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Thursday, 2 December 1965


Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- At least I will say for the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon) that, for the first time in the ten years for which I have been here, he has made a clear statement of his position. He said he had no further contribution to make. This, of course, is the position in which we find his party and his Government today. Honorable members on this side would be interested to know when there was this deathbed repentance on the part of the Government. We would like to know when Cabinet decided to appoint a committee to look into this question.

I congratulate the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Hayden) for having brought this issue before the Parliament. It is one that should be continuously before us. We are engaging in a debate that touches not only upon the status of women but also upon the status of the Commonwealth Parliament, its functions of leadership in the community and Australia's role in the world at large. Let us take for a moment the promise by the Minister that the Government intends to appoint a committee to look into this matter. This is a Government of what one might call pragmatic procrastination - a government which adopts a policy of getting away with doing as little as possible for as long as possible. To support this I mention first the Committee of Inquiry into Public Service Recruitment, which was chaired by Sir Richard Boyer. Its report was presented by command on 19th February 1959 - six years ago - 'and ordered to be printed on 26th November 1959. This Boyer report, which all honorable members ought to read and which the Minister ought to take to bed with him at night so that he may study it and decide whether it is time-


Mr Whitlam - Not in the next couple of weeks?


Mr BRYANT - He might well give some study to it in the near future. Instead of leaving the House the Minister should stay here and listen to the debate, which concerns his Department in particular. I suggest that he should read carefully pages 58 and 59 of the report, which relate to the employment of married women in the Commonwealth Public Service. For example, I remind him that paragraph 244 of that report reads -

We recommend, therefore, that sub-sections 1 and 2 of section 49 be repealed and replaced by a sub-section providing that married women shall be eligible for permanent or temporary employment in the Service on such terms and under such conditions as are prescribed.

I emphasise that this recommendation was made six years ago. The Committee was appointed some time before that. It addressed its letter to the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) in 1958. Twelve months later the report reached this Parliament. Since then there has been six years of no action. Now the Minister for Labour and National Service has the hide and brass to step into this Parliament and say that the Government intends to appoint a committee. Then he walks out of the House. I regard that as a personal insult.

Let us examine this question of committees appointed by the Government. I sat on one committee a couple of years ago. It was appointed to inquire into the conditions of the Aborigines at Arnhem Land. That committee submitted a unanimous recommendation. It was signed by the honorable member who now sits in this House as Minister for Territories (Mr. Barnes). I emphasise that this was a committee of the Parliament, yet its report was never implemented. In the other place a committee was appointed to inquire into the use of Australian productions in television programmes. It submitted a first' class report which stimulated discussion and obtained the support of great numbers of the community. But there has been no action taken on it. Again, the Constitutional Review Committee which was appointed some eight or nine years ago, and which included the best brains - with certain exceptions, of course - that the Parliament had at its disposal, submitted a report which was in fact a blueprint for constitutional change. Now very slowly and reluctantly, several of the more minor recommendations contained in that Committee's report are being implemented. This is the whole pattern of this Government's record. I am a member of the Council of the National Library of Australia. In 1953, the Government said it proposed to appoint a committee to examine the structure of the National Library and the Parliamentary Library. Three years later, it actually appointed a committee. Twelve months after that, the committee submitted its report. Three years after that, a bill was submitted to this House. In that case, a simple administrative question was involved, yet it took seven years, from the time of making the public statement before any Parliamentary action was taken. In the face of all that evidence, I see in the Government's promise to appoint another committee no possible hope for women in the Public Service of Australia.

The question before us is the simple one of the status of women. The Minister has said that he has no further contribution to make. I remind the House that he is part of the power of decision of this Government. He is one of the 12 members of the Cabinet. He represents 8i per cent, of the power of decision in Australia. He say3 he has nothing further to say.

We are not asking private employers to do anything; we are asking the Government to do something in its own field where there is no constitutional restriction whatsoever - a field in which the Commonwealth has absolute and unlimited authority to take the steps which were recommended to it six or seven years ago and which recent social attitudes make desirable.

I remind the House that this question has been the subject of discussion for a long, long while. I remind the House, too, that John Stuart Mill had this to say about the subjection of women 100 years ago, and that much of what he said then still applies even though a large measure of the legislative restriction on women has been removed -

The injudiciousness of parents, a youth's own inexperience, or the absence of external opportunities for the congenial vocation, and their presence for an uncongenial, condemn numbers of men to pass their lives in doing one thing reluctantly and ill, when there are other things which they could have done well and happily. But on women this sentence is imposed by actual law, and by customs equivalent to law. What, in unelightened societies, colour, race, religion, or in the case of a conquered country, nationality, are to some men, sex is to all women; a peremptory exclusion from almost all honourable occupations, but either such as cannot bc fulfilled by others, or such as those others do not think worthy of their acceptance.

