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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

The PRESIDENT - Order ! The honorable senator would not be in order in reflecting upon the members of the board; but I have not yet heard him do so. When the Postmaster-General (Senator Ashley) rose to a point of order, the Leader of the Opposition had just said that Judge Foster had contested an election as a Labour candidate some years ago. That remark cannot be regarded as a reflection upon the gentleman mentioned.

Senator McLEAY - The third member of the board is Miss Cashman, who, for eighteen years, was organizer of the Printing Trades Union, and since relinquishing that post was a government industrial inspector. Miss Cashman is supposed to represent the employers on this board. I ask honorable senators to note carefully the provisions of the first five sub-regulations of regulation 5 - (1.) The Minister may appoint a Women's Employment Board. (2.) The board shall consist of a chairman, one special representative of employers and one special representative of employees and, in addition, two other members to be appointed from time to time (according to the subjectmatter to be dealt with by the board), one of whom shall represent an employers' organization, and the other an employees' organization. (3.) Before appointing the special representative of employers or any member representative of any employers' organization, the Minister shall consult with the appropriate employers' organizations, and before appointing the special representative of employees or any member representative of any employees' organization, he shall consult with the Australasian Council of Trades Unions. (4.) In the absence of any special representative the Minister shall appoint a substitute for the absent special representative, but, in the event of the substitute failing to attend a meeting of the board to which he has been summoned by the chairman, the board may validly proceed in his absence. (5.) The chairman and half the other members of the board, as constituted for the time being in accordance with the provisions of this regulation, shall form a quorum, and when a quorum is present the board may validly func-tion, notwithstanding that the representatives of one party have failed to attend.

With the set-up of the board I strongly disagree. I also strongly protest against the attitude of the Minister for Labour and National Service when selecting the representatives of the employers. The Government has repeatedly appealed to us to do all we can to create harmony in industry. However, so long as a majority of the Cabinet tolerates action of this kind by any Minister, we shall never establish peace in industry. Recently we witnessed the sorry spectacle of the Minister for Labour and National Service openly defying the Prime Minister in connexion with disputes in the coal industry. Does any honorable senator think that it is fair to set up in this way a tribunal of this kind whose powers exceed those of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court? Is it fair to select as the members of that board two representatives of the employees and to appoint as chairman a judge who has been closely associated with the Labour party?

Senator Aylett - Does not the honorable senator believe that the judge is impartial 1

Senator McLEAY - If he were impartial, the other two members of the board could outvote him. I draw the attention of the Senate to the proceedings which led up to the selection of the representative of the employers. These regulations were promulgated on the 25th March last, and a letter dealing with the constitution of the board was forwarded by the Minister on that date to employers' organizations throughout the Commonwealth. The letter was received by the central council of the employers' organizations on the 27th March. As it was obviously impossible for a communication posted at Canberra on the 25th March to reach employers' organizations throughout the Commonwealth in time to enable them to reply to it forthwith, the federal secretary of the central council of the employers' organizations sent a telegram to the Secretary of the Department of Labour and National Service requesting a short postponement of the appointment of the employers' representative to this board. It was also pointed out that in the event of the Minister deeming the matter to be of very great urgency a hurried nomination would be made. No answer was received to that letter. The employers' organizations then submitted the name of Mr. D. G. Johnstone as their nominee, and in doing so, protested against the set-up of the board. The nomination was forwarded to the Department on the 11th April, that is, within a fortnight of the receipt of the Minister's letter asking the central council of the employers' organizations to make a nomination.

Senator Large - Did not the letter call for urgency?

Senator McLEAY - The employers certainly treated it as urgent; but four weeks elapsed following the promulgation of these regulations before the board held its first meeting. On the 13th April, the central council of employers' organizations forwarded a letter to the Prime Minister objecting to the set-up of the board. No reply was received to that communication. The employers first learnt of the appointment of the personnel of the board from reports published in the press on the 16th April. Although the Minister had been informed of the employers' nomination on the 11th April, Miss Cashman was selected as the employers' representative. I submit that every member of the Cabinet must share responsibility for the action taken by the Minister for Labour and National Service in this matter. Such political interference with the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, particularly in a time of stress, is unwarranted. The Government must abandon its policy of appeasement towards extremists in the Labour movement, because that policy is doing more damage to our war effort than anything else. So long as a majority of members of the Cabinet are prepared to stand by and allow the Minister for Labour and National Service to do things of this sort, we can expect trouble in our major industries. The Opposition in this Parliament has no objection to women employees being enabled to submit their claims and grievances to the properlyconstituted industrial arbitration authorities. We object to a political board consisting of three inexperienced persons, to do this important work. While such a board continues to operate, the employer cannot expect to receive a fair deal, and there will not be harmony in the industry. The Commonwealth Arbitration Court has given more than 100 decisions affecting women in industry, and the State Court of New South Wales has given approximately 149 such decisions. Honorable senators must admit that the adjudicators in such courts are free from party interests and political bias, and that they have had vast experience in trying to understand the intricacies of the problems that confront them from day to day in their courts. They are better qualified by the experience than the persons who will comprise this political tribunal. I object to political interference with the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which is the proper authority for settling industrial disputes.

In conclusion,my objections can be summarized briefly. A careful examination of the regulations provides further evidence of the Government's attacks on the Australian system of conciliation and arbitration. The board is totally unnecessary, and cannot be compared with the long-established and widely experienced arbitration courts. The introduction of the board will possibly defeat the Government's object to promote peace in industry. It is, in fact, more likely to create dissatisfaction among the huge army of women workers. In one of the regulations the Government has fixed the minimum and the maximum rates. The minimum rate is 60 per cent. of the rate fixed for males, and, I understand, is higher than the rates ruling in certain industries to-day. With that I have no quarrel, except to say that the Government has interfered with decisions of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The Government has also laid it down that where the rate is higher than 60 per cent., that rate cannot be varied. 1 mention this as an example of government interference, which will not create harmony in industry. The object is deliberately to introduce working conditions and rates of wages that will be in conformity with the wishes of the Labour Government, and therefore impartiality cannot be expected. That is fair criticism. The appointment of Miss Cashman is a deliberate slight to the employers of Australia, and is further evidence of the high-handed attitude of the Minister for Labour and National Service, and of his disregard for interests beyond those of his own personal followers. Finally, while the regulations remain in force, the Prime Minister and every member of the Government stand condemned for political interference with Commonwealth and State arbitration courts.

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