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Wednesday, 23 September 1942

Senator CAMERON (Victoria) (Minister for Aircraft Production) . - Senator Spicer has given us a display of the art of juggling words, with the object of covering up an obviously bad case which cannot be justified on its merits. He has made great use of the word impartial - we must have an impartial judge ; we must have an impartial board. I have yet to meet an impartial judge. If there be such a person, probably he is to be found in a cemetery, and even then I should not be quite certain about him. The point is that no man can be impartial, relatively speaking, without honestly confessing that he is partial. When we are asked by Senator Spicer to believe that we can have an impartial judge, we are asked to believe the impossible. Judges are selected because of the skill displayed by them in conducting cases. They are sworn to judge in accordance with the laws that are laid down, and it is the duty of the Government to lay down those laws. "What is the case against Miss Cashman? In a subtle, suave and plausible way we are induced to 'believe that Miss Cashman is a corrupt person and that she will not act according to the law. That is the only construction that can be placed upon the alleged reasoning of Senator Spicer. Miss Cashman is sworn to act in accordance with the law. just as honorable senators are sworn, as members of this chamber, toact in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. All through Senator Spicer's alleged reasoning and specious pleading, there is the implication that Miss Cashman is so corrupt that she cannot be relied upon to act in accordance with the laws that are laid down by theGovernment.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to8 p.m.

Senator CAMERON - The only construction that can be placed on Senator Spicer's remarks in relation to Miss Cashman is that she is a person who cannot be trusted to comply with the oath that she has taken because of her party political bias in favour of the Labour party. Because of his legal training I expected that the honorable senator would have attempted to submit some evidence in support of his statement, but he presented no facts to us in support of the views which he expressed. Surely, he does not expect us to accept as facts what is only hearsay and assumption. The honorable senator could not prove that Miss Cashman is biased. On the contrary, all the available evidence goes to show clearly that she is not only a capable woman but also most conscientious. That is the opinion of employers and employees alike. Yet the honorable senator, probably because some one has whispered in his ear that Miss Cashman is biased, expects the Senate to agree that she is, in fact, biased. The honorable senator did not even present one authoritative statement, let alone a fact or a record, which could be accepted as evidence to show that the lady is other than most estimable in every respect. Yet he talks of " impartiality " and of " being above suspicion ". A government which was foolish enough to be influenced by such statements would be unworthy to hold office. I go farther, and say that if honorable senators opposite are influenced by such statements, they are not worthy to occupy the positions which they hold in this Parliament. Since the suspension of the sitting I have made some inquiries about Miss Cashman, as I do not know her personally, and so far as I know, I have never met her. I discovered not only that she is held in high esteem by the present Government, but also that she held a high place in the esteem of previous governments. Indeed, I was informed on reliable authority that during the regime of the Menzies Government Miss Cashman was appointed as an inspector on the staff of the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department on the 19th August. 1940.

Senator Spicer - But not as a representative of employers.

Senator CAMERON - Any police magistrate would order the honorable senator out of the court if he attempted to plead along the lines that he has adopted in this chamber to-day. If he conducts cases before the courts as he has conducted his case here I, a mere neophyte in legal matters, predict that he will lose every case with costs against him and his client. Miss Cashman is said to be biased because she was associated with a trade union, but would the honorable senator say that the Right Honorable "William Morris Hughes is biased, and therefore unworthy to hold a position of trust, because he has been a trade union organizer, and has occupied the position of president of the Waterside Workers Federation? The right honorable gentleman, who has caused a great deal of trouble in this country and, in fact, is still doing so, is respected by Senator Spicer as the leader of the political party to which he belongs, whereas Miss Cashman must necessarily be biased and unworthy of trust because she has been associated with a trade union! So much for the honorable senator's specious pleading and his talk of " impartiality " and of " being above suspicion ". He spoke also of the totalitarian policy of the Trades Hall Council, and insinuated that Miss Cashman would be influenced by it. Recently the honorable senator pointed out that I had said that Labour's policy in relation to finance was opposed to loans for war purposes and preference for a system of direct taxation. He said that Labour had departed from that policy. That is so. Labour has departed from its policy all along the line. It departed from its policy in relation to war loans, because it regarded the winning of the war as the major problem confronting Australia. It was prepared to sacrifice its policy in that direction rather than take any risk with the enemy.

