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Tuesday, 29 May 1973
Page: 2785

Mr RIORDAN (Phillip) - It is gratifying, I suppose, to note that the Opposition is not opposing this legislation. I rather gained the impression, however, from the speech made by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) that his support was very much along the line of the Mark Anthony speech. Whilst supporting the proposition, he found many queries to raise and many obstacles to place in its way. He had much criticism to make of the present Government Much of that criticism, indeed the overwhelming majority of it, is completely without any foundation. He seeks to take upon himself the role of praising the former Government in which of course he was responsible for this type of legislation. He put it that the former Government had been very concerned to assist women in employment in respect of their training and child care. The position really is that the previous Government ignored the difficulties of families. It. completely ignored the maternity benefits now being paid. It made only passing reference to and expressed only passing concern for the payment of child endowment. It in fact left the family man to find his own feet and do the best he could.

That sort of approach is not one which is consistent with allowing the Opposition to attack this Government in its concern for families and those members of families who are forced to work. In fact in this day and age, m spite of all the modern technology, we find that the average family needs to spend more time at work to provide for the needs of that family than did our grandfathers and great grandparents a hundred years ago. It was necessary in those days for the breadwinner to work 60 hours a week to provide for the needs of the family unit. Today we find that the male in the family unit is working a standard week of 40 hours and an average amount of overtime of 4.3 hours. In more than one-third of the cases the wife is also working for up to 40 hours a week. So it can be seen that on the average the working week of the family has been extended in order to provide for the basic needs of the family unit. This Bill represents a significant step towards the removal of a very grave aspect of discrimination against women in employment. It is restricted in many ways. It is confined to employees in the Commonwealth Public Service.

Mr Wilson - What about domestic working women?

Mir RIORDAN- I will come to the question of domestic working women. It was hoped during their period of office in this Parliament of some 23 years, a full generation, the friends of the honourable member may have shown some concern for domestic work ing women and may have taken some economic steps which would have avoided the necessity for so many of our women to be in employment today. I believe that even a cursory glance at the available statistics will establish beyond any shadow of a doubt that the overwhelming majority of female employees who are married are continuing in employment to do no more than to supplement the family income and so to provide the basic needs. So it ill behoves the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Wilson) or any other honourable member opposite, after the long period that they had in government and during which they refused to do anything to assist the family unit, now to criticise this Government which is in its early stages. As a community we should ensure that the mother's role should be made easier rather than harder.

Although this provision will apply only to the Commonwealth Public Service in the immediate sense it will allow a useful sociological and economic experiment to be undertaken in this community. The result of this experiment will be a very useful guide for others in the future. I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition that once the success of this experiment is illustrated and once its benefits are so obvious to the community as a whole others will follow suit. 1 sincerely hope that that will be so. But of course this legislation can only have an effect within the Commonwealth Public Service. At the present time there is provision for maternity leave in the Commonwealth Public Service but it is confined to certain groups. It is much more limited than the provision of this Bill and it also applies only to those who are classified as permanent. On the other hand those who are classified as temporary employees, which is the way in which some employees are described although they may have given many years of service, are not entitled to receive any benefit.

The provisions of this Bill are consistent with the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation made in 1919 and therefore deserves to be supported by all sections of the Community. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition attacked the Bill as being inconsistent with the provisions of the appropriate ILO Convention. The Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) did not state that it was identical with the ILO Convention. What the Minister was concerned to point out was that this was consistent with that convention, and so it is. The ILO Convention is designed to overcome discrimination against married women in employment who have families, and this legislation certainly does that.

We should have regard to the fact that women workers are playing an increasingly significant role in the Australian economy. The introduction of more advanced technology has resulted in a greater demand for female labour. The result is that one-third of all married women are now included in the national labour force. Married women now represent a far greater proportion of the female work force. In 1933 only 5.4 per cent of women workers in Australia were married. In 1947 this percentage had increased to 15.3 per cent of the total female work force. But in 1971 almost 60 per cent of all female workers in Australia were married.

