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Wednesday, 24 March 1965

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN (Western Australia) . - Senator Kennelly commenced his speech by saying that this has been a remarkable debate. I do not think that any honorable senator would take that remark away from him. When Senator O'Byrne opened the debate he said that his party was gravely concerned about the anomalies that existed in the rates of pay for the female members of the defence forces. He went on to suggest that the Government had shirked its responsibility in the matter and that it would continue to do so. After the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) had bowled over the Opposition's argument, Senator Willesee opened up the whole question of equal pay for equal work. He referred to what various organisations throughout the world have said on the matter. Senator Kennelly, the last Opposition speaker in the debate, said .that all that the Government is trying to do is to get cheap labour and that it is not proud of its women's services.

The Australian Labour Party has put forward its argument in a remarkable way. Dealing first with the question of cheap labour, I point out that during the 1939-45 war the Labour Government was responsible for the introduction of female rates of pay which were the equivalent of 661 per cent, of the male rates.

Senator Ridley - Go back to the 1914-18 war.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - No, I will not, because I am moving forward. In 1948, when the war was over, a Cabinet sub-committee approved of a recommendation to pay women officers the equivalent of 66} per cent, of the male rate.

Senator Morris - That was a Labour Government.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - Yes. If, as Senator Kennelly says, this Government is looking for cheap labour, the Labour Party originated the practice. I do not think for one instant that anyone is looking for cheap labour, but there have been anomalies in the rates of pay of women in the armed Services. As the Minister pointed out, many honorable senators on this side of the chamber have noted the anomalies and have made representations to the Government to have them corrected. The Government has taken action through its departmental committee, and its recommendations are now before the Cabinet.

I think that all of us are proud of the part that the women in the armed Services are playing in the defence forces of Australia. Those of us who served in the Army, the Air Force and the Navy during the last war know only too well the part that the women played. I know that many men owe their lives to the work that was done by the women in the Air Force who packed parachutes during the war. 1 know how dependent 1 would have been on them if I had to jump from an aircraft. They worked for long hours to ensure that the parachutes were packed so that if they were required to be used they would save an airman's life. Also in England we saw the remarkable performance put up by the girls in the Army who manned the anti aircraft guns under trying conditions. They worked in mud and slush and in the cold temperatures of an English winter. Anyone who does not know what an English winter is like has something in store for him if ever he should experience one.

At the present time the girls in the armed Services are training so that they can meet the requirements of a national emergency, should one arise. We want to welcome them into the forces. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber who have seen the anomalies in the rates of pay have endeavoured to bring them before the notice of the Government. I am pleased to hear that the Government has taken action to try to rectify the position. I only hope that Cabinet can see its way clear to act upon the recommendations made in the report by the departmental committee.

Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - Prior to the suspension I was replying to criticism of Government policy which had been made by some Opposition speakers. One honorable senator said that the Government was not prepared to pay a decent wage to women members of the Defence Forces. He said that the Government was trying to get women on the cheap. I made the point that it was a Labour Government which, during the last war, made a decision to pay members of the women's auxiliary forces, both officers and other ranks, 661 per cent, of male rates. After the war the same Government decided to approve a recommendation by an inter-departmental committee that women officers up to the rank of major and matron in the nursing services be paid, broadly, two-thirds of the rates payable to male officers of comparable rank. I was rather interested to hear Senator Willesee say that the Government should direct the Arbitration Court to lift the rates of pay for women members of the Defence Forces.

Senator Willesee - You know that I did not say any such thing.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I understood the honorable senator to say that, if that was his argument, what would his reaction be if the economic situation warranted a lowering of wages? Would he like the Government to direct the Arbitration Court to reduce them.

Senator Willesee - 1 did not say anything like that, so there is no need for me to answer that question.

Senator DRAKE-BROCKMAN - I am sorry. One honorable senator opposite said that this Government was not proud of the women in the Services. I made the point that everybody in the country was proud of them. 1 mentioned how I, as an air crew member of the Australian forces during the war, appreciated the services that were rendered in the consientious way that these girls packed parachutes for airmen operating over Europe. Many men owed their lives to the way in which these girls did their work. All of us who served in the European theatre were very impressed with the work of the women in the Army who took over the ack-ack guns and, in atrocious conditions, carried out their duties as well as any man could do them. They certainly played a very valuable part during the war and I know that the women in the Services today would do exactly the same if they were called upon. I only hope that they will not be called upon to perform the duties that those women performed in those days.

In these days the field for employment of women is becoming broader and broader. Senator O'Byrne, I think, by way of interjection mentioned that women had now been put into space and were playing their part in the space age. These things prove that women can play their part equally with men. This enlarged scope for women has created a large number of new jobs for them. Even in the Services new jobs are being opened up every day for women and these new jobs must bring with them anomalies in pay. The Government has said: " We have brought the male rates of pay up to date, as instanced by the rises for male officers from 25th June last year. Now let us have a look at the rates for women members of the Defence Forces." I understand from the Minister that an inter departmental committee has examined the situation and made a report to Cabinet. I do not see that the Government could do any more. I am fully behind what it has done and I do not think the Opposition has any real criticism to level at the Government.

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