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Wednesday, 24 March 1965


Senator CAVANAGH (South Australia) . - I do not think anyone can label as undesirables people who accept an opportunity to grandstand so willingly presented as has happened in this debate. Senator O'Byrne has raised a matter of urgency because of the grave anomalies in the rates of pay of the female members of the Defence Forces, in particular, members of the Women's Royal Australian Army Corps. In his reply, Senator Henty, who represents the Minister for the Army (Dr. Forbes) in this chamber, admitted that there would be justification to raise the matter if there were not in existence a report which apparently is to be released in the very near future. Although the Minister states that there may be justification for the Opposition to state that it is concerned at the grave anomalies in the rates of pay of female members of the Services, he states also that the anomalies are not as great as the Opposition makes them out to be. He would have us believe that there is something that we do not know - apparently supporters of the Government do not know it either - which will minimise the grave anomalies which exist at present. So, if this motion has done nothing else, it has brought to the light of day the fact that an increase of pay for females in the Services is ready to be announced. Whether that announcement would have been sat on or pigeonholed for another six months had the Opposition not raised this question, we do not know. The Minister had an opportunity today to tell us what was in this secret report and how much the words " grave anomalies " were inappropriate. He might have told us what will be the difference between the male and female rates of pay in the future; but he did not take that opportunity to say these things. Instead, he left us in the air and said, in effect: " There is something here which makes the resolution unreal ". If we have gained any kudos by this motion we are entitled to it; if we have achieved anything for these women of the forces they are entitled to it. While the Opposition has been presenting a case for equal pay for women there has been no participation in the debate by the women on the opposite side of the House.


Senator Hendrickson - They are not allowed to participate.


Senator CAVANAGH - I do not know whether they are not allowed to participate or whether they are embarrassed by the fact that while they pretend to represent women's interests in this place, they have been silent on the whole question at issue in this instance. I do not think that anyone in his wildest dreams expects that the Committee's report will recommend equal pay for women in the Services. It is. therefore, the opinion of the Opposition that the rates to be recommended for adoption will still show anomalies, though possibly not of as grave a nature as we claim to exist at the present time.

The Minister could have informed us today to what extent the existing anomalies will be minimised, but he refused to do so. I think he said: "It is presumed" that increases in pay for females will be retrospective to July of last year - the date of the increases for servicemen. I do not know how any such increase will be made up to those women who have left the forces in the interim. I do not think an increase now is worth as much as an increase granted last June would have been. Obviously, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush and these servicewomen could have utilised the increase had they received it last June instead of having to wait until the Opposition moves in the matter before even an announcement of a pending increase is made.

The Government's attitude apparently is that it is a matter for someone else to review the rates of pay and make a decision.

That attitude was very pronounced in Senator Morris' utterances a moment ago. He claimed that the fixing of rates of pay for females, if not in this sphere, at least in the industrial sphere, was a matter for the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission. He failed to grasp the significance of the Labour Party's advocacy of equal pay for the sexes, and that is the important issue. It is not so much a question of social responsibility. Equality of pay is one of the final stages of the emancipation of the female and the recognition of her equality with the male. This principle has already been accepted by many countries and for this reason it must become the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government rather than a matter for the Arbitration Commission.

Senator Morrissaid that the Commission takes into consideration skill, responsibility and equality of work in making its judgments. The Commission has to take a lot of things into consideration before making a decision. Certainly these things include skill, responsibility and needs. But they also include the ability of industry to pay. The Commission is bound by the principle it laid down in granting 75 per cent, of the male rate as the female basic wage, and before that principle can be broken down it is necessary to prove quite an extensive range of things about a particular industry. It is necessary to show that the principle is wrong in relation to that industry and that another declaration should be made.

To my knowledge, where equal pay has been granted to female workers, this has been, done by agreement between the union concerned and the employer - this happened in some sections of the transport industry in the eastern States - and it has been done in industries where it is not thought desirable that women should be employed, for instance, in the liquor industry in South Australia. These are the bases of the Commission's procedure. It is not concerned so much with the status of women. It has a responsibility to consider needs and the ability of an industry to pay. Equal pay for the sexes is the Commonwealth Government's responsibility because it has pledged itself at international conferences and in conventions to a recognition of the equality of women in industry. The Government of New South Wales now has an enactment which will give 100 per cent, equality of wages to women as from a specified date. In South Australia there has just been elected a Government which is pledged to support, and will adopt, this policy in the near future.

