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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Mr SPICER (VICTORIA) - Mr. Fadden moved for the disallowance of Statutory Rule No. 77.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - He did not move for its disallowance. I was strongly urged to vote for its disallowance when it was first promulgated, but I refused to do so because I regarded the rule as vital to the war effort. Subsequently, when the honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) moved for its disallowance, and when it appeared to me that the Opposition parties could have secured its disallowance, all members of the Opposition except seven voted against the motion, including Mr. Fadden. In the Senate, several motions for the disallowance of regulations have been submitted by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay), and that makes it more difficult for those of us who sit on the Opposition side to vote against our Leader. The fact that he gets most of the votes on the Opposition side, when he moves for the disallowance of regulations, is due more to his personality and prestige through having been Leader of the Senate for a long period, and to his able advocacy, than to the real merits of the cases presented by him. When we consider the position in the House of Representatives - I am only repeating what has appeared in the press, and I am sorry for it, because I believe that the person responsible for it should" be pilloried to the utmost degree - we all know that the Opposition parties voluntarily, by providing the Speaker and the Chairman of Committees for the Government, have caused two votes to be given to the Government on every division that takes place in that chamber. I am not reflecting on the two honorable gentlemen concerned, because they have acted quite rightly in occupying the positions to which they have been elected. It was shown that an overwhelming majority of the combined parties desired that they should retain those positions. That proves conclusively that the Leaders of the Opposition parties in the House of Representatives do not wish to embarrass the Government, and do not try to embarrass it, by repeated attempts to pinprick it. That could be done by snap votes, were it not for the fact that two votes of members of the Opposition go to the Government on every division in that chamber.

Senator Cameron - That is a good example which might well be followed in this chamber

Senator E B JOHNSTON - But some of the honorable gentlemen who are anxious to give to the Government those two votes on every division in the House of Representatives have suggested at times that the Government should not at any time receive any vote from the Opposition side in this chamber.

I shall repeat something that I said when voting against the Leader of the Opposition in connexion with the first motion submitted by him this year for the disallowance of regulations. I recall that both the Leader of the Opposition and I, when we were re-elected at the last elections, had a political platform consisting of practically one plank. We had an all-in policy for the winning of the war. I am still anxious to carry out that policy. If the Leader of the Opposition can prove to me - and I claim to have an open mind - that the carrying of this motion will assist the war effort in any way, I shall support it. If he can show that its passage would produce more munitions, more food for the troops, or a higher efficiency in any of the fighting services, I shall support him in any movement in that direction. I pause for a reply, and, if I do not get it now, the honorable gentleman has the right to give it to me later. I contend that the passage of this motion would not produce any of those all important results. On the contrary, I claim that it would cause industrial chaos in our munitions factories or other services, where, under the stress of war and owing to the shortage of male labour, ever increasing numbers of women are being, and will be, employed. It is fortunate that there is no industrial trouble to-day among the large number of women who are working wholeheartedly in the munitions factories and in connexion with other war-time activities. Some motions have been submitted against the Government because there has been trouble in industry, but in this case the motion is directed mainly against women employed in the munitions industry where there is no industrial trouble at all. The largest employer of women in the Commonwealth, whether directly or indirectly, is the Commonwealth Government. When a private employer is a contractor for the Government in the production of munitions, the real employer is the Government itself. As I have previously said, I opposed the advent of this Labour Government, but I do not expect it to make exactly the same appointments as would have been made by an anti-Labour government. Large numbers of women are being transferred, and more will be transferred, to war industries, and many of them are doing work which was previously done almost exclusively by male labour. In the circumstances, quick decisions may often be necessary with regard to their industrial conditions, and those decisions could readily be obtained by this new tribunal. I believe in adequate pay for women, and I favour the principle of equal pay for equal work between the sexes. That principle has been and is being observed in many pre-war decisions of the State Arbitration Court in Western Australia.

Senator Arthur - Will that affect the annual balance-sheets of some of the private companies?

Senator E B JOHNSTON - As a director of companies, the honorable senator probably knows more about that than I, who am not in the same fortunate position. I read in the press last week that 3,000 shop girls in Adelaide are to be transferred during the next two or three weeks to munitions factories in the vicinity of Adelaide. What a task, and what a number of different trade unions those women may be joining! Surely it is not unreasonable that some tribunal should be appointed to deal with their cases quickly and comprehensively, whereas, if they were engaged in 40 or 50 different trades and callings, it might be necessary to obtain 40 or 50 alterations of industrial awards, with the result that the delays would be interminable. The arbitration courts are congested with work, and their delays are proverbial. I do not wish to defend any action of the Government unless I think that in so doing I shall be helping the war effort.

Senator McBride - This tribunal has not yet functioned.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - Then why should there be any haste to disallow the regulations? During the last few weeks, regulation after regulation has been attacked. They have not been disallowed and I do not know of any ill effect that has resulted from failure to disallow them. Throughout Australia women are being transferred from shops to munitions factories, and a government particularly concerned about the sectional interests of the workers naturally desires to have a new tribunal to deal with their claims. Had I any doubt whether I should support the Government in this matter, I should look to the right honorable gentleman who led the parties with which I was associated at the last elections. I refer to the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies), one of the most brilliant men in Australian politics. [ shall read what I heard, him say in the House of Representatives regarding the motion for the disallowance of Statutory Rule No. 77, which was attacked in the Senate on much the same lines as in the House of Representatives, although in this chamber the motion was subsequently withdrawn. Regarding the general subject of the disallowance of regulations, the right honorable member for Kooyong stated, on the 30th April last : -

If there is any doubt in the mind of Parliament about whether a certain regulation ought or ought not to be approved, then I am prepared to resolve that doubt always in favour of the executive government, because I believe that it is far better, in a time of war. to err by trying to do too much than to fail by doing too little.

He voted against the disallowance of the statutory rule, and I am prepared to accept the standard he laid down in my action with regard to the regulations now under discussion.

Senator Spicer - He has given notice of his intention to move against these regulations.

Senator E B JOHNSTON - If I had any doubt in this matter, I should be prepared to defer to that wise gentleman, whose ability, knowledge and political wisdom mark him as a real national leader, and give the benefit of any doubt to the Government. Owing to reasons well known to all political observers and which I do not desire to recapitulate, it appears to me that the present Government is the only Ministry that could be drawn from this Parliament and that would be able to carry on the government of the Commonwealth at the present time. Whether this be so or not, the Government is charged with the direction of the war which is an immediate threat to the very existence of Australia as a British nation. Last week the enemy's attack was repulsed a few hundred miles from our eastern shores. We are told that the Japanese are now massing for another attack. To-day, our defence against aggression is the only thing that matters. It is the all-important problem confronting this Parliament. The Government should be free to devote its whole attention to defence, and the prosecution of the war. Academic questions such as the disallowance of these regulations can well be postponed until after victory is attained. I shall vote against the motion.

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