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Wednesday, 24 March 1965

Senator TANGNEY (Western Australia) . - First, I should like to say how much I disagree with the imputation leveled against the mover of the motion, that he acted with malice aforethought because of the imminent publication of this report. We are quite happy to know that the report has been prepared. We would be much happier if we knew it was to see the light of day within the foreseeable future. I should like to know whether Senator Drake-Brockman knew of the existence of this report before the statement was made in the Senate today by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty). Nobody on this side of the chamber had any knowledge that the report was imminent. This motion was moved not with any idea of trying to steal a march on the Government or anything of that kind.

We have been interested in this question of equal pay for women and we believe that here is one field in which the Government could give a lead to the community. I remember quite well that when the matter was raised in a more general way in this chamber last year and on other occasions, some of my lady colleagues on the opposite side said that the Government could not do anything and that fixation of a wage for females could only be made by an industrial tribunal. They also said that the Australian Council of Trade Unions had not approached the industrial tribunals for a declaration in favour of equal pay for women. Here is one case in which the women concerned cannot apply to an industrial tribunal for a pay rise. It can come only through the instrumentality of the Commonwealth Government. Here is a perfect example where the Government can do something for the women workers who come completely under its jurisdiction without having an intermediary such as a trade union to speak for them.

We all know, of course, that to keep one man in the front line it takes nine men in the back lines. Carrying further the argument that has been adduced this afternoon by Senator Cormack and others, if a woman releases a man for front line duty, she is not doing work of merely equal value; she is doing the work of nine men in letting one man go for combat duty. It is simply begging the question for Senator Cormack to talk about women going into the firing line. We do not and would not want women to go into the firing line. But that is no argument against our plea for equal pay for work of equal value performed by women in the defence forces. We believe that when women in the Services arc doing work of equal value to that performed by men in offices, driving cars and ambulances and so on, they are entitled to equal pay. This is only a matter of elementary justice.

How would my fellow lady senators on the Government side feel if the Government decided to carry their argument further and to say that women senators would not be paid at the full male rate? Surely to goodness, what is good enough for us as women senators is good enough for women in the armed forces. That is my plea. In my prc-senatorial days when I was teaching, I was one of those who advocated that men and women teachers should receive equal pay. Women undergo exactly the same training as do their male colleagues. Very often we women teachers had many more responsibilities than did men, yet we were working for a lower rate of pay. Of course, in every State except New South Wales, the State which has led Australia in all legislation of a social nature, women teachers are paid a lower rate than are their male counterparts although, as I have said, they each undergo exactly the same basic training and need exactly the same qualifications. In fact, in many cases, women need higher qualifications to gain entrance to the profession. Although the field is very competitive, women teachers are paid a lower rate than are men. That does not come into the matter before the Senate tonight, but I have raised it because it is part of the much wider question of equal pay for work of equal value.

We are not asking for anything that is not just and right. We know that the principle of equal pay for work of equal value was accepted by the International Labour Organisation some 14 years ago, and that Australia was a signatory to the convention. We do not want merely lip service to this principle. We want this matter to be settled as speedily as is possible because 14 years is a long time for it to remain in the balance. Here is something which can be done by the Commonwealth Government. This comes completely within its jurisdiction. It should see that women members of the forces are given equal pay for work of equal value. That is the whole point of this argument. You have only to go into an Army office to see men and women doing similar jobs. In many cases, as has been stated by Senator O'Byrne, the woman has the superior qualifications and is ranked higher than the male clerical staff but there is this big disparity in their salaries. This should not be so.


Mention has also been made of the fact that the Labour Government of 1948 did certain things, and that during the war women did not receive equal pay although a Labour government was in office. We admit that. But the Labour Government was in office not by virtue of being elected, remember, but because those who had been elected did not do their job. Labour had to assume office in 1941 when the Japs were knocking at our door. It did not have a majority in either House at that time but despite that disability it was charged with the successful prosecution of the war. When the Labour Government did obtain a majority in the Lower House it was some months before it obtained a majority in the Upper House. Those are facts which cannot be disputed. But even at that time the Labour Government realised that all members of the defence forces, not merely the women, were most inadequately paid.

All honorable senators no doubt remember that the Menzies Government which was in office from 1939 to 1941 thought that our soldiers were worth only 5s. a day. The Labour Government took immediate action to see that all men in the fighting arms of the Services were better recompensed. We do not claim that they were adequately recompensed, particularly by today's standards, but at least they got a better deal from the Labour Government than they did from the United Australia Party Government, as it was then known, in the first two years of the war.

Senator Hentycompared conditions of employment in the armed forces with those outside. He also mentioned that women members of the forces receive board and lodging, medical and dental treatment and so on. We admit all that. But that has no place whatever in this problem. We are not comparing Service and civilian conditions of employment. We are comparing work performed by men and women in exactly the same categories in the Services. That is the point.

We know that these other factors come into the question. We know that members of the Services earn the right to live in barracks and to receive medical and dental treatment only to keep them in good physical condition to carry out their duties efficiently. We know all those things. That has always been the case. There is nothing new in that. No-one has just made the great discovery that members of the forces receive these special rights. They are entitled to these benefits - I do not believe that they are privileges - because they are part of the contract into which servicemen and servicewomen have entered. These things form part of their remuneration. We are not quarrelling with that. In fact, it does not even come into the question before us. But we do dispute the fact that women in the Services do not receive equal pay for work of equal value.

Senator Cormack'ssole contribution to the debate seemed to be his objection to women going into the firing line. We object to that too. We also hope that the day will come when neither men nor women will have to go into the front line. We want to be able to live in peace without the threat of war hanging over our heads. We want all people in the community to be free of the spectre of war and all that goes with it. But until that day comes we must all be realists and realise that in any defence programme provision must be made for certain jobs such as routine office work, car driving, catering and so on, to be performed by women. Because of their innate nature, some of these jobs are done much better by women than by men. We have heard many jokes about Army cooks. I am sure Senator Cormack will admit that women could not do a worse job than is done by men. The jobs that I have mentioned are the kind that should be paid for on the basis of the work performed, not on the basis of the sex of the worker.

All this is only part of the wider question of equal pay for work of equal value.

Other countries - countries which we claim are backward - have already accepted responsibility for this and have passed legislation to give equal pay for work of equal value. We claim that Australia is an advanced country. We talk about our great prosperity. We know that our living standards are ever so much higher than those in many other countries. We know we are very fortunate and we thank God for it, but at the same time we cannot claim all these things and then allow one very important section of the community - the women - to be exploited merely because they are women. For that reason we have brought this matter before the Parliament today. We want to ensure that women in one branch of the Public Service - those in the defence forces - receive justice.

Quite a lot has been made of the fact that the pay rises for men were announced last July and that the Labour Party has taken until now to move for rises for women also. It is said that the Opposition waited until the eve of an announcement by the Government of some alterations in the schedules. But we remind the Government that only quite recently while the Parliament was in recess, new schedules were brought down for the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force and the anomalies of which we complain were allowed to persist. So we hope that if it does nothing else, this debate will help to speed up publication by the Government of the report it has before it and what is more important, to act upon the report. If that is done in the near future, the debate initiated by the Opposition will have served its purpose.

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