Senator Spicer - The war was in progress when the honorable senator made the statement to which I referred.

Senator CAMERON - Yes, but Japan became a belligerent. Again, when the Labour party agreed to the dilution of labour it departed from an important plank of its platform, because the dilution of labour means that the average wage paid to workers in an industry for a particular kind of work is reduced. When semi-skilled labour is accepted in a technical industry it has the effect of de-skilling all labour in that industry with the result that the average wage is reduced. One of the strongest unions in Australia - the Amalgamated Engineering Union - led the way in the dilution of labour, because it was determined that the production of war equipment should be increased to the maximum. Labour departed from its policy when it caused men from various centres in the southern parts of Australia to be sent, north to work under the auspices of the Allied Works Council - when, in fact, it accepted industrial conscription.

Senator Collings - It also extended the hours of labour.

Senator CAMERON - Labour departed from its policy when it allowed the private control of war-time industries. It did so when it delegated powers to State governments which have legislated in opposition to Labour's policy. All along the line Labour has departed from its policy. When Senator Spicer says that MissCashman is pledged to give effect to the policy of the Trades Hall Council he is saying something which is not true. There is, however, something in the honorable senator's argument that we are tending towards a totalitarian policy. We know that when Labour de parts from its policy, as it has done in many directions, it strengthens the position of privately controlled monopolies in our midst. We know how men in business in a small way in both primary and secondary production are being forced out of trade by big business. Fascism is the political superstructure raised by big business on their economic foundation. The honorable senator knows that Labour has departed from its policy because of the urgent need to get things done in the interests of the war effort, but still he is not satisfied. In fact, he sneers at the Government for doing so. It is clear, as the Leader of the Senate has pointed out, that honorable senators opposite are not so interested in the successful prosecution of the war as they would have us believe. Notwithstanding that the board to which slighting reference has been made has reached decisions in respect of 46 separate cases which have come before it, there has notbeen one protest, so far as I know, from any of the parties concerned. The board has demonstrated by its performances that it is not biased. From experience, we know that employers would protest from the housetops if they were given the slightest pretext for complaint concerning the treatment they received from a tribunal of this kind. They have not made a single complaint. Therefore, the board is not loaded against them as the Leader of the Opposition contends. Without any mandate from the employers he claims that the board will bring about chaos. In the course of the greatest war the world has known, when social and industrial life has been completely upset, and the Government has stepped into the breach by providing this tribunal to deal expeditiously with these problems, we are told that the Government and the board are biased. Honorable senators opposite have not given a single instance to show that a decision of the board has caused any dissatisfaction, quite apart from chaos. The fact is that the board has dealt with all the problems referred to it on a workable basis. It has established order out of chaos. The Leader of the Opposition contended that all matters with which the board has been set up to deal could, and should, be referred to the Arbitration Court, or to some other existing tribunal. In the name of the previous Government, the Minister in charge at the time, without consulting any deliberative tribunal like the Arbitration Court, agreed to the payment of a war loading to a certain section of workers. On that occasion, no suggestion was made that the matter should be referred to thu Arbitration Court in order to decide whether the war loading should be paid. The Leader of the Opposition, who was then a Minister, did not have one word to say in criticism of that action. What have we done in comparison with that action? When Japan entered the war, negotiations had been going on for some weeks for the employment of women in the aircraft industry. When the matter was brought to my notice, I, realizing the desperate position confronting the country, gave instructions immediately that women be employed in that industry Addressing the aircraft commissioners, I said, in effect, " We shall not fix the rate of wages to be paid to these women. We are not a wage-fixing tribunal." TI wages of those employees were fixed at. the rates which were then being paid to female employees of the Munitions Dfpartment, and which were provided for in sn award. On that occasion, I could quite easily have relied upon the precedent established by the previous Government and given instructions as to what rates should be paid to those employees, without reference to any tribunal, or any awards. I did not do that. Last Tuesday week, the Aircraft Advisory Committee decided to extend the workshops of the 'Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation Proprietary Limited, and asked for permission to make provision for the convenience of women workers in those extensions. To-day, I gave approval for the employment of women at those works under conditions similar to those applying t< female employees already engaged in the Beaufort division. Senator Spicer has asked us to view all of the circumstances. We should view them as a whole. When we strip the speeches of honorable senators opposite of all trimmings and specious reasoning and pleading, we see that the real object of these motions is to protect the interests of wealthy taxpayers at the expense of female employees. Senator Gibson shakes his head; but he knows, as all of us do, that to the degree that we keep wages down, we help wealthy taxpayers to escape their just contributions to the war effort. That is what this proposition means. Honorable senators opposite contend that the Government is endeavouring by backdoor methods to apply the principle of equal pay for the sexes. Generally speaking, as honorable senators on this side have pointed out, these women are equally as efficient as male employees. Senator Spicer had much to say about the principle of fixing wages in accordance with the value of work done. To-day the wageearners are not paid on that basis; and the Arbitration Court has never assessed wages on it. At one time, the Arbitration Court' in Western Australia, which consisted of a representative of the employers, a representative of the employees and a judge, assessed wages on the basis of the capacity of an industry to pay. Subsequently, that system was changed, in order to provide that wages be fixed not on the basis of the value of work done, but, as Senator Spicer has said, in accordance with the least a worker required to live and rear children to replace him in industry. That wage became known as the basic wage. If the workers were paid on the basis of the values they create, very little indeed would be left for the employers, because all profit in excess of the actual costs of production consisting of the minimum wage, overhead charges and depreciation, represent, for all practical purposes, unpaid wages. If that principle were applied, an employer would receive no more than the values he himself on an. average was capable of creating. When dealing with women employees, however, honora.ble senators opposite speak about values. They make a complete volte face, and say, in effect, that women must create values equal to those created by men. Men are not paid according to the value of work done, but unless a woman produces value equal to that created by .a man, she must accept lower wages. That is the law of the jungle, and not the law of a civilized society. It does not represent equity and justice. Honorable senators opposite use those terms merely as figures of speech. Senator Spicer's idea of justice is that the wages of women should be reduced to the lowest possible level. It is well known, as the Minister for Trade and Customs (Senator Keane) has pointed out, that women do not resist exploitation and robbery through the medium of wage-fixing tribunals to the same degree as do men. The reason for that is that none of our schools teach women anything about economics. Even at our universities, they are not taught anything that would give to them an intelligent idea of what they are entitled to as workers. Women, like men, when they are ignorant, are easily imposed upon and misled. That is one reason why to-day the weakest of women are forced to the lowest level of society by the tyranny of man-made laws, and the avarice of the interests represented by honorable senators opposite. Yet, all this is done in the name of justice and democracy. How eloquent and altruistic honorable senators opposite appear when they pose a>s champions of women in industry! In our big cities, as is the case in every country, women are forced to the lowest possible level by conditions which prevent them from earning an honest living.