It is also of considerable significance in considering this type of legislation to realise that the latest figures show that 8.3 per cent of all children born in 1970 had unmarried mothers. This is double the percentage in 1948. This illustrates that in this type of legislation we have not only concern for those who are part of a married family unit but also a growing concern for unmarried mothers in this community. I say without hesitation, for my own part that these young women need protection, sympathy and encouragement and they deserve to be assisted back into employment after the period of their confinement. In 1970, 15,000 children were borne by single mothers between the ages of 15 and 24 years. This provision will help those young mothers. If it did nothing else but assist those in that position it would certainly be worth while.

We also must recognise and take account of the fact that there are more than half a million married women in employment whose ages are between 25 and 44 years. As the average marrying age has decreased from 25.5 years in 1948 to 21.4 in 1971, it can be seen from an examination of available statistics that the great majority of married women return to employment to supplement the family income. It is true that some return to employment to follow a career or to take up where they left off in the pursuit of a career or where they left off in some professional pursuit. But the undeniable fact is that one income is no longer sufficient to satisfy the needs of most family units.

Other countries have given earlier attention to this matter. Sweden, Switzerland, certain provinces in Canada, some States in the United States of America, to name a few, have tackled this problem and looked at it in one way or another. Indeed some 68 countries have made some provision for maternity benefits in this or similar ways. If married women were forced to abandon employment for whatever reason the capacity of Australian industry and commerce would be shattered. The Australian economy at the present time is dependent on large numbers of married women being in active employment. Maternity leave is but one aspect of the many difficulties currently facing working mothers. In this I agree with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. My disagreement with him is that for 23 years his colleagues and he had the opportunity actively to do something about the problem and they did nothing. They refused to tackle this problem in any concerted way.

The absence of adequate child minding facilities is a major problem in itself. It is a major inhibition and a major difficulty for married mothers. In a survey conducted by the Bureau of Census and Statistics in 1969 it was found that 400,000 working mothers had responsibility for children under 12 years of age. Of 270,000 children of working mothers who were under 6 years of age only 7 per cent were placed in child care centres. The results showed that 91,500 women with children under 6 years of age said that they would work if suitable child minding facilities were available. I remind the honourable gentlemen opposite that 1969 was 3 years before the Deputy Leader of the Opposition moved out of the Ministry and this fact was known then. His effort, significant though it may have been, was indeed very small and very slight.

Maternity leave does not overcome the problem, but it does remove a barrier to happy motherhood. The mother is able to leave work and after making alternative arrangements for the care of her child may return to employment without the economic losses which used to be involved. These mothers will not have to start all over again on an incremental salary scale, for example. They are to be re-employed in their former positions or at a level as near as possible to them if the former positions are not available. The concept of this Bill is to provide fair greater equality of opportunity for women. It removes from the Commonwealth Public Service a selective and camouflaged discrimination which has no place in the Australian way of life. It recognises that the birth of an Australian child is something to be encouraged. It represents a community benefit both economically and culturally. It illustrates that the Government is placing a far greater emphasis on the quality of life.

This Government can be seen to be actively pursuing the goal of achieving happiness in our community. It will allow young women to have their children and return to employment either to pursue a career or to provide funds for the purchase of a house or some other necessity of life. We cannot, as a Parliament, ignore the economic strains and pressures on young couples today. The cost of providing the basic necessities of life has increased so dramatically that they frequently cannot be provided through one wage or salary. The concept of this Bill is to make life a little easier for those families of which the mother has to work. When measuring the cost of granting this leave one must take into account the enormous savings in both direct and indirect costs of training new and inexperienced employees. I for one would have been much more impressed with the criticism of the cost of this legislation if some attempt had been made at least to acknowledge that the cost to Australian industry of training new employees when married women leave employoment is enormous and is an enormous strain on government expenditure in the Commonwealth Public Service.

Women workers returning to employment after absence on maternity leave need virtually no additional training in order to recommence employment. Of course, the Bill also provides for parental leave for the father. This is another move which is to be encouraged. Frequently there is a situation of grave sociological consequences when young children are left virtually unattended while the mother is absent in hospital during her confinement. In every social reform there has been some reluctance and fear. Neither is justified in this case. This Bill is a milestone in my view in the drive against discrimination. It removes an obstacle to female career employment in the Commonwealth Public Service. It must be gratifying to all those who for so many years have fought and struggled against discrimination against female employees to know that on this occasion this legislation will pass through this Parliament without opposition and that it will have support, in varying degrees of vigour, from all members on both sides of this Parliament.

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