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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon J Cunningham - It is utterly impossible for me, because of the interjections of honorable senators, to hear the remarks of the honorable senator who is addressing the Chair. It must also be impossible for the official reporters to record correctly the speech that is being delivered. I ask honorable senators to observe the Standing Orders, and to cease interjecting.

Senator McLEAY - Members of the

Opposition have said, on numerous occasions that they believe that in wartime the Government should have the widest possible powers. Proof of that is found in the National Security Act passed by Parliament when the previous Government was in office. When that measure was before Parliament a number of members of the present Government voted against their leader, who is now Prime Minister. When those wide powers were given to the Government, Parliament provided that the Senate and the House of Representatives should have the right to review the regulations issued under that act. During the first four months of 1942, more than 200 statutory rules have been issued containing thousands of regulations; hut the Senate and the House of Representatives have not attacked or objected to more than 1 per cent, of them. I remind members of the Government that when regulations providing for economic mobilization were hurriedly promulgated, the economic conditions of this country were in a perfect muddle-

Senator Ashley - What about petrol rationing?

Senator McLEAY - The Minister can say what he likes about petrol rationing, but two wrongs do not make a right. The Opposition, by directing attention to abuses that would exist under the regulations, was instrumental in having a committee appointed. The committee was assisted by a distinguished colleague of mine on this side of the chamber, and as a result of its advice the regulations were modified. Was not that the correct method of approach?

It is not correct to suggest that we are challenging Statutory Rule No. 146 in order to waste the time of the Senate. It is our duty to point out that all the intelligence is not on the Government side of the chamber. It has been suggested by my colleagues that the tribunal will inflict injustice on the employers and prevent industrial harmony, ft will certainly interfere with the rights of the Arbitration Court. Generally speaking, all political parties agree that the Arbitration Court has handled difficult problems exceedingly well, without political interference. Whatever hope we may have of securing the disallowance of these regulations, I believe that the people of the country expect us, when injustices are being perpetrated by the Government, to do what we can in Parliament to prevent them. I regret that Senator Johnston, one of the stalwarts of the Opposition, proposes to support the Government in this instance because, as he said, the disallowance of the regulations would not help the war effort. I remind the Senate that a month ago, when I had the honour to move for the disallowance of certain coal regulations-

Senator Arthur - Dishonour.

Senator McLEAY - I remind Senator Johnston that after he had supported the Government on that occasion, the Government did not adopt the suggestion of the Opposition without consulting

Senator Johnston.We regarded as ludicrous the suggestion that trade union officials should order the men back to work. Within six weeks that regulation was amended and the authority was placed in the hands of the Coal Commissioner as we suggested. I remind Senator Johnston that the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. ' Menzies) has given notice that he proposes to move for the disallowance of these regulations in the House of Representatives. I remind the honorable senator also that an executive consisting of sixteen representatives of the Country party and the United Australia party considered these regulations amongst others, and was satisfied that they should be disallowed because they would tend to create ill feeling and industrial unrest in many of the big industries in which women are being employed in increasing numbers. I suggest to honorable senators opposite that the rights of employers are no less important than the rights of employees. Senator Aylett's endeavour to add up the number of members of this board was about as accurate as was his estimate of the percentage of the male rate that is paid to females. Another point made by Senator Johnston was that there is no trouble among women who are working in various industries to-day under existing awards. I agree that in this war the women of Australia have done a remarkably fine job, but 90 per cent, of them are working under awards fixed by experienced Commonwealth and State tribunals. This new body has not yet functioned, and the peace which exists throughout industry to-day is due to the fact that women are prepared to work under the present awards. But now the Government proposes to throw this politically inexperienced tribunal into the arena, and to give it power to make decisions which will interfere with rulings of other properly constituted authorities. That is a step in the wrong direction, and the employers have a right to oppose the action of the Government on this occasion. It is obvious that as soon as this board grants an increase of wages to women engaged in one industry, women engaged in other industries will be dissatisfied, because all sorts of anomalies will be created. AH this talk of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court being unable to handle cases expeditiously is incorrect. When the previous Government was in office, steps were taken to ensure that industrial disputes were dealt with promptly, and to that end the number of tribunals was increased. I ask honorable senators to give some thought to the real causes of the various strikes which have occurred in recent months. Take, for instance, the strike at the Millfield colliery. The trouble there is not that the Arbitration Court has not been able to handle the dispute, but that extremists in the industry are not prepared to abide by that court's awards. That disinclination to observe the rules of properly constituted authorities is causing considerable trouble throughout industry to-day.

In conclusion I appeal to Senator Johnston and others to appreciate the fact that honorable senators on this side of the chamber are just as interested as is the Government in winning this war. I am sure that the honorable senator has that desire at heart and that it is shared by Western Australians generally. I would point out, however, that we on this side of the chamber have a right to oppose actions which we consider to be prejudicial to any section of the community, and to offer constructive criticism. It is our opinion that by disallowing these regulations and so preventing the operation of this board, we shall be assisting Australia industrially, and doing justice to the employers.

Question put -

That the National Security (Employment of Women) Regulations, under the National Security Act 1939-1940, made by Statutory Rules 1942, No. 146, be disallowed.

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