Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Wednesday, 23 September 1942

Senator COLLINGS (QueenslandMinister for the Interior) . - In a democracy, some of us, at any rate, are inclined to be proud of our parliamentary institutions based as they are upon British traditions. That being so I do not deny the right of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator McLeay) and honorable senators supporting him in this chamber to move for the disallowance of these regulations. It would be wrong if I attempted to dispute that right, but I do call into question, very seriously, the propriety of these repeated motions for the disallowance of regulations. Under normal conditions nobody could take exception to this practice. In an atmosphere of calmness we are able to debate the pros and cons and intricacies of regulations, laws and decisions of arbitration courts, but there is a very different atmosphere in this chamber to-day. However, the Opposition has decided to proceed with this motion, and I shall deal with it. Almost in his last words the Leader of the Opposition said that this " inexperienced, unqualified, political board will create chaos, disorder and discontent amongst female employees ". I say to the honorable senator in all seriousness, because I want every honorable senator on the opposite side of the chamber to know what is going to happen, that the fate of a great undertaking depends upon the vote on this motion today; that undertaking is the successful prosecution of the war. The most serious attention should be given to this matter, because the disallowance of these regulations will result in a serious disturbance of our war effort. I know what I am talking about. Honorable senators opposite may, if they like, say that it is an inexperienced board, or that it is a political board. Of course it is a political board. Everything done in this Parliament is political ; every regulation passed by it is political, just as is every law passed by a State parliament and every bylaw passed by a municipal council. If, however, the Leader of the Opposition means that this board is a party political body, I say that his statement is false.

Senator McLeay - I do say that.

Senator COLLINGS - With all respect, I say that the Leader of the Opposition is aggrieved because, practically for the first time in the history of this country, women have been given representation on a board which decides matters of vital importance to women. Most manmade laws have largely ignored the basic rights of womanhood.

Senator Spicer - Had she been appointed as a representative of employees no one would have objected ; but the Government has made her a representative of employers.

Senator COLLINGS - For practically the first time in this country, women have been given the right to say under what laws they shall work, and under what industrial conditions they shall toil. For that reason, the Leader of the Opposition is seriously aggrieved.

Senator Foll - Why, then, give women one representative out of five?

Senator COLLINGS - The grievance of the Opposition is that women have been given even one representative out of five.

Senator Spicer - Whom does she represent?

Senator COLLINGS - I do not like the honorable senator's ideas of chivalry. We are told that the Prime Minister has said that the board has made a wrong decision on some point. I do not know whether the right honorable gentleman said that, nor do I know to what decision he referred, if he did say it. Does the Opposition expect the Government to appoint a board which will never make a mistake ? ' Why this new-found affection for arbitration courts on the part of the Leader of the Opposition? His attitude staggers the imagination. I remind him that some years ago, the then leader of a government lost his seat, and his government lost control of the treasury bench, because that government proposed to scrap arbitration. This sudden affection for arbitration courts leaves me astonished - and that is putting it mildly. The Leader of the Opposition ha3 said that the board should be free of political control. What does he mean by that? At the moment, the Labour party is governing the country. It has nineteen Ministers - the same number as constituted the Cabinet when the parties now in opposition formed the government. Each one of those Ministers must be given control of some department, and so there is a Minister in control of the regulations to which reference has been made. Surely it is not a crime that, in the fluctuations of politics, the Minister in charge of a department happens to be a Labour Minister! That state of affairs is inescapable under the existing political set-up in this country. Let us see the kind of board that has been constituted. Let us, free from party political bias, which causes the Opposition to pour forth its spleen whenever it thinks it sees a loophole in anything undertaken by a Labour government, study the constitution of the Women's Employment Board. The board consists of a chairman; a. special representative of the Commonwealth; a special representative of employers other than the Commonwealth ; two representatives of employees and an additional representative from time to time according to the subject-matter- to be decided; a representative of an employer or of an employer's organization from time to time as occasion requires ; a representative of an organization of employees. Some of these the Leader of the Opposition did not mention. He spoke of the board as something which had been conceived in iniquity and operated in disgrace. It is nothing of the kind. The idea behind that appointment of an additional representative from time to time is that when highly technical matters in connexion with certain industries are under review, persons specially qualified to assist may be called in by both employers and employees. There is nothing sinister in the set-up of the board, although to those opposed to the Labour party it is a crime that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward), who knows his job, should do it. I am not apologizing for him. The Minister is doing his job in Labour's way; he is standing up for a fair deal for women. Honorable senators opposite can make of that statement what. they like. I say that, while the present Government is in office, it will govern the country in Labour's way, not the way of the Opposition parties. The gloves are off. Let us review some of the things which the board has done. It has considered applications made by the following bodies: - Australian Paper- Manufacturers Limited, Full Fashioned Hosiery Manufacturer's Association of Australia, United Licensed Victuallers Association (South Australian Branch), Victorian Railways Commissioners, Sydney County Council, "New South Wales Railways, Asbestos Products Limited, Sydney, and William Brooks and Company, Sydney.

