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Wednesday, 20 May 1942

Mr WARD - Prompt work.

Mr HARRISON - So prompt as to be regarded as sharp practice. Much more ably than I could, the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) has dealt with the qualifications and affiliations of the people appointed, and I have no desire to go over the same ground. It was obvious, however, that the right honorable member for Kooyong got under the skin of the Minister for Labour and National Service. At any rate the nomination of Mr. Johnstone was refused because he knew his job. On the 13th April, Mr. Wilkins wrote to the Prime Minister objecting to the newly constituted "Women's Employment Board. The letter also directed attention to the fact - . . . that the established arbitration system is fully able to determine any aspect of women's employment, and the judicial capacity and wide experience of its judges covering all industries, is more competent to resolve these matters than any such additional authority as the proposed board.

For these reasons, my organizations respectfully request that further consideration of this matter be made by the Government before any irrevocable departure from the existing industrial arbitration system is implemented.

That letter was not answered. Honorable members will agree that, in view of the fact that the employers not only accepted the invitation to nominate a representative, but also made a nomination before the personnel of the board was announced, the Minister was grossly unfair. Moreover, the Government displayed its intention to carry out Labour's industrial policy by means of war-time regulations by appointing a board which is obviously biased in favour of the Labour party's policy because it consists of people picked directly from the ranks of Labour supporters. Quite obviously, the board i3 usurping the powers of the Arbitration Court. It is intimidating the employers in such a way that notwithstanding awards prescribed by the Arbitration Court they will have to subscribe to whatever decisions it makes. All this had its genesis in the Industrial Relations Council, which was appointed at the end of last year. The newspapers featured the fact that the employers' representatives walked out of that council. Honorable members will recollect that questions about the Industrial Relations Council were asked in this House, but to this moment the facts have not been disclosed to the Parliament. The Industrial Relations Council was constituted as the result of a conference held in Canberra on the 27th and 28th December, 1941. That conference was attended by Arbitration Court judges and industrial commissioners. According to statements made at the conference, it was not the intention of the Government, when appointing the council, to interfere in any way with the functions of the Arbitration Court. Judge Piper, who was present, put that matter beyond all reasonable doubt. Addressing the conference, he said, " I am not clear at the moment as to the relations between the proposed new council and the court. Will the proposed council be an advisory board?" The Attorney-General (Dr. Evatt) replied -

It is proposed that the council should advise the Government on all labour matters, but will not interfere with the normal jurisdiction of the court or of the commissioners. It may recommend to the Government what should be done to improve the existing machinery. It may ask that more commissioners be appointed. It will be an adjunct to the executive power, but it will not settle disputes.

The Minister for Supply and Development (Mr. Beasley) elaborated that point when he said -

It i3 fundamental that we approve the policy of arbitration and that the representatives of the court should understand that there is no desire on the part of the Government to usurp the function of the court or to interfere with the arbitration machinery. Gather is it a desire to give to the court a closer knowledge of what war-time production means to both employers and employees. It would be a mistake to attempt to adjust these things arbitrarily.

It will be agreed that that statement was one of government policy, and should have been accepted as such. I shall nottraverse the sorry attempt on the part of the chairman of the council, Sir William Webb, to commit that body to biased judgments, hut I shall mention some actions which should convince the House that the chairman of the council was biased in his judgments. The council consisted of an equal number of representatives of employers and employees, but the vote of the chairman would decide any issue in respect of which the voting was equal. The chairman was a man appointed by the Government, a man, moreover, who, in the course of his observations, proved that he was biased in favour of the Labour party's industrial policy. He gave to representatives of employers the impression that the council was merely a sham - something brought into existence to implement the Government's industrial policy under the guise of an independent tribunal. I draw attention to a statement made by the Minister for War Organization of Industry (Mr. Dedman), who was present at the conference. He pointed out that it was Cabinet's idea that, owing to the complicated nature of this subject, and its varying incidence in different trades, the question of pay and conditions of employment should be a matter for the Arbitration Court. He went on to point out that the main difficulty was that if women were granted the same pay as men in the munitions industry, there would soon be a demand for equal pay in all other industries. He said that it was estimated that such a policy would involve an extra £50,000,000 per annum. He went on to say that, apart from the difficulty of financing such a scheme, it would create enormous purchasing power which, in turn, would cause a great demand for civilian goods and have a highly inflationary effect. I do not want to say anything in regard to his latter observation, but I draw attention to his statement in regard to government policy. On the subject of male rates of pay for female labour, employers pointed out that as the basic wage was the amount to be paid to a man with a wife and one child, obviously the payment to be made to females was a matter for the Arbitration Court to determine. The representatives of employees said that they did not want to go to the court. They said that the practice had been for (he remuneration of females to be fixed at 54 per cent, of the rate paid to males. They believed that the court, having a full knowledge of the facts and being unbiased, would make just decisions. However, it was not the desire of the Government to have an unbiased report or an unbiased award. Its intention was to rig the court so that only one decision could be made. The Government has effectively rigged the court so that, only one decision can be made. Obviously, the desire of the unions was to get the court's decision on the subject of the remuneration of females set aside, although they had agreed to take their case before the court. Arbitration is one of the basic principles underlying our industrial system. That policy Has been subscribed to by all parties and by the .Labour party when the award is in con formity with its idea; otherwise it immediately seeks for means to circumvent the decision of the court. It was abundantly clear that the employees did not wish to go into the court. They preferred to obtain an award by back-door methods - by appointing a rigged board to implement, the policy of the Government, and in provide that there should be no apnea' Those are the facts. On three occasions the Minister stressed that it was Cabinet's decision that these matters should be referred to the Arbitration Court. After some discussion as to the remuneration of females Mr. Clarey moved and Mr. Croft seconded the following motion : -

That in each of the applications before the conference, viz.. Lysaght's, master butchers ami licensed victuallers (and in other later applications) the Department of Labour and National Service should hold conferences of employers and employees to discuss the terms for the entry of women into the industry concerned.

On the motion of Mr. Perry, seconded by Mr. Heine, the following amendment was moved on behalf of the employers : -

That the proposals of Cabinet in relation u> the conditions of employment of women in war-time, as explained fully by the Minister for War Organization of Industry, Mr. J. J. Dedman, be endorsed, and that in the opinion of this Council the subject is one that on account of the numerous varying aspects which are involved must necessarily be dealt with by an arbitration court in accordance with the different circumstances prevailing in particular industries.

The employers were definitely concerned with implementing government policy, and not as the Minister accused them, with obtaining cheap female labour. The chairman should have been impartial, but contrary to all rules of procedure he made no attempt to put the amendment before he put the motion to the meeting. At the specific request of the employers' representatives, a vote was taken on the amendment submitted by Mr. Perry. On the casting vote of the chairman, it was rejected.

Mr Blackburn - Is not Sir William Webb the Chief Justice of Queensland?


Mr Blackburn - Then is he not a man of unbiased judgment?

Mr HARRISON - I shall give additional information for the purpose of showing that the chairman was definitely biased. Had he not been biased, this Labour Government would not have appointed him to the position of chairman.

Mr Rosevear - I direct your attention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to the fact that the honorable member for Wentworth has reflected upon the judiciary.

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