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Tuesday, 2 April 1968

Mr CHIPP (Higinbotham) - I want to refer to two things mentioned by the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb). I do not know whether he is notorious for the gallantry which he shows towards members of the fair sex but honourable members on this side of the House thought it was quite ungallant of him to refer to the charming, attractive honourable member for Kingston (Miss Brownbill) in the way that he did.

Mr Webb - What did I say? The honourable member for Kingston is equal to us.

Mr CHIPP - The honourable member said that she did not support the principle before the Chair. She did not do so because no person with any sense of parliamentary responsibility or any other type of responsibility could possibly support such a ridiculous contention as the honourable member has put forward. We have a debate each year on this subject as a result of a move by the Labor Party. But the proposal today is that this Government legislate to give equal pay for work of equal value not only for female Commonwealth public servants and females employed in Commonwealth instrumentalities but for all females listed under Federal awards. The astonishing thing is that of the four members of the Labor Party who have spoken in support of this proposal, not one has seen fit to refer to the slight constitutional hurdle of how this might be achieved.

I come now to the second matter mentioned by the honourable member for Stirling and to which I want to refer. He said that we on the Government side showed a two-faced attitude towards the question of equal pay. He said that this principle was in the constitution of the Liberal Party, yet we did nothing to implement it. Let us look at how many faces the honourable member for Stirling has exhibited. We do not blame members of the Labor Party for having their annual romp in this House about equal pay for the sexes. The wording of the proposal changes a little each year but the speeches are usually the same. Honourable members opposite come into this House and make powerful speeches about equal pay for work of equal value. But I should like to ask a question of the honourable member for Stirling, and indeed, all members of the Labor Party who are, presumably, reasonably close to the members of their trade unions: When was the last time that he had a discussion with Mr Hawke, the advocate of the trade unions, and implored him to present a case for equal pay to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission? The honourable member for Stirling sits on the front bench of the Labor Party and is the shadow Minister for Labour and National Service. I suggest, with due respect, that the honourable member has never in his life had such a conversation with Mr Hawke. I suggest that no member of the Labor Party, including the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam) and the eloquent honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant), has ever said any such thing to Mr Hawke or to any other similar advocate before he has made submissions to a wages tribunal. The charge of being two-faced can be looked at in two ways.

Let us now look at some of the facts that members of the Labour Party did not choose to put before the House. Thirty per cent of the work force in Australia is made up of women. If equal pay for work of equal value were introduced immediately what would it cost? No honourable member suggested that it should be introduced immediately. The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) mumbled something about it being introduced over a period. I made a courteous inquiry of him as to the length of the period over which it ought to be introduced but of course he was silent. If this principle were introduced according to the International Labour Organisation definition - and one would presume that members of the Labor Party would be advocating this - it would immediately cost the Commonwealth Government $20m a year and the State governments over $50m a year, and it would mean an addition of $500m to the yearly wage bill of Australian industry. It would throw one particular industry into utter chaos. I refer to the textile industry. It would add $40m overnight to the textile industry's wage bill. It would have a consequential effect on tariff policy and a host of other matters.

Although I am quoting these statistics I want it to be quite clear that I am not opposing the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. Indeed, I have supported this principle on many occasions. But should we do it by abrogating the authority of the arbitration system that we have in Australia? Many members of the Labor Party want things each way. Some of them will take what they can get from arbitration and conciliation but will reject this system when it hands down a decision against its wishes. Mr Slater, that notorious unionist representing the Amalgamated

Postal Workers Union, appeared on television a week or two ago and said that he believed that the arbitration and conciliation machinery should be scrapped altogether. At least that was an honest point of view, lt would be refreshing to hear in this House a statement of policy by the Leader of the Opposition, on behalf of his Party, as to whether he wants the system of arbitration and conciliation that we have in Australia continued or whether he wants it scrapped. At least honourable members on this side of the House could then assess the views of the Opposition on this vital question.

In conclusion I want to refer to my own particular sympathy with the philosophy behind this proposal, although certainly I have no sympathy with it as it is worded today. I have a great deal of sympathy for a certain section of the community made up of female breadwinners. 1 believe this is a section of the community upon which great injustice and great inequity are being perpetuated, not by the Government or by anyone in particular but by society generally. For the life of me, in the 20th century situation in which we live, I cannot see the justice or the equity of why a spinster, for example, perhaps in her middle age - a spinster probably because she has nursed an aged parent for years, and is still nursing an aged parent, and with little or no opportunity of marriage because of her years - has to incur the penalty imposed by society of a 25% reduction of the base wage. She takes home a wage to support herself and her aged parent or parents. To me this does not smack of justice at all. It smacks of a great inequity towards this class of person in the community.

Spinsters are not the only female breadwinners who are affected. All honourable members of this Parliament, notwithstanding their political persuasion, almost weekly come across the deserted wife whose husband does not meet his legal commitments, or the widow who has to support a number of young children, usually during the most expensive years of their lives. Such a woman, who is the breadwinner for her family because of the situation perpetuated by all of us, is under this penalty of taking home for herself and for her children a wage less than that of her male counterpart notwithstanding the fact that she is doing precisely the same work as he does. Of all the social welfare problems facing this nation - and I know there are some - I choose to give this problem a much higher priority than do many members on both sides of the House. There is a tremendous and urgent need for research into the needs of the female breadwinner who is being paid less than the male for work of equal value.

I cannot support the proposal before the Chair but I request honourable members and the Minister for Social Services (Mr Wentworth) to give the problems of the female breadwinners the consideration that they justly deserve.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER -Order! This discussion has concluded.

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