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Wednesday, 24 March 1965

Senator BRANSON (Western Australia) . - It is at times like this that I think it must be wonderful to be a member of the Opposition. Honorable senators opposite can rise in their places, make all the promises in the world and offer suggestions to cure the ills of the world and of Australia in particular, knowing full well that they have no responsibility to cure those ills or fulfil their promises. It is very easy to say " We would do this or that " knowing full well that one is not charged with that duty. Senator Tangney said that this should be done and that should be done. She anticipated an honorable senator on the Government side saying, " All right. You were in charge of this country from 1942 until 1945 when the country was actively engaged in war and the Labour Government of that day paid women in the Services 66} per cent, of the male rate of pay. You know it was wrong ". Now the Opposition turns around and states, in effect: "It is true that we were not prepared to do anything about it but you have to do something about it now ". In 1948, the Labour Government agreed that pay for women in the Services should be lifted to 66} per cent, of the male rate. That is a fact; but it was not until 1950 when the Liberal-Country Party Government was elected to office that the proportion was lifted from 66} per cent, to 75 per cent.

Senator O'Byrne - Is it 75 per cent, now?

Senator BRANSON - lt is 75 per cent, today. That is the figure I have been given. Senator Kennelly used some rather harsh words. He said: " If we do not want women in the Army, let us say so ". The basis of his argument was that the Government had shown it did not want women in the Services because it was not prepared to pay them enough. I remind the honorable senator that the Australian Labour Party to which he belongs was prepared to use thousands of women in the Services in the Second World War for a much smaller percentage of the male pay than they receive today when they are not in the front line. He went on to say that the Government's attitude is mean. If 75 per cent, of the male pay for women in the Services is mean what is 66} per cent, of the male rate? Senator Kennelly went on to say that it was cheap labour. If that is so, the Labour Government used plenty of cheap labour between 1942 and 1945. The honorable senator also said the Government considered service women to be second grade. If they are second grade now they were third grade when the Labour Government was in office but I would like to hear the comment of some of the nursing sisters I met in Singapore. Sister Bullwinkel was in one group, the remainder of whom were massacred while getting away from Singapore. The inference is that she was second grade. I know Senator Kennelly did not say that, but if he thinks we considered women in the Services to be second grade, the indications are that the Labour Government considered them to be third grade. It was good political tactics on behalf of the Opposition to submit this matter of urgency because if the women in the Services get rises in pay which are considered inadequate, the Opposition can say: " We did our very best to get an adequate increase for you ".

Senator Hendrickson - Which is true.

Senator BRANSON - Very well; but if a satisfactory increase is granted, the Opposition will still say: " We got it for you ". I do not doubt the sincerity of Senator O'Byrne who introduced this matter on behalf of the Opposition. He was the logical and obvious choice to speak for the Opposition because of his war record. But I believe that the pay and conditions of women in the Services are under review at present. It is only logical to assume that as the Government has dealt with the pay and conditions of male members, it will deal now with the females. So I believe that this matter is under review, and I think the Opposition knows this. Members of the Opposition do not live in an airy fairy castle. I am sure they know this matter is under review and no one will convince me otherwise.

I had six years service to the day in the Second World War. Do not honorable senators opposite think I would be one of the first to try to get adequate pay, conditions and amenities for women in the Services?

Senator O'Byrne - Did Senator Branson know there was to be a review of women's pay?

Senator BRANSON - The point is I would be quite dimwitted if I did not realise that this matter was being examined ever since the day the pay for males was reviewed. Surely that indicated that there would be a review of the rates of pay for females. When Senator O'Byrne interjected I was about to say that these women are doing a wonderful job in the Services. Each one of them is a credit to the Services. But I want to revert to a point upon which Senator O'Byrne based his argument. Perhaps he could justify this point. He said correctly that a female lieutenant was receiving £2 8s. 4d. a day and then he compared that rate with the new rate paid to a male corporal. He used this as an unfavourable comparison.

Senator Hendrickson - It is correct.

Senator BRANSON - The rate of pay of a male corporal has been reviewed and the other is being reviewed. If he had taken the rate of pay for the male corporal before the adjustment was made, he would have found it was £2 2s. 9d. which is less than the £2 Ss. 4d. paid to a female lieutenant. I have no doubt that the Government will increase the rates of pay for women in the Services but the Opposition will not get any credit for this, I hope, because I believe I am correct in saying that the Government is about to make an announcement on this matter. Surely it would be ready to do so by this time. Any sensible, thinking person realises that it takes some weeks to work these things out. A proposition has to be pu to the Minister concerned for his approval. I imagine that he would have to take it to Cabinet and the Department of the Treasury would have to be consulted. These things are not done overnight. Honorable senators opposite who have served as Cabinet Ministers in other Governments know that. If an increase in pay is granted to women in the Services, it will not be because of the action by the Opposition although honorable senators opposite might like to think so. The Government thought of this long before the Opposition submitted this matter of urgency. Those who think they will get kudos or publicity out of this move must be naive.

Senator Hendrickson - But they want to see justice done.

Senator BRANSON - I do not think the Opposition will get any marks for bringing this matter before the Senate. The people outside who realise that the Government will make an announcement soon will take the Opposition's move for what it is worth. Certainly this move by the Opposition was a well kept secret. I heard first about the debate when the Opposition's motion was handed to the Government Whip. The Opposition kept its secret very well but I still firmly believe that someone on the Opposition side knew that the Government was close to making an announcement. 1 do not doubt the sincerity of Senator O'Byrne. I think he was given the job to do. But somebody knew that an announcement was near. The Opposition thought that this was a good move because it did not have a thing to lose. The Opposition does not have to implement any increases in women's pay. I do not suppose there is one honorable senator - man or woman - who would not want to introduce some of the reforms in which we believe. I could recite half a dozen I believe in; but the Government is faced with the responsibility of running the country. It has a certain amount of money to do this with and it has to give correct priorities. Of course we would all like to see a Utopia but we are charged with the duty of producing Utopia. The Opposition is in the position of being able to say: "This is what we would do if we were the Government." Well, the position is slightly different and I could not for one moment support the motion.

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