4th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.
Mr. McWILLIAMS presented a petition from Seventh Day Adventists in Tasmania, praying the House npt to provide in the Electoral Bill for the holding’ of elections on Saturdays.
Mr. SINCLAIR presented a petition from certain arrowroot growers in Queensland, praying for an import duty of 2d. per lb. on arrowroot.
Petitions received and read.
– Has the Minister of Ex ternal “ Affairs read an article on New Guinea, appearing in this morning’s Age? If. not, will he read it, and give the House any information he may have respecting the subject with which it deals?
– I have not read the article.
– I wish to ask a question based on the following statement in this morning’s Age: -
The position was discussed by the Federal Labour caucus yesterday. Strong feeling waa expressed, and it was seen that the general desire was that the College should be at Jervis Bay, in the Capital Territory. Labour members have shown by their speeches on the Estimates that they wish the Territory to contain the Fede ral factories, schools, and central defence institutions. It was pointed out to them that the factories must be near the centre of the distribution of the raw material, but on the point that the Naval College should be at Jervis Bay, whether the Sydney contribution came to hand or not, the feeling was overwhelming.
I ask if the facts are ais stated, and if the Cabinet has come to a decision respecting the site of the Naval College ? If the College is to be in Federal Territory, will all clothing and other factories under Commonwealth control also be put in the Territory ?
– I am not responsible for what appears in the daily newspapers.
– I ant aware that the Minister is not responsible for what appears in the newspapers, but he has. not replied to my question. I asked if the newspaper statements were true, and if the same rule is to be applied to all Commonwealth institutions. It is not right that honorable members should be treated discourteously. The Minister should either reply to the question, or say that he is unwilling to do so.
– The practice of asking questions founded on newspaper statements, although it has existed in this Parliament almost from the beginning is steadily growing, andI desire to point but that it is not in keeping with the practice qf other Legislatures, or desirable here. While giving everylatitude to honorable members in. seeking to. obtain information regarding the businessof the House,I would point out that Ministers are within their rights in protecting themselves from such questions as I have referred tb; if they donot wish to answer then they are not bound to do so.
– Then, without reference to any newspaper statement, Iask whether it is the intention of the Government to locate the Commonwealth clothing, cordite, harness, and other factories and institutions in the Federal Territory?
– I have not beardof any such intention.
– The Prime Minister promised that the acceptance of a site at Port Hacking for the Naval College would not take place until honorable members had had a further opportunity to consider the matter. As it appears to be the desire of certain representatives that the institution should be located. in the Federal Territory, I ask whether the clothing, cordite, harness, and small arms factories will also be put there, ‘ so that there may be no suspicion of provincial jealousy?
– I understand that the honorable member wishes to know whether all Commonwealth factories and institutions will be removed to the Federal Territory.
– Are they to be all in the same category, or is the one institution which his advisers wish to place near Sydney to be singled out as an exception?
– There is to be no singling out. What is done will be done in the interests of the Commonwealth.
– Will the Prime Minister say on Tuesday next where the Naval College, and the clothing, harness, and cordite factories will be located?
– The honorable member may obtain from the Minister of Defence information regarding the clothing and harness factories. As to the Naval College, I stated the day before yesterday that its location would be decided later by the House.
– Will the right honorable gentleman say whether the question is to be made a party one, all Government supporters voting together, or are honorable members to be free to vote in accordance with their individual opinions ? I . ask the question because it is rumoured in the press that the caucus is considering the matter.
– I have nothing to add to what I have already said. The honorable member’s question is intended offensively.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether, at this late date of the session, with the amount of business to be transacted, he cannot say without delay if the most important and vital question of rectifying anomalies in the Tariff, which is likely to occupy the attention of Parliament for some considerable time, is to be dealt with during tikis session; or is the rumour true that until the referendum is again submitted to the electors this matter will not be entered upon?
– I am unable to add any information to that already furnished to the honorable member in reply to his question of yesterday. It is not true that the rectification of anomalies must await the result of a referendum- submitted to the electors.
Debate resumed from 9th November (vide page 2467), on motion by Mr. Webster -
That, in the best interest of the public and of the Commonwealth postal service, the report of the Royal Commission on Postal Services should (in a general sense) be adopted by this House.
