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Wednesday, 30 September 1942

Mr McEWEN (Indi) (1:15 AM) .- It is regrettable that this House should become a platform for attacks on individual members of the judiciary. The people of Australia stand for arbitration administered by judges of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. That was made very clear at one general election when arbitration was the issue on which the people were invited to choose between the parties. Attacks upon those who occupy positions on the bench of the court strike at the very roots of the arbitration system, for which the Labour party professes to stand firmly.

Mr Ward - Members of the Opposition attacked Judge Foster.

Mr McEWEN - They certainly did not.

Mr Pollard - The right honorable member for Kooyong (Mr. Menzies) did by innuendo.

Mr McEWEN - The right honorable member for Kooyong is well able to look after himself, as he has demonstrated tonight and on other occasions, but the interjection by the honorable member for Ballarat compels me to retort that the right honorable member has never been guilty of an attack upon the judiciary. But it is regrettable that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. James) seems to be making a practice of doing so. This is not in the interests of the dispensing of justice and the maintenance of industrial peace, for, if the workers, who are to be awarded their rates of pay and conditions of labour by those courts, which are presided over by judges, are to have, by speeches of their elected representatives in this Parliament, their confidence shaken in those to whom they must appeal, we cannot expect the awards of the court to be well received by them. That seems to be making a major blow at the system which is the very essence of industrial relations.

Mr Calwell - Why attack Miss Cashman?

Mr McEWEN - No one has attacked Miss Cashman. The honorable member's interjection serves to show the misrepresentation which has run consistently through the speeches of honorable members opposite. They have tried to hang the charge on the Opposition that it is engaged in making a personal attack on Miss Cashman. Nothing of the kind ! No word has been said against Miss Cashman from this side of the chamber. What has been said is that it is a travesty upon fair play to select a person who has been engaged as an advocate of a certain sectional interest as the representative on the Women's Employment Board of the opposite sectional interest. That has been said, and there has been and can be no answer to it.

Mr Dedman - The regulation does not say that she is to be the representative of the employers. She is the representative of the Commonwealth.

Mr McEWEN - The Minister for War Organization of Industry surely is familiar with the administration of the Government of which he is a member, and he must know that the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Ward) acted sardonically at the outset by appointing as the representative of the employers a lady with a background of association with, and representation of, the employed interests.

Mr Dedman - The honorable member is wrong again. The Minister for Labour and National Service did not choose her ; she was chosen by Cabinet.

Mr McEwen - The Minister for War Organization of Industry draws a fine line, and I shall not argue the point, but I notice that the schedule to this bill which ratifies the new regulations, says, " These regulations shall be administered by the Minister for Labour and National Service". I think that the Minister for War Organization of Industry is wrong once more in saying that it was not the Minister for Labour and National Service who appointed Miss Cashman. However, I shall not be sidetracked into a discussion of the merits of Miss Cashman, for I know little of them. I accept the fact that she is a very honorable and efficient lady, but one would not expect a person who had represented certain sectional interests to represent the opposing interests. Her appointment to such a position was a travesty on fair play; that was the genesis of the Opposition's protest.

The honorable member for Hunter, threatened, on whose authority I do not know, that if this bill were amended even in a minor form, the Government would go to the country on the issue. The Prime Minister (Mr. Curtin), when first speaking on this matter, said that the Government would regard the bill as vital. If the Opposition were seeking to destroy the Women's Employment Board, I could understand the Government regarding the matter as vital, but the Opposition with a proper sense of responsibility, has never had any intention of seeking to destroy it. We merely wish to make it a safe and reasonable tribunal, capable of discharging the functions for which it was appointed. It is intolerable that this Parliament should he subjected by the Prime Minister to a threat of a dissolution of the House of Representatives, and by the honorable member for Hunter to a threat of a double dissolution, if the Opposition goes so far as to dot an "i" or cross a "t", which the Government has not dotted or crossed in the regulations. There is no honorable member who has spoken so frequently and with such apparent sincerity upon the need for an active and vigilant Opposition as has the Prime Minister. We have heard him make a hundred speeches in this chamber stressing his view that it is necessary for the operation of an effective democratic government that there shall be in existence an Opposition. That has been his constant counter to the contention from this side that a national government would be the proper government to manage the affairs of this country in our days of peril. Surely, the Prime Minister, when he was making those speeches, did not mean that he wanted an Opposition which should he permitted to talk but not to exercise any influence? After the last election this Parliament was left in the condition in which the Government enjoys a fortuitous majority in this chamber and no majority at all in theSenate. Surely, the Opposition has rights and the Government reason. The Opposition exercised its rights in this issue by stating that it believes that the Government's choice under the national security regulations was wrong. It has exercised its influence to good effect by compelling the Government to do what it ought to have done in the first place, that is, deal with this matter, not by regulation, but by legislation, which would bring it into the light in this Parliament where it could be debated and where, if reason prevails, the logic of the arguments advanced by honorable members on this side, should have some effect upon the moulding of the bill. It is outrageous for the honorable member for Hunter, or any other honorable member, to suggest that the amendment proposed by the Opposition should be carried by the Government to the point of precipitating a general election.

