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Thursday, 2 December 1965

Mr £ JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - I think the Parliament this morning witnessed an attitude at the level of the Government, as transmitted to this chamber by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. McMahon), that must cause everybody to think deeply about how much longer this Parliament will tolerate this Government setting up committees to examine most of the matters on which it does not intend to take any action. I congratulate the honorable member for Oxley (Mr. Hayden) on bringing this matter before the Parliament. We are not considering the issue referred to by the Minister for Labour and National Service, who this morning made a statement to the Parliament; we are not considering the general matter of the employment of women in industry in Australia. If I understood the Minister correctly, he stated that Cabinet had decided to appoint a committee to inquire into the employment of women generally. This will serve only to cloud the issue which is whether women should be employed in the Commonwealth Public Service on a permanent basis and whether they should be retained in employment after marriage. The Minister clouded this issue from the start. He spoke about employment generally of women in outside industry. He referred to other matters. He said that employers had not indicated to him that women are more suitable in industry than are men. He said that the Government had decided to go ahead and employ women on the new electronic sorting systems being used in the Postmaster-General's Department.

I do not want to raise at this stage the matter of the employment of women on this work, but in my view the Minister should have made the position clear as regards the Government's policy on the employment of women in the Public Service. This is what we are discussing. I would have thought that the Minister, or even the Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies), would have had more to say on this matter instead of being content to say that the Government will set up one more committee. I will have more to say later about the recommendations of a former committee which inquired into the Public Service. If the Minister and the Government are sincere they should see that the Commonwealth Public Service sets an example to industry in the employment of women. The Government should follow the example set by older countries where women take their real place in society and industry alongside men and where they enjoy equal rights with men at every level.

The latest annual report of the Public Service Board shows that at 30th June 1965 there were 118,351 permanent officers. The Board reports -

A very high level of employment existed in the economy as a whole and this caused difficulties, particularly for those with skills, in the recruitment and retention of staff.

The report then deals with the matter of staff leaving the Service. It shows that in 1964 the separation rate was 10.7 per cent., compared with 9.1 per cent, in the preceding year. The Board reports -

The increase is largely accounted for by an increase in resignations from the Fourth Division.

There is not one word in the report about resignations from the Fourth Division being due to girls getting married. Six years ago the Government had a recommendation from a committee relating to the employment of married women in the Public Service. The Minister's speech this morning was an insult to this chamber and to the intelligence of honorable members. Women in the Public Service should know that at no stage in the course of this debate today have more than six Government supporters been in the chamber. The women of the Public Service should be aware of the attitude of the Government, whose supporters are sitting pretty, caring nothing for a career industry which falls directly within the responsibility of this Parliament.

I turn now to the report of the Superannuation Board. Even the honorable member for Mallee (Mr. Turnbull) must be impressed by this report.

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