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Wednesday, 3 June 1942

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Mr Watkins (NEWCASTLE, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member must withdraw.

Mr McEwen - I withdraw.

Mr DRAKEFORD - The honorable member has alleged that I have made an incorrect statement of the position. I believe that what I have stated has occurred. Whether it be right or wrong,, is largely a matter of opinion. In presenting his case, the honorable gentleman sought to make it appear that £2 16s. a week is all that these women receive. That is far from the fact. They are provided with uniforms, the value of which is estimated to be £18 a year, adding 7s. 6d. a week to the rate; and in addition, they receive free medical and dental treatment, which often involves the provision of new dentures. The other allowances, such as that for uniform, need emphasizing if the matter is to be seen in proper perspective. If an analysis be made of the rates of pay of the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force, it will be found that many of them are better paid than are girls who are employed on the civil side of the service, who for doing essential services receive rates that range from £2s 5s. to £3 10s. The Government has reconsidered the matter, and has laid it down that no one shall receive less than £2 16s. in pay and living allowance. Its object is to avoid hardship. I am assured by those who investigated this matter that the value of what the majority of these women receive is practically the equivalent of £4 a week, which is higher than the pay received by many who are in the civil service.

Mr McEwen - The honorable gentleman would not argue that because the average rate of pay of all workers is a given amount, therefore the basic wage earner ought to be satisfied with what he gets?

Mr DRAKEFORD - Very few of these women receive the rate paid for highly skilled work. The average rate of pay will be found to be not less than that laid down for the Public Service; if it were analysed, it may be proved to be considerably more.

Mr McEwen - This is a new principle in calculating entitlement to payment.

Mr DRAKEFORD - At all events, it does not lack principle. Some of the remarks of the honorable member seemed to me to indicate that he is interested not in principles but in making party political capital out of the matter.

Mr McEwen - The honorable gentleman is indulging in personal abuse.

Mr DRAKEFORD - There is no intention on my part to endeavour to prevent the honorable member, or anybody else, from expressing views that are different from mine; but if they be put strongly, I shall reply to them with equal force. Whatever injustice may have existed before the minimum rate of pay was prescribed has now been largely removed. The honorable member also referred to rates of pay of minors. A proposal was made that rates should be uniform in all branches of the service. Some recruits were being brought in at eighteen years of age and were receiving lower rates than older members of the service. A certain amount of hardship was caused thereby, but that anomaly has been corrected.

Mr McEwen - Will the Government do the same in regard to the men?

Mr DRAKEFORD - That matter is not at issue. This is an organization for women, and was founded by the previous Government. Some of the practices inaugurated by the previous Government have been followed by the present one. If it be true that the rates of pay are unsatisfactory it might be expected that women would be reluctant to offer their services, but the fact is that hundreds are always waiting for admission. The honorable member for Indi (Mr. McEwen) said that we had reduced rates of pay for permanent air force personnel. I have no recollection of any reduction having been made since I have been Minister for Air. I think it was always the case that men who signed on for the duration of the war received a different rate of pay from that of the permanent personnel. It has been represented to me that the men themselves welcomed the arrangement, because under it they receive certain advantages such as child endowment allowances, which increase the total amount of their remuneration. However, I shall have the matter investigated with a view to correcting any anomalies that exist.

The honorable member for Indi advocated the issue of uniforms to members of the Air Training Corps, and said that the cost would not be great. As a matter of fact, when the estimate was submitted it was found that on the scale proposed the cost of providing 12,000 uniforms would run into six figures.

Mr McEwen - Members of the corps would take their uniforms into the Royal Australian Air Force with them.

Mr DRAKEFORD - That might be true of those who joined the corps when they were nearly eighteen years of age, but it would hardly be true of those who joined at sixteen years of age, and who continued to grow. One of the reasons why uniforms cannot now be provided is that there is a shortage of blue cloth. The demand of the services for cloth is so great that very little material is left over for the supply of civilian needs. Representatives of the Air Training Corps have discussed the matter with me, and they know the position. I realize that if the boys are given a smart appearance the corps will be more attractive. I do not wish to discourage them in any way, and perhaps sufficient cloth will later on be made available to provide uniforms.

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