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Thursday, 2 December 1965

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (BLAXLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) - 1 thank the Minister and the House. I wonder how many members opposite have perused the latest report of the Superannuation Board. The report shows that at present 666 retired female employees of the Public Service are in receipt of pensions because they reached maximum age. In addition 557 women have been retired through invalidity and are living in isolation. Surely those figures are something for the Government to ponder over. We call ourselves a democratic free country, but we condemn 666 women to live a life of isolation due to the operations of a section of an act which a committee has recommended should be removed. The 557 women who have been invalided out of the Service have been condemned to a life of isolation. We are not dealing with an outside industry; we are dealing with a career industry. Surely we should consider the value of a woman who has served in the Public Service from age 18 to age 24 or age 25. Just when she reaches a stage of efficiency she is forced to make the vital decision whether to spend the rest of her life in isolation and remain in the Service or whether to marry and resign. The provision that married women must resign is the most inhuman provision that I have seen in any legislation in this or any other country.

The report of the committee set up in 1958 by the Prime Minister was presented to the Parliament on 19th February 1959. In its report the committee stated -

Section 49 was inserted in the Act in 1922, replacing a similar section in the 1902 Act. The Committee considers that sub-sections (1) and (2) are now anachronistic and that limitation upon the employment of married women, rather than such employment itself, should be exceptional. However, we recognize that the regular employment of married women would entail the extension of certain special privileges, such as confinement leave. The latter is already in force in the case of temporary employees. We also concede that special circumstances and possible changes in economic conditions might make it desirable, as a matter of policy, to limit the employment of married women at certain times and under certain circumstances.

Section 49 of the Public Service Act is a cold-blooded section. It reads -

No married woman shall be eligible for employment, either permanently or temporarily, in the Commonwealth Service unless the Board certifies

The effect of this section is to make every woman in the Public Service decide at age 24 or age 25 whether she will live her life as a single woman and remain in the Service or marry and resign from the Service. All that the Government proposes to do in the matter is set up another committee to inquire not merely into employment of women in the Public Service but into their employment in private enterprise outside the framework of the Government.

I do not know whether the Cabinet gave consideration to a question asked by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) of the Prime Minister the answer to which appeared in " Hansard " of 22nd September 1965. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition asked what the Prime Minister proposed to do about the recommendations of the Boyer Committee. The Prime Minister said that as to the recommendations in paragraphs 244 and 247 of the Boyer Committee's report, which had to do with section 49 of the Act which I have just read, it was " not proposed at present to vary existing arrangements." Although a committee set up by the Prime Minister himself had recommended that something be done about the very matter that has been raised by the honorable member for Oxley, we found the Prime Minister telling not just the Deputy Leader of the Opposition but the Parliament itself, as late as September 1965, that he did not propose to do anything about the recommendation at that stage. If the Minister for Labour and National Service thinks that he can hoodwink the female members of the Commonwealth Public Service, who represent 25 per cent, of the total number of persons in the Public Service, I suggest that after this morning he will have another think coming. I can assure him that great bitterness is felt by female members of the Commonwealth Public Service who are debarred from continuing their careers if they marry, not necessarily when they are young but at any time of their lives at all. If the Government is concerned about employing married women permanently one would think that it might consider lifting the bar to marriage at the age of, say, 50, so that at least women who had attained that age would have a chance of marrying and still remaining in the Public Service. But this Government will not go even that far. It tells its female employees that they must remain single all their lives if they wish to continue their careers in the Public Service. If the Government had not had this report six years ago the argument of the honorable member for Oxley may not have been so strong.

I have been surprised not only to find no more than six Government supporters in the House during this debate, but also to discover how uninterested are honorable members opposite in the question of permanent female employment in the Commonwealth Public Service. Honorable members opposite are just not interested. They do not want to speak on the subject. The Minister himself said that there is nothing to be said about it. For this reason we propose to find out how genuine are the Minister and other members of the Government, and we propose to discover how sincere are honorable members opposite. We will divide the House and see whether they will, by their votes, direct the Cabinet to do something about this matter. I move, therefore -

That the question be now put.

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