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Tuesday, 29 May 1973
Page: 2782


Mr LYNCH - I thank the House. Convention No. 103 provides for cash and medical benefits to be paid through compulsory social insurance or public funds and that the benefits rates should be fixed by national law. This provision is designed to ensure that a maternity protection scheme should not make the employment of females more expensive for the employer than the employment of males, so giving cause for discrimination against female labour. The Convention further provides that any contributions to a social insurance scheme or any special tax imposed to raise funds must be raised in respect of the total number of men and women employed by the undertakings concerned without distinctions of sex. Moreover, the Convention does not provide for maternity leave on full pay. This Bill does. The Convention is not restricted in its application to women in government employment. This Bill is. The Convention does provide for benefits other than cash benefits. This Bill does not. The Convention does entail the establishment of social security schemes financed in a prescribed manner. This Bill does not. The Convention provides for a woman to interrupt her work after the termination of her maternity leave for the purpose of nursing her child. This Bill does not.

The Bill leaves scope for abuse in that it allows for the possibility of women joining the Commonwealth Public Service when pregnant in order to take advantage of the very considerable concessions which are proposed in this legislation. The Opposition believes that this situation will require careful examination by the Government on the basis of experience gained in the administration of the Act. The Bill typifies the modus operandi of a government which is committed to supporting employee benefits which entail the addition of $6,000m to the national wages and salaries bill but which appears totally incapable of submitting to the national Parliament a detailed plan of implementation incorporating clearly defined priorities. It must, of course, be fundamental to the principles of economic management that government initiatives be introduced according to plan. The Government lays a major claim to the principles of economic planning as a means of ensuring the achievement of social conditions. There has been no definition of national goals and objectives and the manner in which labour policies are being formulated in sympathy with those goals and objectives. What this Parliament is being subjected to are the results of an ad hoc approach, a series of proposals presented in isolation. It is, therefore, a matter of deep regret that the Government is unable, in one of its central policy departments, to put before the national Parliament an integrated and meaningful philosophy for the achievement of improved standards and conditions of work.

There has been no attempt by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) to articulate the wider concepts entailed in the Bill and the likely effects which this type of legislation will have on the pattern of society. There has been insufficient discussion of the initiatives which might be taken to assist women with children in their employment, either in the Commonwealth or in the private sector. If the Government has serious concern for the problems created for working women in caring for their families it ought to be more closely examining the concept of work recycling as distinct from the total number of working hours on a 5-day week basis. The principle of work recycling, or mobile time scheduling, would have particular benefits. Fixed times of arrival and departure are replaced by a working day which is split into two different types of time. The main part of the day, termed the core time, is the only period when employees must be at their jobs. The remaining working hours at the beginning and end of each day are termed flexible time when each employee can choose when to arrive and leave. You will know Mr Speaker, that this is the subject of serious examination in many advanced countries which are concerned with examining the question of the recycling of hours as district from an overall reduction in the size of the working week.

The Government also might have considered the employment of women on the basis of an optional number of working days per week. That is, during the period when a woman has a young family it may be possible for employment to be provided on the basis of a 2 or 3-day working week. This is a concept that is well-developed in the private sector of the general community. The Minister also failed to indicate whether his Department has conducted any form of needs survey among working women in the Commonwealth Public Service to determine those forms of assistance which they regard as being most important An employer who was concerned about the welfare of his staff would first ascertain what the employees regarded as important priorities, but this the Government has failed to do.

Finally, the Minister once again omitted to provide the House with a detailed costing of the proposals in the Bill. This was the case with the Bill introduced earlier this session providing for 4 weeks leave to Commonwealth public servants. Surely it is incumbent on any Government to provide the Parliament with basic information concerning the cost of its legislative proposals. The Opposition does not assert that the question of costing must be exclusive in terms of decisions but it remains highly relevant when the economy's inflationary difficulties are causing widespread concern throughout the community. It has been estimated that the cost to the community of this Bill, having in mind its flow-on effects, could exceed $32m. It was only after considerable probing during the Minister's second reading speech that he admitted to a costing of $3. 3m per annum so far as the Public Service was concerned. In terms of the Bill's flow-on effects it is of no real consequence that the Minister assured the House in unequivocal terms that the Government would oppose it. He knows full well the limits of the Commonwealth jurisdiction. He is, of course, very aware of the considerable impact that the Commonwealth Public Service can have as a pacesetter in the public sector in the determination of wages and conditions of employment. The flow-on of proposals operating in that sector can have a heavy and considerable impact on the private sector.

The Government must examine closely the inflationary consequences of each of its legislative proposals. The actual rate of inflation now exceeds 8 per cent per annum and that rate was established before the national wage decision which has added approximately 5.5 per cent to average wages. In addition the current labour shortages are occurring at a time when the economy no longer has a sufficiently large inflow of migration to take the pressure off the labour market. The Government must realise that the iniquity of inflation is that it inflicts the most harmful effects on the very people in the community whom governments have a direct obligation to assist. The totality of this Government's social welfare program can easily be nullified by the effects of inflation. Yet the Government apparently proposes to continue to fiddle while the inflationary pressures take on ever more pressing dimensions.