The following is a fitting conclusion to the quotation -

When we consider the positive evil caused to the disqualified half of the human race by their disqualification - first in the loss of the most inspiriting and elevating kind of personal enjoyment, and next in the weariness, disappointment, and profound dissatisfaction with life, which are so often the substitute for it; one feels that among all the lessons which mcn require for carrying on the struggle against the inevitable imperfections of their lot on earth, there is no lesson which they more need, than not to add to the evils which nature inflicts, by their jealous and prejudiced restrictions on one another.

The restrictions which the Public Service Act imposes upon the women who serve in the Commonwealth Public Service represent nothing less than the infliction of injustice. I submit that this debate is related to reveal important issues. The first is the wastage of human talent. The second is the question of national justice to one-half of the community - the denial of full employment opportunities for that half of the community, particularly in the Commonwealth Public Service. I believe that there has to be a more enlightened attitude towards people's happiness; a greater realisation of the part that work plays in promoting the ordinary individual's happiness.

Another issue involved is the general economic question of the number of people who may be more gainfully employed than they are at present. One of the great difficulties we face here is that Australia, which very early in its career as a nation, established that it was one of the more democratic communities on earth and one of the leaders in social attitudes and social legislation, is now seriously dragging its feet. The honorable member for Oxley has pointed this out. The Minister for Labour and National Service has left the House, but he must know that every commentator supports this view. For example, in the book " Australian Wives Today ", published by Blackburn and Jackson, this summing up by Myrdal and Klein is quoted -

As a group, housewives today suffer from more social isolation and loss of purpose than any other social group, except, perhaps, the old.

Again, in the book " Women in Australia ", by Norman MacKenzie the following statement by this Government to the International Labour Organisation in 1957 is published -

Questions or discussion on the needs of women workers with family responsibilities frequently provoke hostility, the view being that the provision of these services would only encourage mothers to work unnecessarily and neglect their home and children.

An officer of one Government Department said -

Politically, this is a hot potato and we do not usually wish to say anything about it.

Another official of a State department had this to say when referring to one of the social services -

Working mothers would come very low on the list of priorities.

If we turn to the international statements made by this Government we find that in every instance procrastination has been the order of the day. This Government has continually engaged in passing the buck on to private employers or seeking to have the matter put on the agenda for some further meeting. For example, when dealing with the question of part time employment, which I think is very important so far as married women are concerned, we find this statement in the publication "Women Workers in a Changing World " published by the International Labour Office in 1964, after the question had been referred to various governments of the world -

Two Governments (Australia and Belgium) in their general observations to this section of the questionnaire, point out that part-time employment is not of concern only to women workers with family responsibilities. The Government of Australia does not think, therefore, that this question can be dealt with satisfactorily in this limited context.

In other words, if there is a way of fobbing it off in the Parliament by appointing a committee or of fobbing it off at an international conference by saying that it is the subject for another session, then this Government will sieze upon it. Australia is not, as it ought to be, one of the world's social leaders in this and in many other fields. As the honorable member for Oxley pointed out, we administer a very large Public Service. The most recent report of the Commonwealth Public Service Board indicates that there are 118,351 permanent employees in the Public Service, 15,538 temporary employees and 48,800 exempt employees. Let us consider the permanent employees - and we are interested in permanent careers for people. There are 96,935 male and 21,416 female permanent employees. I think it is worth reminding this all-male audience how significantly small is the contribution that women are able to make in the Commonwealth Public Service. Of course, they suffer from one simple disability - they will go and marry men. In the First Division of the Public Service there are 25 permanent males and no women; in the Second Division, 554 males and 1 woman; in the Third Division, 37,976 males and 3,341 females. In some of the other Divisions where we need temporary employees or cheap labour, it is the women who are called to the colours. I believe this is a serious matter for the Commonwealth.

This Parliament should be setting standards for others to follow. We ought not to be pleading with private employers, writing letters to the editors of newspapers or sending circulars to schools; we ought to be establishing policies and principles and carrying them out in the Public Service field, which is solely our domain. I was stimulated in my thinking by a statement the Minister made not long ago. He said - lt seems ridiculous that we should be short of labour in many fields of traditionally male effort while females, if permitted and encouraged to do so, could fill some of the gaps quite adequately.

