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Thursday, 21 May 1942

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) .- in reply- As the Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin) is present, I take the opportunity to present in a few sentences what I believe to be the essence of the case that has been presented. It has been admirably summarized by the honorable member for Deakin (Mr. Hutchinson). It does not turn upon what wage ought to be paid to a woman for doing a particular job. That problem will be determined, not by this Parliament, or any member of it, but by whatever tribunal is set up to deal with the matter. I did not open a discussion on that subject. -I alluded to the fact that this tribunal was told to take certain things into account when fixing the wages of women, but not the element of family or other responsibilities, which is considered only by the Arbitration Court. It is quite misleading to assert that any honorable member on this side has offered a. view as to what the answer ought to be to the question of what should be women's wages in any industry. The attack against the regulations is launched on two grounds. The first ground is, that they take from the Arbitration Court one of its functions. The honorable member for Bourke (Mr. Blackburn) has quite truly pointed out - I believe that I stated it in my opening speech - that that is not without precedent. It occurred in the case of the coalmining industry, for what seemed to be very good reasons. I took exception, not to putting a particular industry under the control of a special industrial tribunal - because, in some circumstances, as in respect of coal, that seems to be a very good thing ; indeed, as honorable members know, I did it myself - but to the separation of a problem which runs, or may ultimately run, right through industry, namely, the employment of women, from the general treatment of the industry by the Arbitration Court. For better or worse, that is the point that is made ; and it is one that I commend to the consideration of the Government.

The second point made was in relation to the board that has been set up. A good deal of discussion has taken place - some of it, unfortunately, a little heated - on the subject of alleged political appointments to the bench of the Arbitration Court and other judicial tribunals. That matter is commonly discussed. As a man who is not without legal and political experience, I should like to state my view in respect of it. I consider that, if a man is appointed to any bench, not because of his supposed judicial qualities but because of his political services, that is a false appointment. But I should be the last person to say that, because a lawyer who is distinguished in his profession chooses to offer his services to the people in the interests of any political party in Parliament, he is to be disqualified thereafter from occupying a judicial office. On the contrary, public service, honestly performed, in any cause, far from being a disqualification, is rather a qualification for the work of a judge. Consequently, I detach myself from all this argument about political appointments, and concentrate on the one real question, which does not concern the chairman of the tribunal or my friend, Mr. Wallis. I said in opening that there is no man occupying a position in trade unionism for whom I have higher respect than for Mr. Wallis. I have had experience of him for many years. He is a zealous, able and honest man. As a champion of the view which he honestly holds, after many years' experience, I would not wish for a better man. But the whole structure of this tribunal, on the face of it, was to be that of a chairman who was to be the impartial member, od the one side somebody who could put the view of the employee - ami no one will deny that Mr. Wallis is abundantly qualified to do that - and on the other side somebody who could and would put with equal force, understanding and zeal, the view of the employer. That, I submit, is a pretty fair account of the constitution of this tribunal. .1 ask the Prime Minister : if he were asked to-morrow, for the first time, to establish an industrial tribunal to deal with coalmining, would he really expect to produce in the coal-miners a sense of fair play and justice if he appointed a judicial chairman and two representatives of the owners, but no representative of the miners? That, in my opinion - and I have condemned strikes as vigorously a? anybody - would justify any sort of upheaval on the coal-fields. The coalminers would say: "These persons may. as individuals,' be the best and most, honest in the world ; but the dice are loaded against us ". How can anybody imagine that any employer could go before this tribunal believing that he will get fair play and have satisfaction, whim it is constituted in this way? So I put this to the Prime Minister, in no sense of controversy, but as one who wants to see these things work: In my opinion, the right honorable gentleman would be well-advised to have a look at this matter himself, in order to consider whether, even at this stage, if these regulations continue to exist, he should not say to the employers : " You have had your fight : Parliament has upheld these regulations." - I am assuming that that is what will happen - "In the circumstances, I want you now to co-operate in the working of this thing, and to make a nomination of somebody who will adequately represent the point of view of the employers ". I know that the right honorable gentleman desires to be fair in this matter. I assure him that the more I have looked at it and its history, the less convinced have I become that there is any shred of fairness to be found in it. Consequently, I ask the House to reject these regulations ; and if the House does not do so - and one knows that things like that do happen occasionally - I ask the right honorable the Prime Minister to give his most earnest consideration to the matter, in the interest of harmony, equity and what is, perhaps, just as important, a proper sense of justice in the minds of those who will be affected by it.

Mr.Curtin. - This is a board to assess the value of women as replacing agents for men, chiefly in war industries.

Mr MENZIES - But not necessarily.

Mr.Curtin. - Not necessarily, but chiefly. How would the right honorable gentleman ensure that women would have amember of their own sex on the tribunal ?

Mr Archie Cameron - Why did not the unions make such a nomination?

Mr.Curtin. - It is useless to ask why the unions - or, for that matter, the employers - have not done something.

Mr MENZIES - My answer to the right 'honorable gentleman's question is this: If it seemed improbable that the trade union movement would itself nominate a woman as its representative, then I should not force the employers to be put in the position of being represented by a woman, but would have a tribunal of five.

Mr Blackburn - The number is five.

Mr MENZIES - The centre of the tribunal is a membership of three. Then, there are to be two experts, to be chosen according to the industry with which the tribunal is dealing. I was rather talking about the permanent element in the tribunal. I should have had a tribunal of five, of whom at least one was a woman.

Mr.Curtin. - On whom would the right honorable gentleman have imposed the obligation of providing a woman representative - on the employers or on the employees ?

Mr MENZIES - I should have imposed that obligation on the Government. With a tribunal of five members it should not be unfair to ask the Government to appoint, in addition to the chairman, two other members, who would be selected notbecause of their partisan outlook, but because of their competence to take a detached view.

Mr.Curtin. - The right honorable gentleman will, I think, acquit me of partisanship in this matter, but I remind him that Miss Cashman, once was appointed by his Government, as an officer of the Commonwealth Government.

Mr MENZIES - I do not recall that. I certainly was not aware of it.

Question put -

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

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