We have raised the issue of equal pay previously in this House, and we have urged the Government to accept its responsibility; but on this question of equal pay in the Services it consistently falls down. While it eulogises the activities of servicewomen, it at all times recognises them as something inferior. One cannot say that the work of a male nurse is any different from that of a female nurse working in the same establishment, yet they have different rates of pay.

During this debate Senator Cormack said: " Well, you cannot give a woman the same responsibility and ask her to accept the same sacrifice as men ". I was pleased to hear Senator Buttfield interject: "Why not?". I thought she was an upholder of the status of women, but her interjection when Senator Bishop was speaking suggests that she has some reservations and some excuses. Apparently she believes in the equality of women in everything but pay.


Senator Buttfield - I asked a normal question and did not make any statement.


Senator CAVANAGH - When Senator Bishop -was speaking the honorable senator asked: " What about the cost?


Senator Buttfield - I said: "Tell us what it would cost." It was a normal question.


Senator CAVANAGH - You said there was a limited budget. And that is the very reason why the Commission cannot increase the rates; it must consider the cost. But the Government has not advanced one reason why equal pay should not be granted to female members of the Services tomorrow, if necessary. According to Senator Cormack women are not capable of accepting full responsibility in the Services, but Senator Drake-Brockman told us, in his chivalrous manner, of the great help women gave during the last war; how someone owed his life to the woman who packed his parachute, and how the commander of a battalion owed much to those who packed the munitions, and so on. But women are always in the background, according to the Government, doing work inferior to that being done by someone else. The Government's unwillingness to raise the status of women in society today is reflected in its refusal to accept the principle of equality in the rates of pay for all members of the Services.

As Senator Bishop pointed out, the men and the women in the Services accept equal responsibility in some instances. Women replace men in a number of positions in the Services and they are thus entitled to equal pay. When a male senator is replaced by a female senator in this chamber, we do not then suggest that there should be a lesser rate of pay for the female senator. There is no differential in the rates of pay that apply in the professions in Australia. But when it comes to granting equal pay to the women in the Services, honorable senators opposite think that an inferior rate to that paid to the males should apply.

If we are sincere on this question, and if defence or the war effort means anything, there should be equal contributions according to ability. The women in the Services volunteer not knowing the risks that may be involved. On many occasions they are subjected to the risks that the men have to face. If there is any belief that we should keep them out of the actual firing line, that belief must go in view of the methods of warfare that are adopted today. Everyone, whether male or female, may be affected. When phosphorus bombs are used, there is no greater protection for one sex than for the other. It should be readily recognised that in the last war and in previous wars women were prepared to take risks, and on numerous occasions they took the same risks as the men.

The Labour Party's policy has always been equal pay for equal work. We say that the women should receive the rate of pay of their male counterparts who are doing the same type of work. The matter put forward by the Opposition expresses grave concern at the differential between the rates of pay for men and women in the Services. We are prepared to believe that there is a move on the way to increase the pay of the women. That may lessen the grave concern that was felt at the time of the introduction of the matter. Nevertheless, no-one expects that there will be equal pay for equal work. Some anomalies will still exist.

The whole position could be rectified. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) has apparently had the secret within his knowledge and kept it from his own party supporters. He could tell us the date of operation of the recommendations of the committee, and how they will affect the individual members of the Services.


Senator Buttfield - I would like to make a personal explanation.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT. - Does the honorable senator claim to have been misrepresented?


Senator Buttfield - Yes. Senator Cavanagh said that my interjection, which I put as a question, implied that I did not sincerely believe that the principle of equal pay for equal work was a good one. I repeat, as I did by interjection, that I asked a perfectly civil question of Senator Bishop. I have listened with a great deal of interest to all of the arguments that have been advanced in this debate. I asked Senator Bishop whether he could give an estimate of what the proposal of equal pay for equal work for the women in the Services would cost if it were introduced. I would still like to know what it would cost. I am genuinely interested in this matter. After I interjected, Senator Cavanagh implied that I had not been sincere when I had been on my feet saying that I believed in the principle of equal work for equal pay and that I had said it could not be done. I think those were his words. I have never said it could not be done. I have said I believe it should be done in the correct way, by arbitration. I believe that it should go to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission and that the various margins and so on should be looked at in the proper way. This is what I have said repeatedly in this chamber, and this is what I believe.







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