I should have thought that he would have used the 81 per cent, of power that he possesses as a Cabinet Minister so as to pui himself in the forefront of this battle and to see that the necessary measures are carried out. There are two features in this matter. First, the Commonwealth has the function of leadership in the social role that a government can play in Australia. In the political treatment of Australia's resources it has an important social dynamic at its disposal. unfortunately, this lies latent most of the time, and we have the archaic and almost reactionary attitudes expressed by the Minister for Labour and National Service, who is at the helm in this matte:. The second feature is, of course, the sheer size of the number of people for whom we have administrative responsibility. I urge honorable members to think of the general disabilities that prevail with women. Consider the membership of this House. It contains 124 male members - not one woman. I wonder, too, why there is no woman officer of the House.


Mr Turnbull - Women will not vote for women. This has been proved.


Mr BRYANT - The honorable member for Mallee claims that women will not vote for women.


Mr Whitlam - He takes the Old Testament attitude that a woman's function is to stand breast high amid the corn.


Mr BRYANT - That is so. I represent an electorate that under another name, before a redistribution occurred, was represented by Mrs. Doris Blackburn for three years. She was elected by the constituents as an Independent - a woman - against all practice at that time. I do not think there is anything in the claim of the honorable member for Mallee. People will accept equality of the sexes. I remind honorable members of the serious disabilities that prevail. If the honorable member for Mallee would examine statistics relating to examinations at matriculation level in his own State he would see that girls frequently perform better than boys. For instance, in agricultural science 66.66 per cent, of the girls passed but only 52.63 per cent, of the boys. Obviously the people in the Mallee electorate might do better if they turned their farms over to women. In arts, 77.48 per cent, of the girls passed but only 60.85 per cent, of the boys. All of these statistics are available and I am quite sure the honorable member for Mallee is familiar with them, because he has indicated on occasions that he studies such tables.

Consider the position in Australian universities. In 1964 there were 56,424 male students and 19,764 female students in our universities. What happened to the other 36,600 girls who did not get the opportunity to attend university, principally because of their sex? I confess that I think much of this lack of opportunities in specific fields for girls comes from the fact that they have fewer opportunities all along the line. The general attitude is: What is the use of sending girls to university? First of all, they will get married. If they do get married, they will be excluded from the advantages of permanent employment in the Commonwealth Public Service.

It is unlikely that a woman will become Clerk of the House. It is unlikely that a woman will become head of a Commonwealth department. On the other hand, it is quite all right for a woman to become monarch and have adulation bestowed upon her. It is possible to have a woman elected to this House. She would enjoy all the benefits that we are seeking for other women today. She could marry and remain in her job, and she could have confinement leave. These conditions, of course, would apply to the distinguished South Australian female who was recently appointed a judge of the South Australian Supreme Court. In some areas we do apply the general principle of equality, but the extent of application is small, and few women attain equality. There is a tremendous wastage of female talent in Australia. Statistics show that women are just as competent as men in most fields. I should say that in over 90 per cent, of the fields of human endeavour they would do as well as males. We are exhibiting great folly in excluding them from those fields.

I admit that a social disability applies as a result of domestic and social attitudes in the community. I represent an industrial area. I have referred to this matter before, but I think it is wise to remind members how social attitudes prevent girls from reaching the top in even our secondary school system. For instance, at the Coburg High School this year there are 318 boys and 292 girls, but there are only 24 girls in the matriculation class compared with 48 boys. Although there is virtually equality of numbers in the community, high school boys get twice as much chance as girls of reaching the top. At university, boys have three times the opportunity. In the Commonwealth Public Service marriage altogether excludes females from permanent employment. The debate this morning is a challenge to the people of Australia and to this Government. The discrimination against females is continually commented upon by people who think, read and study. In the "Australian Quarterly" published in September appears an article by Messrs. R. L.

Smyth and A. Petridis in which, after talking about the very objectives that the Opposition has placed before the Parliament this morning, the authors say -

These are all perfectly reasonable social and economic objectives. Other countries have already achieved what Australia must attempt. Let us hope that Australia will accept the challenge and make good use of the opportunities offered by an indigenous and unexploited labour supply.

I remind the House that in the world at large we have an important role to play. The subjection of women, as mentioned by John Stuart Mill, is a real factor to our near north. Although Indonesia has shown some substantial advances in appointing women to high offices, and although this has also happened in some parts of India and elsewhere, in the Moslem areas of the world generally a tremendous body of humanity is excluded on religious and social grounds from equality with men and from enjoying the opportunities that are available to men. We in this Parliament should be establishing principles and policies that are an example to the rest of the world and an example to the Australian employer. We should encourage the women of this country to play the kind of role we know they can play. For too long have we exploited the capacity of females to perform certain tasks. We do not exclude them from high positions in honorary and voluntary organisations. What we ask is that in the most important functional unit of Australian administration - the Commonwealth Public Service - women will get an equal go with men. We hope that eventually even the honorable member for Mallee will step into this field as a democrat, thinker and good Australian in his attitudes.







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