Senator Spicer - The regulations force them to como in.

Senator COLLINGS - Of course; but they are satisfied that the board is not what the Leader of the Opposition says it is. They have been convinced that it is an intelligent body, free from political bias, which weighs the evidence and arrives at a decision satisfactory to the board, but not necessarily satisfactory to the Minister controlling the department, or to the Government. Applications have been made to the board by the authorities I have named, and a host of other concerns. None of those undertakings has squealed about decisions of the board. They submitted their claims, and the board, after calling witnesses and hearing evidence, came to its decisions. I challenge the Leader of the Opposition to prove that one complaint has been raised by any applicant concerning a decision of the board. Let us examine some of these decisions. If honorable senators opposite come to the conclusion that the board is performing meritorious and useful functions, I ask them whether the existence of the board is not preferable to the chaos which would result without it. In a majority of cases the board has prescribed a period of probation for employees at. prescribed rates, the period varying according to the nature of the work involved, and the time which must necessarily elapse before "a probationer can become fully competent. When a female employee is shown to be as efficient as a male worker she is paid at the male rate. Do honorable senators opposite intend to declare by their votes on these motions that a woman who has served a period of probation and has proved her capacity to be equal to that of male workers alongside whom she is employed, is not entitled at least to the male rate prescribed in that particular industry? I cannot believe that honorable senators opposite would lay down such a principle. The hours and conditions prescribed for female employees are the same as those prescribed for males in relevant industrial awards on the basis of equal qualifications. Let honorable senators opposite bear in mind that the Government is not asking for any privilege or concessions for these women simply because they are women. All that is demanded under these regulations is that a woman who serves her period of probation and proves that she can do the work as effectively as male3 employed on the same class of work shall be paid at the male rate. Do honorable senators opposite propose to say that simply because she is a woman she is not entitled to the full' rate? Should they vote on these motions on that basis, the disallowance of these regulations will be on their consciences and not on those of honorable senators on this side. Another decision given by the board concerns Asbestos Products Limited, Sydney. The board stated that it was unanimously of opinion that the employment of women should not be permitted in any of the production operations of the respondent company. However, the board asked the Industrial Welfare Division of the Department of Labour and National Service to undertake an investigation, and to report to it concerning conditions of work at that company's factory. That decision was not a majority, but a unanimous, decision of the board. The employers' delegates were a3 satisfied with it as were the employees' delegates. The question as to whether that particular industry was suitable for the employment of women was properly investigated. I ask honorable senators opposite to remember that in the ensuing months we shall be obliged to employ increasing numbers of women in industry. Women are performing their work splendidly and nobly in the prosecution of our war effort. Let honorable senators opposite walk through any of our war factories where women are employed. They will find that no special privileges are claimed for female employees. At the same time, whatever be the decision of the Senate on these motions, the Government is determined to see that any antagonism against these regulations will not impose any disabilities on these women. The Government is not asking for special privileges for female employees; but it is determined that no disability shall be imposed upon them simply because they are women. As the result of visits of inspection to very many factories in which women are employed, I have .firsthand knowledge of the work they are performing. In some classes of work they have proved themselves superior to men.

Suggest corrections