Senator Sampson - Surely, the Minister does not believe that.

Senator CAMERON - If the honorable senator used his head a little more, and not merely in order to keep his collar on, he would know that what I am saying is true; and he would perceive the proof of my statement wherever he went. To-day, when we are in the throes of the greatest war in the world's history, and the position of this country was never more desperate, the Government is met with obstruction of this kind. This 'Government has done more than any other Government in the history of this country for the effective defence of Australia. When it assumed office, it found the cupboard bare. No fighting equipment or munitions were available. Everything had been sent overseas. We are changing our industrial customs all along the line, for instance, we have adopted dilution of labour. What will happen after the war? As soon as we survive and succeed, as we are all unani mous in hoping that we shall, the legal members on the other side of the chamber will plead before the Arbitration Court that the work in question is not skilled. They will say to the court : " It is true that we paid a man so much a week before the war, but during the war we fabricated these things. Where we previously required skilled men. to turn out all sorts of fittings, such as valves, we can now do the work on semi-automatic machines with the labour of unskilled women, and therefore these men are not entitled to anything more than labourers' wages." The workers, particularly those who are skilled, know the risks they will then run, and how the women's work will be used against them. Work which was skilled, and classed and paid for as such, the judges will be told is no longer skilled, because of the ingenuity, patriotism, capacity for sustained effort, and concentrated purpose of men and women during the war. When conditions become normal, Senator Spicer and other representatives of the legal fraternity will argue in that fashion before these impartial judges. We are told that in one factory, where nosecaps for shells are made, there are rows of semiautomatic machines, about sixteen to each row; five or six are worked by men and the rest by women. Work now done on semi-automatic machines was a few years ago done by skilled men. It can now be done by women with little or no training, and honorable senators opposite will argue that, because it is unskilled work, those who do it are entitled only to labourers' pay.

