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Tuesday, 2 April 1968


Mr CONNOR (Cunningham) - I fully support the comments of the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) who introduced this matter of public urgency. The arguments advanced by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Bury) smack of a philosophy of industrial despair. The main gravamen of his argument in opposition - and opposition it is. and the arguments advanced by him are specious - is that there would be a massive movement of purchasing power from males to females and that there would be a transfer of resources. This comes from the member of a Ministry which is dedicated to the development of Australia and which allegedly, and in fact, is seeking overseas a considerable influx of immigrants to augment the Australian work force. He attempts further to play off the trade union movement, or certain sections of it, against the needs of women. He suggests that in certain cases there are sections of the trade union movement which are, in fact, opposed to the granting of equal wages for equal work. This is fundamentally untrue, and only a man who has never held a trade union ticket in his life would be capable of making such a statement.

The barriers to the continuous employment of married women in the Commonwealth Public Service have been removed. What a remarkable concession. The honourable gentleman's arguments could be those of a modern Fabius Cunctator, the Roman general who believed in the inevitability of gradualism. Every argument advanced by the honourable gentleman has for its purpose delay and frustration, and if this Government were frank with the people of Australia it would admit that to delay and frustrate is precisely what it wants to do. It is determined, at all costs, to give as little as it can, to give it as slowly as possible, to make it as obnoxious as it can and to place every possible difficulty in the path of those who seek to alter the chronic injustices which have been wrought, throughout history, on women. The honourable gentleman, of all people, says that it is the function of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to do these things. I do not think there has been anyone more vociferous than this Minister in recent weeks in his criticism of the margins case judgment. He has been quite capable of reading curtain lectures to the Commission about what it should do, and of strictly limiting its functions.

The Government has, in recent years, and particularly under the regime of this Minister, abandoned all pretence of impartiality and quite openly has appeared before the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission when applications have been made for increases in the basic wage and in other major industrial disputes. If it can appear in these cases, and if it has even the elements of sincerity, it can appear in support of the applications that undoubtedly will be made to the Commission -by major unions for proper wage justice to be done to the women of the community. As the honourable member for Oxley has said, next month we will be sending to Teheran a delegation to the International Human Rights Conference. Might I read a statement by a former President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, a great Australian, Dr H. V. Evatt. He said:

Millions of people - men, women and children - all over the world will turn for help, guidance and inspiration to this document.

He was, of course, referring to the Declaration of Human Rights. He said that it applied to all states or territories regardless of their political economy or international status and whether or not they were members of the United Nations. He said it applied to individuals without distinctions of any kind, such as race, colour, sex - and I repeat, sex - language, religion and economic or social status. This Government is quite archaic in its approach to these matters. It is quite feudal in its outlook. What is to be the reaction of our delegates when they go to Teheran? The avowed purpose of the Conference is to review progress in various spheres since the 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. How will they react to the criticism of delegates from other parts of the world? How will they react to the criticism of delegates from nations with which we claim to be comparable in our development and in our affluence? Are they to hold their heads up high?

Earlier today my Leader (Mr Whitlam) referred to the fact that Australia, in gross national product, more than equals the whole of South East Asia up to the limits of India and China. The Minister for Labour and National Service would have us believe that the economy of this country cannot afford equal pay for equal work. We have not yet got away from the feudal taint and the feudal outlook. To us there is some covert stigma attaching to women. They are not granted equality even today. They have political equality of a kind, subject, of course, to the manipulations of gerrymandering and to the obmutescence or the obfuscations of the anti-Labor and antitrade union members here. Political democracy we have, but economic democracy we lack. In Australia today, women are literally in a state of economic purdah. As in some Moslem countries women have considerable restrictions of movement, even restrictions on dress. Today we have precisely the same thing in Australian female wages.

In World War II we had to depend very heavily upon the labours of women to augment the efforts of our work force. They took their part in the armed services. They are capable of playing exactly the same part today in Australia's development. If there is any country in the world which needs to use the whole of its manpower and its woman power it is Australia, but implicit in what the Minister said in his concluding remarks was: 'I frankly doubt that there will be enough jobs to go around, and for that reason the jobs will go to the men'. I draw attention to the situation in my district. I have the greatest problem of female employment of any part of Australia. When a survey was made about 2 years ago. 6,000 women were concerned. I have repeatedly invited the Minister to come down to look at the problem. It is a real problem, and it is associated with the underpayment of men in heavy industry. We have, because of our immigration problem, allowed the steel industry to choose to bring in men who would serve its purpose - men who would be prepared to accept relatively low wage scales. Within my constituency the average wage paid to the unskilled man in industry is between $8 and $10 a week lower than the wage that is paid in any other comparable part of Australia. It is a hard fact, and it is associated with the economic problems that exist there. Unless and until an adequate wage is paid to the men in my area it will be quite impossible for women there to secure employment. The heavy industry - the steel works - reputedly phased out over a period of 12 months as many as 1,000 women who were in their employment. Progressively over that period out they went, and men had to take their places. In the process there was created the hard core of female unemployment which exists within my constituency today.

Until there is an augmented cash flow or, in more simple terms, until there is a decent increase in wages, and justice is done to the men, money will not be flowing into the shops and it will not be flowing into the offices so that the women of my constituency can secure adequate and decent employment. Today there is a general degrading of the status of women within my constituency, but this Government is prepared to do nothing about it. This is a matter quite apart perhaps from the rights of women to secure equal pay for work of equal value. They cannot even get work within my constituency much less equal pay for work of equal value. This is a serious matter and it is further aggravated by the predilection of heavy industry to bring in certain men from overseas - quite good, decent men whom I do not criticise. The census of 1961 showed a disparity of 10,000 in numbers of men and women. The population at that time consisted of about 75,000 men and 64,500 women. This is typical of the distortion that exists in the district, to which this Government remains quite indifferent.







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