Diary of a Labour Man: 1917 - 1945

Full text Prime Minister




The experience of travelling through the United States and being able to spend some time in the capital is something that comes to few Australian women. We have not been a widely-travelled people and, in any event, the economic bar has been too much for the average Australian. Therefore, I feel especially privileged and am doing my very best to learn as much as I can about the American way of life and, also, its relation to life in Australia.

I have taken an active part in the women's organisation of the Australian Labor Party. It will be readily admitted in my country that a great number of social and economic reforms achieved in Australia has been as the result of continuous agitation by women. I believe we have in Australia a social security framework covering child endowment, widow's pensions, maternity allowances, invalid and old-age pensions, unemployment and sickness insurance and health services which already is far in advance of many countries and upon which will be built by the Labor Government a permanent social structure which will be an example to the world.

I say that without wishing to be boastful. What has been done in Australia is not as the result of the present war nor of the last economic depression. It dates back to the turn of the present century when men and women with the ideas and ideals upon which the Australian Labor Party was founded combined their efforts to place Australia in the vanguard of social reform.

So far, I have found a good deal in common with American women. Certainly, Australian women will share with American women in a demand for a new order after the war. On more minor matters I see no great difference except that I admire the capabilities of American women in a country where life is so much faster than in our smaller country of 7,000,000 people.

I admire, too, the prominent place American women have won for themselves in public affairs. I look for one consolation from the awful agony of war and that is that the important part women have played in the Australian war effort will emancipate many of them, will encourage those who already had firm views on woman's place in the community and will impress on society at large that wider spheres of peace-time activity should be opened to women.

War-time women workers, by their skill and efficiency, raised the question of their renumeration and the Australian Government, by the establishment of the Women's Employment Board, recognised the right of women to be heard in respect of pay rates. As a result, the board, in many instances, have laid down pay rates on a 100 percent equality basis with men.

I must say that, after a look around Washington shops, I am a little dismayed. We feel that in Australia price control has operated very well and many articles displayed in Washington shops are much dearer than the same articles in Australia. The range of goods on display in Washington is much higher than in Australia, where production has had to be increasingly diverted towards more essential goods. However, I have been able to purchase one or two things which will be mementoes of my visit here. It may be of interest, just while on the subject of shopping, to say that workers employed in Australian shops have not worked after lunch-time Saturdays for many years and a war-time reform which I think will be carried into peace has been that shops have been closed at 5 or 6 o'clock every night, where formerly in most States they were open every Friday night.

Before returning to Australia, I am looking forward to visiting New York and some of the other great cities and, perhaps, some of the smaller ones too. When I have done that, I hope that I will have learned much of value to my countrywomen and myself.

Washington, April 26th, 1944