Equally importantly, the Minister has failed to consider this Bill in its proper social context. The Opposition does not regard the question of maternity leave solely as an industrial benefit, because to consider the proposition in that way is to introduce an element of positive discrimination in favour of working women who raise a family. Those women receive benefits while women who choose to be housewives do not. Simply because the quantitative measurement of economic activity - that is, the gross national product - does not measure the unpaid production of goods and services by the housewife, a large proportion of services is not included. For example, the man who marries his housekeeper lowers the gross national product and consequentially the measured output of the economy, although his wife continues to produce the same level of goods and services as she previously produced on a paid basis. The Opposition believes that society has a direct responsibility to ensure that the dual role of the working woman who becomes pregnant does not affect her health or that of her child. Equally, we have an obligation to ensure that non-working women have equal access to society's resources for the provision of necessary benefits.

In the same manner as the Bill discriminates against the non-working woman it discriminates between the high wage earner and the low wage earner by gearing maternity leave to normal pay. It is for this reason that the International Labour Organisation convention does not contemplate that maternity leave be accompanied by a continuance of salary but rather by cash and medical benefits geared to the general needs associated with maternity. The 'Aus tralian Financial Review' commented in its editorial this morning:

Twelve weeks' leave on good pay for the well-paid woman, on low pay for the low-paid woman and on no pay for the unpaid woman worker might not be a palatable proposition to women generally.

The Bill also discriminates in favour of those women who are able to return to work and against those who need to return but are unable to do so because of the unavailability of satisfactory child care arrangements.

The child care scheme introduced by the former Government was designed specifically to provide assistance to working women. It is a matter of very great regret that the present Government has failed to promote that program as a matter of high national priority. Several questions which I have placed on notice to the Minister for Education (Mr Beazley) have, to this stage of the parliamentary session, been totally ignored. The Opposition is concerned that the child care program is not progressing to the time-table which was contemplated at its inception. Maternity is a social contingency not arising out of any particular industrial situation. It is for this reason that the question should be considered as part of a general examination of the role of women in contemporary Australian society. Throughout society today there is certainly a conflict between the traditional role of women and the opportunities now available to women as a consequence of education, smaller families and the greater range of suitable work provided by modern technology.

It is demonstrable that women today are still subject to very considerable prejudices. After all, it was not until the second half of the nineteenth century that scientists demonstrated that both parents made equivalent conributions to a child's biological inheritance. Philosophers throughout history postulated the existence of an inferior feminine nature'. The 3 principal influences which have shaped Western society - Greek philosophy, Roman law and Judao-Christian theology - have each held almost axiomatically that women are inferior to men. But we know now that, aside from physical differences, there has been no scientific proof of differences, either psychlogical or intellectual, in the genetic inheritance of men and women. Yet women's child bearing functions undoubtedly have served as the basis of restrictions and discrimination.

The simple fact is that for a very long period of time women have been treated as second class citizens in Australian society. Industry has yet to face up to its proper responsibilities in the employment of women and the advancement of their careers. It is both in their self-interest and in the interest of the nation at large that the resources of women should be utilised more fully than they have been, notwithstanding the trends and developments of recent years. There is an increasing feeling by women that their aspirations and rights are being frustrated by the present political, economic and social structures of this country. This Parliament itself provides a salient example of a major structure of society in which women have had a minimal involvement and therefore is seen by many women to represent a narrow and unsympathetic legislative authority. In the terms of the Government's social services program, the needs of the pregnant woman regrettably are going very much by default.

This Bill can be seen only as a totally inadequate and isolated response to those needs which must be examined by the Government if there is to be an adequate response to the special problems faced by women in today's society. It was in recognition of these special problems in the work force that in 1963 the former Government established in the Department of Labour a women's section which subsequently, in 1967, became the Women's Bureau. In view of this, it was more than a matter of surprise that the present AttorneyGeneral, Senator Murphy, made an election promise on behalf of the Australian Labor Party in November 1972 stating that a Labor government would introduce and establish a women's bureau in the Department of Labour. This comment was the logical corollary of a party which remains an almost exclusive male preserve and which has taken a traditionally narrow view of the problems confronting women in Australian society. The Women's Bureau was established because of the significant increase in the size of the female work force in Australia. Through the Bureau we actively sought ways to enable women in the community to play a role in the labour force commensurate with the talents and the many resources which they have to offer.

Based on the research initiatives of the Bureau, the previous Government introduced substantial measures in such important areas as employment training and, not least, the child care facilities program. It must also be made clear that the former Government made social provisions for all women in respect of childbirth in the forms of a maternity allowance and child endowment. The maternity allowance takes the form of a lump sum cash payment made at the time of a birth. In addition, it made provision for any pregnant woman without another source of income to be eligible for a 'special benefit'. This is payable from 12 weeks prior to the expected date of confinement until 6 weeks after the delivery. During this time a women may receive $17 a week. At the present time in the Commonwealth Public Service a pregnant woman is entitled to a maximum of 26 weeks maternity leave and she must take 6 weeks leave before the expected date of confinement and 6 weeks leave after the date of confinement. Maternity leave, per se, is without pay. However, officers may utilise whatever paid leave has accrued to them, such as recreation leave, sick leave and long service leave. It also can be pointed out that the New South Wales Public Service provides paid maternity leave for its female employees.

I have outlined these provisions which now exist because they demonstrate that the former Government sought on a continuing basis to make provision for the maternity problems of women. -It also sought to do this in the framework of general social legislation. The Opposition does not agree with the way in which this Bill has been introduced as an isolated industrial benefit. The needs of women in the Australian community are too important to be "treated in isolation. They must be subject to a concerted program by the Government and which will place the needs of pregnant women in what must be the Government's response to the total needs of women everywhere in the Australian society. In view of the benefits which are provided to women in the Commonwealth Public Service, and for the reasons I mentioned, the Opposition does not oppose the passage of this Bill.







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