The Leader of the Opposition and Senator Spicer said that the Arbitration Court had done good work, and that the judges were impartial. Judge O'Mara's name was mentioned, but a report published in yesterday's press stated that Judge O'Mara had said that the wages paid by the Commonwealth Government were lavish. Here, again, the judge is in the same category as Senator Spicer, in that he is prepared to give a decision ex parte according to his own views. We cannot have very much confidence in judges who do that. The Arbitration Court works according to the provisions of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act. It is not a free agent, as has been implied during this debate. The act does not provide that the judges shall be privileged to award what wages they think fit; but, as the Minister for Trade and Customs has pointed out, they are committed to a policy by which wages are awarded in accordance with the cost of living. I may be reminded of the existence of margins for skill, but that is only a question of making a virtue of necessity. If skilled men were more plentiful than unskilled, they would receive a lower wage than the unskilled. It is all a matter of supply and, demand, of whether a worker is indispensable or dispensable, and just to the extent that he is indispensable employers must have his labour and skill at their disposal, and the court and employers are prepared to concede something more to him as a reward for his skill. It is no reward at all. It is simply a case, as I said before, of the court making a virtue of a necessity. It costs more to educate a tradesman than to educate a labourer or semiskilled worker. Because the cost of educating a semi-skilled labourer is less, he receives less, and the less he is prepared to accept the less he gets. That is how the court operates. Skilled toolmakers to-day are at a premium, and employers are prepared to pay them much more than they would in other circumstances. In 1938 I had the temerity, in my innocence and want of knowledge of the atmosphere of this august institution, to suggest that each and every one of the thousands of young men and women in the city of Melbourne should .be taught a trade and educated to become a useful worker and citizen. I was asked, in effect, where the money was to come from. I was told that it could, not be done. To-day we are doing it. We are paying our women and men to learn to work in the interests of the nation. We are doing now what the government of those days, refused to do, and it would, not be done now were it not for the war. The exigencies of the war are forcing employers to do it, whether they like it or not.

Senator Herbert Hays - The same thing happened at the time of the depression, but the other way round. The Labour Government was forced then to lower wages.

Senator CAMERON - At the time of the depression the Labour Government was forced by the honorable senator and others who formed a majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives to agree to a bankers' policy.- For all practical purposes one section combined and conspired to starve hundreds of thousands of workers down to the very bread-line, and would be keeping them there now but for the war. When we returned, after the elections, the first question we raised was that of unemployment. We implored honorable senators opposite, using every argument of which we were capable, to allow the State to step in and find employment wherever private enterprise would not give it. We might as well have pleaded to wooden gods. They were callous and indifferent. They did not care a damn, what became of the workers. It is only now that the war has come and honorable senators' skins and property are in danger that they are tolerating what we are doing. It is necessary to remind them of these things, because of what they are attempting to do this evening in moving for the disallowance of these regulations is to revert as far as possible to the policy that existed before the w,ar, whereby profits came before human lives, and happiness, and the decent conditions that are necessary to build up the resistance of the nation to the enemy.

I conclude by repeating that if these motions are stripped of all their wordy trimmings - all the solicitude for the Arbitration Court, all the desire to be so just and altruistic and impartial and above reproach, and to pose and postulate before the multitude as the incorruptible people - we discover a desire to reduce wages to the lowest level possible at the expense of the men who are working in industry, and in order to save the wealthy from taxation.

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