– I am delighted to have this opportunity to congratulate the honorable member for Gwydir on the comprehensive exposition of postal administration to. which he treated the House last night. His speech meant the expenditure of considerable energy and intelligence, and he put before us a fund of information which would not have been available bad be not so studiously devoted himself to the task which he accepted on becoming a member of the Royal Commission, appointed at his instance, to investigate the affairs of theDepartment. The information contained in his speech will, I believe, enable me to administer the Department more capably than I could have done without it. He asks the House to adopt the recommendations of the Commission “in a genera] sense,” to which I take no serious objection, if a liberal interpretation is to be placed on those words. I desire to make it perfectly clear that the Government cannot, at the present time, at all events, approve of some of .the recommendations. The speech of the honorable member for Gwydir might fairly be ‘classed under the three heads of general management, finance, and control of the staff. From the first, in the history of all the States, so far as I know, and certainly in the history of the Commonwealth, Parliament has adopted a strong attitude in the maintenance of its right to have direct control of this great public utility. Parliament assumes the responsibility of refusing to follow the example set in the control of the State railways by Commissioners, and has decided to keep the power in its own hands, so far as policy is concerned, delegating the control pf the staff to a Public Service Commissioner. The Post Office, in my opinion, is one of the greatest means for the advancement of settlement, providing, as it does, or should, reasonable facilities for communication to all sections of the community in every part of the Commonwealth. It is recognised by the Government that even if the Department is not a paying proposition, we ought not to seriously worry, so long as these facilities are given to outside residents in order to make their isolated life more attractive ; and, with that end in view, the Government are prepared to accept the responsibility of meeting a deficit. A portion of the recommendations of the Commission is based on the idea that the Post Office ought to be self-supporting. While I am not prepared to deliberately say that the users of the Post Office should not pay reasonably for the facilities they enjoy, it would, in my humble judgment, be a retrogressive step to make it a condition precedent that the facilities afforded must, each one and all, pay.
– No one suggests such a thing !
– I do not mean that it is suggested that every individual service must, of necessity, pay, but rather that the telegraphic, the telephonic, and the postal branches should each in themselves pay ; and I say that that is a policy for which the Government cannot assume responsibility at the present time. I have tried to understand from the Commission’s report what is proposed in this Board of Management. I listened very closely to the honorable member for Gwydir last night in order to see whether it was the intention of the Commission that the Board of Management was to be placed in a similar position to that of the State Railways Commissioners .
– If would be foolish to enter into details like that.
– I mean the detailed powers of the Commissioners.
– The Government want the whole alphabet 1
– The Postal Commission set out the duties to be delegated to the general manager, the postal director, and the telephone and telegraph director. The first is suggested as the chairman of the Board, to be immediately responsible for finance and general administration ; the second is to be responsible for the management and general supervision of the mail services ; and the third for construction and maintenance. There we have a certain amount of detail; but I desire to know what the Commissioners had in their minds as to the extent of the delegated powers.
– I cannot answer that.
– In the absence of the information I can only make the statement I am now making of the Government policy. The Government are not prepared to accept the condition of things such as prevails in the case of the State railways, in regard to which the Railways Commissioners, in regard to control, practically become independent of Parliament.
– That is not so in the case of the Board of Management.
– But was that what the Postal Commission had in their minds?
– It is impossible to say that the Railways Commissioners are independent of Parliament in the long run.
– Quite so, because the Parliament which has the right to bestow power on the -Commissioners has also the right to take away that power. In this particular instance, however, I desire to know whether that was the idea the Postal Commission had ; and I am justified in asking the question in view of the recommendation that the Post and Telegraph Department should be self-supporting. If a general instruction be given to a Board of Management or a Board of Commissioners that the service shall be made to pay, it must, in my opinion, seriously retard the extension of postal facilities throughout the tremendous area under our. control.
– That is not so.
– I notice that recommendation 136 is to the effect that while the Commissioners are of opinion that the postal rate shall be made uniform at id. per half-ounce, it is not suggested that this shall be adopted until the telegraph and telephone services are placed on a selfsupporting basis. What does that mean, except that the service is expected to pay? With a recommendation of that nature, and in the absence of details as to the suggested powers of the Board of Management, the Government are not prepared to accept the responsibility of taking the direct power from Parliament and handing it over to Commissioners ;
– Does the honorable member say that that recommendation is not intelligible?
