rates.

Mr CURTIN - Yes, as it doesin respect of the the rest of the community.

I t will be seen, therefore, that since men were first invited to volunteer for service in the fighting forces of a country which, if the fighting men are worsted, will be lost and its liberties destroyed, six successive steps have been taken by the Government, each of which has been taken, not as the result of its own conception of what is the fair thing to do, but as a grudging concession to either political opposition in this chamber or to public opinion in the country.

In the present proposals of the Government, as set out in the budget speech of the Treasurer, the soldier is still to get only 5s. a day in addition to his deferred pay. I shall take a wife with two children as the basis of my remarks in respect of allowances for dependants of soldiers because, having regard to the fact that child endowment operates in respect of the families of soldiers as for the rest of the community, that appears to be a reasonable basis. The wife of a soldier is to get. £11s. a week for herself and 7s. a week extra on account of having a family, and also 21s. for her two children. That makes 49s. a week. She will receive also 3s. a day allotment from her husband, making a total of 70s. a week. I emphasize that this woman's husband is away with the fighting forces and that she is under the constant strain of great anxiety; yet she is to be paid £1 a week less than the basic wage! I put it as fairly and as temperately as I can that that is not the way in which this country should evaluate the services which the fighting forces render to Australia in this war. That is one of the cardinal objections to the budget which we on this side have. We say to the Treasurer that the £6,000,000 which he proposes to incur as an annual liability - to be redeemed in the future by some other government - is an obligation which should be met out of the present resources of the country and be paid now to the families of the soldiers.

Mr Fadden - The whole of the £6,000,000?

Mr CURTIN - The Government is already committed to pay about £350,000 of that amount to the wives of soldiers us a charge on this budget.

Mr Fadden - About £300,000.

Mr CURTIN -I made a liberal estimate. The Treasurer now says that £300,000 of that £6,000,000 is to be met out of present revenues and paid this year. The budget contemplates that that amount, which represents the extra allowance to be paid to the childless wife of a soldier, is to be paid to her at once. I do not wish to be misunderstood. A sum of between £300,000 and £350,000 is to be paid out of revenue this year to the wives and families of soldiers. We submit that the whole of the £6,000,000, including the £300,000, should be paid to the soldiers and their families in the present year. We say that it is reasonable and proper to regard that payment as the primary obligation of this country, in addition to the other obligations that are recognized in the budget. The Treasurer properly makes no demur about many other items of expenditure which he says this country should meet this year, No other item of expenditure in this budget which all agree should be met in this year can be considered by reasonable beings to constitute a greater obligation than that of treating our soldiers and their families fairly. I decline to say, or to accept the argument if it be put forward, that this country cannot afford to pay £6,000,000 more to the families of the fighting services in this present year out of this budget. Honorable gentlemen opposite may ask where the money is to be obtained. I am not in control of the Administration, but I am certain that economies could be effected, taxes revised and adjustments made, which would enable at least £6,000,000 to be found. [ put it to the Government, and to the Opposition and the country, that we are really evading our obligations to the soldiers by saying to them that when they return from the war they shall be paid the £6,000,000 which is now promised in this budget. It is the constant practice of the Government when confronted with the argument that soldiers and their families should be treated more fairly than they are being treated to answer that argument by increasing their deferred pay. The Government knows that that practice does not increase the present resources of the soldiers and their families, or enable them to meet their present problems. It merely passes a liability on to posterity, and means that in the post-war period the soldiers will be included in the same category as bondholders or ordinary lenders of money. A soldier has a stronger claim on the finances of this country than has any money lender. I pass that aspect of the subject by saying that a budget which contemplates leaving the wife of a soldier who is fighting overseas with less resources than the basic wage on which to maintain herself and two children is fundamentally a budget which ought not to be acceptable to this Parliament.

I do not propose to indicate other items of new or additional expenditure that might reasonably be budgeted for. I merely say that the Labour party, if it held office, would feel an obligation to increase invalid and old-age pensions.

Mr Spender - The Labour party might feel the obligation to increase those pensions, but would it do so?

Mr CURTIN - Yes.

Mr Spender - Where would the Labour party obtain the necessary money ?

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