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Wednesday, 24 March 1965

Senator MORRIS (Queensland) .- Senator Bishopsaid that there had not been any grandstanding by Opposition speakers during this debate. Being in a quite tolerant and perhaps generous frame of mind tonight, may I suggest that for the purposes of argument we concede that Senator O'Byrne, who proposed the motion, was not grandstanding. I should have thought that the reply of the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) would have removed from the minds of honorable senators any thought of urgency about Senator O'Byrne's proposal. The Minister told ns that a committee was appointed, that rates of pay for female members of the armed Services have been examined, that a report has been received, and that action is to be taken very rapidly. That being so, I simply cannot understand how subsequent Opposition speakers can say that there has not been any grandstanding on their part. The Minister told us, not only that the matter has been investigated and that it will be attended to at a very early date, but also that a large measure of retrospectivity will be granted in relation to any increased payments that are made. 1 admit that he did not tell us what the degree of retrospectivity will be.

Senator Wright - He said it would date back to June 1 964.

Senator MORRIS - Well, I did not hear it. If the Minister did say that, perhaps 1 should say with even greater emphasis than I employed earlier that any element of urgency that may have appeared to exist in Senator O'Byrne's proposal has been removed. Probably I am expressing the views of many honorable senators when I say that I cannot quite understand why, when the general rates of pay of male members of the Services were being considered, the rates of pay of female members could not have been considered at the same time. Perhaps there was a very good reason. If so, I am quite ready to listen to it.

The increase in pay for male members of the Services came when the Services were urgently requiring more men. At that point of time there was a very great degree of urgency in the need to make conditions within the armed Services as attractive as possible. That could quite well be the reason why male rates of pay were considered first. Whatever the reason may be, the fact that a great deal of retrospectivity is to be applied to any increase in female rates removes any anomaly that might exist there.

I am rather astonished at the way in which the general matter of equal pay for the sexes has been introduced into every speech. I do not think that argument should have been introduced. We are now considering the position of employees, if I may so describe them, for whom the Government sets the rates of salary and wages. It is the responsibility of the Government and nobody else.

Senator Murphy - Does not the Parliament have any say?

Senator MORRIS - Well, the Parliament sets them. I accept the correction. But the fixation of rates of pay for employees in industry is out of the hands of the Government altogether. That is a matter for our conciliation and arbitration courts. I am astonished that members of this House and of another place so frequently forget that written into our arbitration legislation is provision for our courts to award equal pay for the sexes for equal work should it be warranted or desirable. If honorable senators read the legislation they will very clearly see that authority written into it.

I know that on many occasions approaches have been made to different industrial courts. I speak .more confidently of the approaches that have been made to the Queensland industrial courts because that is the field in which I have the greater experience. On occasions when the court has considered it to be justified, it has awarded equal pay for equal work. When we consider the subject of equal pay, we must consider whether the work involved is, in fact, equal. That is the approach of the industrial courts. I think the Government must also approach this matter from the same point of view. Is the work that we are to ask the female members of the Services to perform equal in all ways to the work that we are to place on the shoulders of the male members of the Services? This question must be asked because it is the base upon which every industrial court must make its decision. So must the Government also make its decision. I ask honorable senators: Can any one seriously suggest that the work we will ask male members of the Services to do is the same as the work we will ask of the female members of the Services? If we are honest with ourselves, we must differentiate.

I say most emphatically that nobody has a more fervent admiration than I have for the work that was performed by the women members of the Services during the past war. Senator Drake-Brockman referred to the splendid work done in England during the height of the bombing. I saw at first hand the work being done by the female members of the Services and admired them tremendously. However, even then the problems faced by our servicewomen were not equal to the problems that had to be faced by our servicemen.

I wish now to turn to other theatres of war and to give as an illustration the North African campaign. Early in 1941 the Germans were advancing along the North African coast and certain of our troops were beseiged in the fortress of Tobruk for many months. Because it was obvious that a seige was imminent, the General Officer Commanding had immediately ordered the evacuation of all the female members of the Services - all the nurses. It was a responsibility of all members of the Services to make sure that the evacuation of the servicewomen could be carried out successfully, and it was. The character of the Australian servicemen of any age is and has been such that we will never willingly allow the female members of our Services to be subjected to the same stresses and strains as are the men of the Services. This must be acknowledged by honorable senators. Acknowledging it, we should now transplant our thinking back into the realm of the industrial courts. The commissioners of the industrial courts consider the type of work that has to be done and on many occasions they have awarded equal pay because the work involved is equal.

Senator Ridley - Did the court which set the female basic wage at 75 per cent, of the male basic wage consider the type of work done?

Senator MORRIS - Because the work is equal. the r;* have on occasions awarded equal pay. Senator Ridley, who is attempting to interject, can make his speech afterwards. I am telling honorable senators what actually happened. The industrial courts have considered the conditions of work and all other factors involved. If there is complete similarity, the court or commission decides to award equal pay.

Senator Hendrickson - Does that happen in every industrial court in the Commonwealth?

Senator MORRIS - I would not say that it does, but I would say that it is a provision of every federal award. I think provision for this is contained in clause 33 of the Commonwealth Arbitration and Conciliation Act. I know that such a provision is included in clause 12 of the Queensland Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, which states that the Queensland Industrial Court is obliged to award equal pay if the work is equal.

Senator Buttfield - Can the honorable senator give any examples of where it has happened?

Senator MORRIS - Yes, but not right at this moment. I believe I have previously given illustrations of where such decisions have been given by the Queensland Industrial Court. Senator O'Byrne, or one of the speakers from the Opposition, quoted New South Wales and Tasmania - or some other State - where such decisions had been given. I return to this question: Are we to ask our women members of the Services to do work equal to that of men? Obviously the answer is: " No ".

Senator Tangney - But they are doing equal work, senator.

Senator MORRIS - Let us be sensible about this, please. I hope honorable senators will be sensible, because the matter is too serious to be other than sensible. There are odd occasions when women, perforce, are faced with some of the gravest problems of war, but they are not so faced as a general rule. The practice of war is the practice of activities which we try to keep away from the female members of the Services. They are not recruited to do the same work as the male members of the Services. Honorable senators opposite know that perfectly well. Consequently, if we are to be responsible members of a responsible Parliament we must give as much weight to the argument about the type of work involved as does an industrial court judge when a similar case is referred to him.

I have every confidence that what Senator Henty, the Minister representing the Minister for the Army (Dr. Forbes), told us earlier today is to happen will in fact happen. That is, the report by the committee to which he referred will be considered, higher rates of pay will be awarded to the female members of the Services and the rates will be made retrospective. When we hear such a statement from a responsible Minister I think we ought to be prepared to accept it. I believe that any speeches made by honorable senators opposite subsequent to the speech made by Senator O'Byrne in raising this matter of urgency most definitely have been grandstanding in the hope that the Opposition may gain some kudos when the Government introduces - as it certainly will - increases in the pay of the female members of the Services.

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