– Not at all.
– Then what is the trouble ?
– There is no trouble; I think the position is absolutely clear. The Postal Commission intend that the service shall be put on a self-supporting basis, under the control of a Board of Management or Commissioners, and that is a proposition which the Government believe would retard the development of postal facilities throughout the Commonwealth.
– The question is one for Parliament to decide.
– The Government do not propose to alter the present policy in that regard ?
– We do not- at all events, not to the extent of adopting the recommendation for the appointment of a Board of Management or Commissioners.
– It is not proposed to have a Board of any kind?
– The Government propose to go muddling along !
– I hope not. As I have already said, the honorable member for Gwydir ought to be well pleased with the result of the recommendations made by this Postal Commission, seeing that about 100 are already in operation or in process of being put into operation.
– Have the Government any alternative proposal to make as to the management of the Post Office?
– The Government are seriously considering the whole of the information gathered as the result of the exhaustive investigations of the Postal Commission,and, in any case where it is believed to be in the public interests, the recommendations made will be adopted immediately. I give the honorable member for Gwydir the fullest credit inconnexion- with the presentation of the report of the Commission, and I may say thatI gave him my energetic and generous assistance when he was endeavouring to get that Commission appointed.”
– God save us from our friends!
– But look at thedifference inthe positions to-day!
Mr.FRAZER-i am afraid that’ the honorable memberforGwydir would have found some difficulty in getting a Royal Commission appointed but for the support of myself and others. The recommendation of the Postal Commission that the Estimates of the Postmaster-General shall not be subject to review or alteration by the Treasurer is one which, with my limited knowledge of government, I believe would not work.
– Is there any precedent for it?
– I do not think that there is; and the day that the Treasurer hands over to any Department the responsibility he has accepted as custodian of the public funds will be a bad day for the people of this country - there can be only one Treasurer. Chiefly, I think, on representations made by my predecessor, the Treasurer has this year provided a sum of £600,000 over and above the specific vote on the Estimates with a view to placing the Department in such a state of efficiency as to afford reasonable service to the public. It is, as I know, the policy of the Treasurer, in the event of this Government continuing in power, to increase the vote if necessary, and extend it over a series of years in order to attain the desired end. The fact, as pointed out last night by the honorable member for Gwydir, that the postal service has been starved for years has undoubtedly brought us into a position where a much larger expenditure will be necessary for a limited period.
– That is due to the Treasury control !
– The honorable member ought to know that only one person can be responsible for the public funds.
– The Parliament is responsible.
– Parliament accepts the advice tendered by Ministers, or changes its advisers. Let us suppose that we had a Postmaster-General who declared that he required £20,000,000. What would Parliament do ?
– It would doubtless be possible with some Postmasters-Generalto make such a ridiculous request !
– I believe it would With my limited experience I have never yet known of any Treasurer, State or Commonwealth, who has not had to curtailthe proposals of his colleagues in order to make the revenue meet the expenditure
– Would the Government do the same in the case of a Board of Commissioners? If the Commissioners asked for £20,000,000, would the Government offer £5,000,000?
– The Treasurer would probably be compelled to do so if we are to have parliamentary control over the expenditure. I believe that this proposition is now met half-way by the provision of £600,000, which is included in this year’s Estimates, and will also be provided for in the Estimates for the succeeding year if the necessities of the service still demand it. There is only one other aspect of this question with which I am going to deal, and it relates to the matter of the Staff. The experience of the people of Australia, in my humble judgment, is that a control of the service that is independent and entirely free from political influence is the most effective which we know at present. I do not say that it is perfect; I believe that there are a number of difficulties with regard to the control of the Public Service of Australia by a Commissioner at the present time, but such a system is infinitely better than would be a return to the bad condition of affairs that existed many years ago, when parliamentary influence prevailed.
– No one dissents from that view.
– The honorable member for Gwydir appeared last night to entertain very strong objections, certainly in regard to the present Public Service Commissioner. I have had but a limited experience in this connexion, but it has satisfied me that the two officers most frequently mentioned last night by the honorable member - Mr. McLachlan, the Public Service Commissioner, and Mr. McKay, the Land Tax Commissioner, are particularly able men.
