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Thursday, 21 May 1942

Mr HUTCHINSON (Deakin) .- The subject-matter of the regulations, the disallowance of which has been moved by the right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) is of no mean importance. In fact, there are certain principles underlying these regulations which are of tremendous importance, and which, if observed, may make a tremendous difference to our industrial life and social structure. I intend, therefore, to deal with these regulations on broad lines and under definite headings. I wish, first of all, to say a few words in regard to the importance of the Department of Labour in these times and, with special reference to these regulations, the importance of the task confronting the Minister who is in charge of this department. For many years in this country the department handling labour affairs was under the jurisdiction of the Attorney-General's Department. Apparently it was not considered sufficiently important to be anything more than an appendage of another department. When the war broke out, however, the importance of the industrial life of the country was recognized by the Government of the day. This war is truly a war of the machine shop, the worker and the industrialist, and when the Churchill Government assumed office in 'Great Britain, the Department of Labour was elevated to one of first-class importance. It was placed under the control of one man who had for years been in close touch with the industrial life of that country, and who had tremendous prestige amongst the workers. I refer to Mr. Ernest Bevin. Some time afterwards, the Menzies Government created a separate Department of Labour, but even then the importance of that department was not sufficiently appreciated because it was not given high Cabinet priority. Yet it developed, and ha3 continued to develop, and to a large degree it has been responsible for the success of our war effort. Therefore, the selection of a Minister to control this department was a matter of no mean importance to this country when a change of government occurred some months ago. Above all, in dealing with labour matters at the present time, it should be the aim of the Minister for Labour and National Service and of his Government not to taint the industrial life of this country with anything suggesting partiality. Ever since his appointment, the present Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) has posed as a veritable dove of peace; but his cooings are of a strange nature, unless it be that the ears of most members of this chamber, and indeed the ears of many people outside of Parliament, are not attuned correctly. For instance, the Minister visited the coal-fields with the intention of bringing peace to that vital industry, but there has not been very much peace since his visit, and I am afraid that, throughout industry to-day there is considerable uneasiness in regard to the statements and behaviour of the Minister and the regulations issued by him. Indeed, when the Minister rose to reply to the right honorable member for Kooyong last night, he made statements which were more likely to create acrimony and discord than industrial peace, and that is a matter of tremendous importance to this nation. The right honorable member for Kooyong spoke on broad lines when he submitted his motion, yet, in reply, the Minister made little reference to the arguments that had been advanced. Instead, he indulged in a practice that is becoming common to him. He raked up some document with the intention of imputing dishonesty on the part of some honorable members, their wives, or any one with the same name as honorable members on this side of the chamber. The reason for that is obvious. The Minister hopes that on some future occasion, when an honorable member is not present to refute the implications, he will be able to read out in this chamber statements which he considers will be of political value to his party. The Minister also read from a confidential document, and I understand that the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) has since dissociated himself from that peculiar piece of behaviour. "We cannot expect the dignity and decorum of this House to be upheld by the Minister for Labour and National Service, hut neither can we expect the Prime Minister of this country to condone behaviour which tends to impair the dignity of this House at a time when the dignity of democratic institutions should be maintained. Silence is condonation. If such behaviour be disagreed with by the head of the Government it should he publicly exposed. Nothing tainted with partiality should emanate from any government department. ' Statutory Rule No. 146 provides for the establishment of a board to determine wages paid to females in industry, and regulation 5 under that rule specifically states that the board shall consist mainly of the chairman, a representative of the employees, and a representative of the employers. The composition of the board has already been mentioned by many honorable members.

It could be said that all three of the principal members of the board have certain political leanings. However, I do not wish to suggest that the chairman, Judge Poster, or, in fact, any of the members, will show political favour in the discharge of their duties; I hope that they will not do so. ' I do not wish to insinuate anything against the chairman, as another honorable member has done, because, of all our great democratic institutions, our legal system and our judiciary are amongst the most important. If the British people have given anything of value to the world, it is the British legal system. Any suggestion of incorrect, behaviour on the part of a judge, regardless of who he may be or of. his political tendencies, should be deplored whether it is made by an honorable member on this side of the House or by a supporter of the Government. However, when the employers'' nominee is disregarded and a person of known political views and of long association with the Labour movement is appointed in his place, the circumstances are entirely different. The history of this appointment is worth repeating. On the 25th March last, a letter was sent from the Department of Labour and National Service to the employers' organization asking it to select a person to represent the employers on this board. The letter was received on the 27th March. The employers' organization pointed out at the time that, because it was a federal body, a certain time must, elapse before it could select a nominee but that, if one was required, urgently, it would choose a representative without delay. Apparently, there was no need for urgency. On the 11th April, the employers selected a nominee, and, on the 13th April, letters were despatched to the Minister for Labour and National Service and the Prime Minister, notifying them of the choice. Neither of those letters was answered. One might condone that attitude on the part of the Minister for Labour and National Service, but it is strange that not even an acknowledgment was given by the Prime Minister, because this was a matter of great importance. Shortly afterwards it was stated in the press that

Miss Cashman, an erstwhile official of the Printing Industry Employees Union, and a known supporter of the Labour movement, had been appointed to this board as the employers' representative. What would have happened had the parties represented on this side of the chamber been in power and had sent a letter to the trade union movement asking it to appoint a representative to serve on such a board, and the Government had not only failed to answer the letter in which a nomination was made, but also had appointed somebody like Mr. Essington Lewis. Mr. Myer, or the honorable member for Henty (Mr. Coles) to he the employees' representative? The trade unions and their representatives in this Parliament would rightly have risen in protest against such a procedure. They would have said : " This is partiality with a vengeance; this is political trickery; this introduces politics into the composition of a board whose jurisdiction is of great importance". We could expect a tirade of abuse from honorable members opposite, and we would deserve it. If such appointments are to have the taint of political partiality, we shall have trouble in industry when peace is most urgently required.

I refer now to the principle underlying these regulations. Some honorable members have occupied a considerable amount of time discussing whether women should receive the same wages as men for equal work. That is not the chief principle embodied in these regulations. The principle about which we are concerned is whether the Arbitration Court should be the arbiter as to the rates of pay of men and women in industry. If industrial affairs are to be dragged into the political arena, justice will disappear and chaos will result. That is the point which we wish to emphasize. Our social and economic structure may be changed, and changed adversely, if the Arbitration Court's decisions regarding wages for men and women arc to be overridden. After this war, when we hope to have a new world in which trade will flow more freely than in the past, costs of industry in Australia will be of tremendous importance. The influence of the costs of secondary production on those of primary industries will be very great. We say that politicians should not handle this problem. Only the recognized arbitration courts should do so, because they are qualified to do so by their knowledge and experience of economic conditions. So I say that these regulations bespeak partiality, and undermine arbitration, which is one of the most precious gems in Australia's crown. By making political appointments, the Government is likely to disturb industrial relations, at a time when the greatest degree of co-operation should exist between employer and employee. Nothing could have a greater tendency to disturb such cooperation than partisan political appointments to boards, the main purpose of which is to undermine the established principle of arbitration in this country.

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