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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - I intend to address myself to this motion very briefly, because so much has been said, and well said, in condemnation of the action of the Government. I desire to touch upon only one or two points. The Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) with a good deal of force, which he usually employs when dealing with matters of this kind, described these regulations as one of the most important steps yet taken in the history of this country for the settlement of industrial problems. He pointed to the contentions which have taken place for many years in respect of the principle of equal pay for the sexes for equal work. However, the Government now seeks to deal with this important matter, not by means of permanent legislation, or by an amendment of the Arbitration Act, but by a statutory rule under our national security legislation. These regulations will disappear immediately we return to normal conditions. They constitute this tribunal as the triumvirate which is supposed to know all about industry and its ramifications and perplexities, and the economic results to the country as a whole of its most important decisions. I should imagine that employees generally, who are anxiously awaiting a permanent settlement of this vexed problem, will say to the Government in respect of these regulations, " Thank you for nothing ". They know that these regulations will expire when emergency conditions are over. They know that this gigantic problem cannot be satisfactorily handled in this way. Does the Government realize what it is doing when it deals with a problem of this kind in this manner ? Does it realize the importance of the problem? One would think that in passing a temporary measure of this sort to settle the relationship of wages between men and women, the Government was dealing with a tuppenny ha'penny matter. I have always supported the principle of equal pay for the sexes for equal service; but this is not an effective way to give effect to that principle. Let us look at the circumstances. Now that "King Coal" must meet his masters, it appears to me that we are fast drifting into a position where the Government is taking its instructions from outside sources.

Senator Collings - It does not happen to he from Collins-street.

Senator A J McLACHLAN (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Previous governments have never bowed their heads to any one. They did not go crawling to any section of the community. I should like to address myself to certain remarks made by the Minister for Trade and Customs. The Government had the appointment of the chairman of this tribunal in its own hands. My colleague, Senator Spicer, has pointed out that the Minister for Labour and National Service was obliged, under the regulations, to consult the appropriate bodies in respect of the appointment of representatives of the employees and employers. He was obliged, therefore, to consult with a federal body of employers, because it is a federal matter. These regulations were promulgated on the 25th March. The Government waited until that date to deal with this momentous subject, although it was aware, from the day it assumed office, that the number of female employees in its own factories and annexes was rapidly increasing. On the 25th, it produced these momentous regulations under which the employers and employees are supposed to nominate their representatives. More than that, the Minister is supposed to consult with them before the nominations are made. One honorable senator complained that the date of nomination was fixed for the 11th April when I am credibly informed that, even if it were, the Federal Council of Employers wrote to the Minister on that date protesting against the nature of the regulations and nominating a representative - Mr. Johnstone - to the board. The Government must have been in a great hurry because on the 16th April a woman member was appointed who, I understand, holds some position in connexion with the trade union movement of this country. I do not know the woman, but she bears an excellent character. To suggest that the tribunal on which that person sits is representative of the Federal Council of Employers in this country, is merely ludicrous. The suggestion makes the Government appear what it is - incapable of doing even justice to the people. There has been excessive zeal to keep the employers' representative out of the ring. There was time between the 11th and the 16th April, for the Government to say, " No, we do not like Mr. Johnstone ". If the Minister did not like him he could have suggested an alternative, and then there might have been that peace that Senator Cameron talks about, which is not to be obtained by methods of blandishment towards a section of the people, with the object of cajoling them into an unwilling obedience to something they do not agree with, to something they had no voice in determining whether it was right or wrong, and to something on which they have never expressed their views. The board will be of the nature of a conciliation court, to keep the peace at any price. "We have had experience of a similar body in another connexion in New South Wales, and I predict that it will result not in peace but in industrial war. I share with the Minister for Trade and Customs, the view that our arbitration system works too slowly, but predecessors of the present Government have added various bodies to that system in an endeavour to speed up the court's work. A function which is as important as the Government admits the one under discussion to be, and which is so full of possible trouble, should have been left to the arbitration court, which consists of a body of trained men accustomed to deal with economic facts. For these reasons, and because of the way in which the matter has been handled, I shall support the motion.

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