Mr Dedman - Is the Government not free to decide what is vital?

Mr McEWEN -Certainly, but it is also apt to make mistakes in the same way as the Minister for War Organization of Industry has made mistakes. It is for us to point out where those mistakes occur and toput the Government back on the rails. I have no doubt that the Government will be affected by what has been said by us.

Mr Frost - The Opposition is holding up the war effort.

Mr McEWEN - If the Government displayed a sense of reasonableness, the war effort would not be held up for a minute in this regard. Government supporters have accused the Opposition of wanting to take from women employees their rights and to put them in a position of inferiority to men in respect of conditions of service and so on. It is very easy to see where the. Opposition and the Government stand on this matter, for the women in the service of the Government, who are most directly and unquestionably subject to the decisions of the Government, are those in uniform - the members of the auxiliaries to the various fighting services. I remember very well the great difficulty experienced by the government of which I was a member in persuading leading figures in the present Government to agree that women should assist the fighting forces by being enlisted into auxiliary services. The then Government did not wish to do things without consulting the Opposition, and the Opposition was consulted. After months of negotiation we established the first women's auxiliary - the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force. We established that force of women on a basis which we believed to be fair. Their rate of pay was set at two-thirds of the rate of pay of men doing equivalent work, but, as the most of them were not to live in barracks but were to live out and would have to pay as much for board and lodging as would have to be paid by men in similar circumstances, we fixed their living-out allowance at the same rate as that provided for their male equivalents. We had not been out of office for more than a few weeks before the new Government, by administrative action, reduced the rate of living-out allowance of these women.

Mr Pollard - That has long since been rectified.

Mr McEWEN - It was rectified owing to pressure from honorable members of the Opposition. Not only did the present Government reduce the living-out allowance, but it also reduced the rates of pay of young women under 21 years of age. It is extraordinary, therefore, that an accusation should be levelled at the

Opposition that it does not wish to act fairly by women workers. The living-out allowance was reduced from 30s. to 23s. 6d. a week, and the rate of pay of women in uniform under 21 years of age was reduced from the basic rate of 4s. to 3s. 6d. a day.

Mr Pollard - I understand that the honorable member, who is a member of the Advisory War Council, did not raise any objection to those reductions.

Mr Anthony - How did the honorable member for Ballarat obtain that information?

Mr Pollard - I formed that opinion by a process of reasoning.

Mr McEWEN - It is quite untrue to say that the Opposition members of the Advisory War Council concurred in the reductions. Minors in the Women's Australian Auxiliary Air Force do exactly the same work as women over the age of 21 years. It was paltry, in my opinion, for the Government to reduce their pay by 6d. a day. Many of the girls affected had surrendered good jobs in order to enter the Women's Auxiliary Australian Air Force. What I have said is a complete rebuttal of the charge that honorable members on this side of the chamber are not in favour of according proper conditions to women workers. Had the regulations that were disallowed by the members of the Senate been interpreted reasonably by the Minister for Labour and National Service there would have been no need for the introduction of this bill. It is because of the sardonic treatment of this subject, by that honorable gentleman especially, that members of the Opposition are pressing their views so strongly. We believe that the Government representative on a board of this description should possess the qualification to place a proper value on the work of women. The tribunal should not be loaded against either the public or the Government. The Government is by far the largest employer of female labour, and there should be a properly qualified woman member on the board to watch the interests of the taxpayers. A woman with some managerial experience, and with proper industrial perspective should be appointed to the position. Ihope that even at this late stage, the Government will see the reasonableness of this claim.

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