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Thursday, 21 May 1942

Mr ARCHIE CAMERON - What about Statutory Rule No. 77?

Mr BRENNAN - I condemned it.

Mr ARCHIE Cameron - The honorable member did not vote against it.

Mr BRENNAN - I was confined, through illness, to my bed.

Mr ARCHIE Cameron - The honorable member avoided the House like he would a plague until the debate had concluded.

Mr BRENNAN - If my vote against the statutory rule would have meant the defeat of the Labour Government and its replacement by an administration that included the honorable member for Barker and his friends, I should have reluctantly made my choice in favour of the lesser of two evils.

The right honorable member for Kooyong made the personnel of the Women's Employment Board the main ground for his attack on the statutory rule, and I contend that he failed to convince the House. Some of his statements were, to my knowledge, unjust and incorrect. As to the remainder of his charges which relate to matters that are not within my knowledge, I am prepared to trust the Minister and to judge, by results, the operation of the statutory rule. It was argued and restated by the honorable member for Moreton and the honorable member for Fawkner that the effect of these regulations is to deprive women of the right to approach the Arbitration Court. The honorable member for Moreton stated that the regulations sabotaged the court, and claimed that this was the first step by the Minister - I do not know how he will do it unaided and alone, although he is such a powerful Minister - to override and destroy the policy of arbitration. But there is a war in progress. We are being told so regularly in this House and elsewhere with too much dreadful reiteration, I suggest. Every body knows that the war has created and will create, though for no longer than its duration, I hope, the problem of man-power. From every vocation huge drafts of men are being taken for military service or to make munitions; and work which can be done by women is, to a large degree, now being so performed. A very striking illustration of that is one which daily excites my interest, namely, the employment of young women as conductresses an city buses. They are doing work which had hitherto been done by men only, and which after the war, we may assume, will be done by men only. But this is just the kind of case for which this statutory rule provides. All these regulations are excused on the ground of urgency and special circumstances. There is urgency. There are special circumstances. They must be recognized, and this Labour Government must make provision for them by an urgent and special kind of legislation in such a way that . the age-long tendency of the employer to exploit the interests of the employee will not be used during the war, to the detriment of those women who are now filling the places of men. That is the crux of the problem. Therefore, it is a subject,' not for arbitration, but for quick action. The industrial tribunals are overworked, so they say. Their machinery, from the necessities of the case, is of a kind to be put in motion slowly, deliberately, and over a period of time ; but these cases must be dealt with readily and rapidly. In the instance that I cited, men have been replaced on the buses by women. They can do the work, and they are employed, quite rightly, at the same rate of pay as that which the men received. That standard has been maintained, and it should be jealously maintained, because not only in the hurly-burly, the hysteria and struggle of war, but also in time of peace, there are men on every hand who are always vigilant to see how much they can make out of extraordinary conditions. We know the go-getter when we meet him by the look in his eyes, the tone of his voice and the plausibility of his tongue, and we know that he belongs to a plentiful breed and that he re-appears in every war. That is why the Government has made provision for the safeguarding of the interests of women who are being brought into industry.. The right honorable member for Kooyong made a point as to the basic wage and the family unit. Se said that the basic wage was fixed as far back as 1907 on the basis of a man, a wife and three children, and seemed to argue that the payment of the adult wage to, say, the conductress of a. bus would be extravagant in such circumstances. That seems to be argument directed against the quantum of the wage. It is an argument with which [ can have not the slightest sympathy. What is the position of those particular employees? The man who was a bus or tram conductor is in the Army: He either has been called up compulsorily in Australia or has responded to the hectic appeals of Ministers and others to join the Australian Imperial Fore?, and has gone on what is vulgarly described as seven " bob " a day. Is it to be said that we should examine through a microscope the wages of a wife, who takes his place on a tram or a bus, in order to determine her family responsibilities? [Extension of time granted.'] Is it argued seriously and is it hoped that I shall accept the argument that the wages of employees of that kind should be reduced below the standard which we all recognize to be the minimum necessary to preserve life and health and frugal comfort? I reject the argument. Honorable members opposite assert that we are only offering lip-service to equal pay for equal work. The tribunals of this country, which we are supposed to be undermining, have never accepted the principle of equal pay for equal work. They have, as the Minister for Social Services pointed out, defined certain classes of occupations for which there should be a common standard wage, but they have never accepted the principle of equality of the sexes in regard to pay; and all the Government has done or refrained from doing is to disturb as little as possible the existing arbitration and wages board proceedings and provide a safeguard against " sweating " by stipulating the wage, within certain wide limits, that should be paid. More than that they have not done; nor have they expressed any opinion in these regulations upon the principle of equal pay for equal work. I cannot imagine that any one can dissent from the. principle that, if a woman does work as efficiently and with as great endurance and as well in all respects as a man, she should have equal reward for her labours. We all seem to be agreed on that, but it is not really an issue in this debate. The honorable member for Fawkner referred to the political bitterness created by the Minister for Labour and National Service and went on to say that he was' satisfied that there was more industrial bitterness during the regime of the Minister for Labour and National Service than we have had for many years, and that it showed a tendency to increase. He had grave forebodings as to the consequences. I am not here to defend the Minister for Labour and National Service. He has shown an admirable capacity to defend himself. I do think, however, that it is true that, when serious attacks are being made upon a Minister and are continued in and out of this. House with vitriolic persistence, it is encumbent upon the head of the Ministry to defend his Minister and to state that the Government stands or falls by the policy of each Minister. That is implicit in Cabinet solidarity, but the Minister for Labour and National Service is well able to look after himself. There is a tendency in the minds of some people to imagine that this Parliament is a debating society in which only the very politest words are to be uttered in the most restrained way and in a manner which one would expect at a mothers' meeting presided over by the curate. I cannot accept that view. This Parliament is an assembly where members are men and women have not yet been admitted as members - that is all I would say about that - but, at all events, where men speak what is in them. Politics is not an exact science; it is very inexact, and, if one compares the deliberations of this Parliament with the deliberations of some of the European parliaments, as we knew them when we did know them, our deliberations are models of sauvity and good manners.

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