– I admit that they are.
– Several cases were cited last night by the honorable member for Gwydir with regard to the position of the staff, and I think it only fair that I should present the case for the Government, as showing what has actually been done. I have selected, haphazard, the cases of the telegraphists and the sorters, which were given special prominence by the honorable member, and I’ intend to show what was their position at the inception of Federation as compared with their position to-day:
– The honorable member is following the lines laid down by the Commissioner.
– -I am not following lines laid down by any one ; I propose simply to .make a statement of fact, and I have before me official returns to enable me to do so. I propose, in the first place, to deal with the remuneration of the sorters. In New South Wales the Commonwealth minimum is .£144 per annum, as against £65 per annum when the Department was taken over. It is noteworthy that in that State 126 sorters were in receipt of a lower wage than the minimum paid to these officers under the Commonwealth control. The average salary there in 1901 was £132, whilst in 191 1 it is £162 per annum.
– Are not those averagesmisleading ?
– I think not; they are worked out with absolute accuracy.
– Is the honorable member quoting from a printed document?
– Yes. It is available to honorable members. I do not know whether or not it has been laid on the table of the House, but the honorable member., can have my copy as soon as I have finished, with it.
– Could not the honor, able gentleman halve the averages, and give us the top and bottom rates?
– I shall be pleased to hand over this document to the honorable, member, and he may then dissect it as he pleases. In Queensland, the average, salary of the sorters in 1901 was £143, whereas in 191 1 it is £162 per annum, and the increased cost as compared with the State rates for an equal number of officers is £1,786.
– Can the Minister give us the minimum and the maximum rates instead of the average rates?
– Yes. South Australia is the next State to which I am about to refer, and I will give * the honorable member the information for which he asks. In 1901 there was one sorter receiving £50, four receiving £70, two receiving £80, four receiving £90, six at ,£100, six at, ,£105, one at .£110, one at ,£115, six at .£120, two at £130, four at £140/ one at £145, and twenty-one at .£150. In 191 1, however, we have thirteen at £144, and not one is receiving less than j£i44 per annum.
– That shows an improvement.
– We know all this.
– The honorable member asks for facts, and when he gets them, apparently, he does not want them.
– They are ancient.
– Ancient or not ancient they are actual facts. In South Australia, under the State regime, there were about thirty officers receiving less than , £120, whereas in 191 1 not one is in receipt of less than £144 per annum. I come now to the position of the sorters in Tasmania. In 1 90 1 there was one receiving £70 per annum, one at £90, two at £100, one at £115, one at £120, two at £125, three at . £126, and two at £135. To-day there is one at £144, and not one of these officers is receiving less than . £144 per annum in Tasmania.
– Will the Minister give us the minimum in New South Wales at the inception of Federation, and the present minimum ?
– In New South Wales, in 1 90 1, there were three of these officers receiving £65, fifteen receiving £78, one at £86, seven at £90, five at £91, one at £94, one at £98, eleven at £100, twenty-four at £110, two at £115, one at , £119, twelve at , £120, one at £125, eighteen at £130, and twenty-four at £140 per annum. At the present time not one of these officers in New South Wales is receiving under , £144 per annum. It is well that we should remember, in dealing with the advances that have been made since the inception of Federation, that our public servants, and more particularly the lower-grade officers, have been receiving well-deserved attention, and that we have secured to them the payment of something like a reasonable living wage. Neither should it be forgotten that they receive three weeks’ leave of absence on full pay every year, and that they are allowed all statutory and proclaimed holidays on full pay.
– No, they do not.
– They get a day off in lieu thereof.
– Quite so. They are also paid for their sick leave. When they have to work on statutory or proclaimed holidays, they may add the days off granted in lieu thereof to their annual leave, and thus secure if thev like, perhaps a month’s leave a year. Investigation shows that, on the basis of six days work a week there is an average of nearly forty days a year on which the employes through the whole service do not work, but in respect of which they receive full pay. In that calculation we take into account their annual leave, their payment for holidays, and also their sick leave. I come now to the position of the telegraphists. I had recently to deal with a difficulty relating to these officers in New South Wales, and I find that in that State the staff on the morning shift are on duty6½ hours per day, whilst those on the afternoon shift are on duty 5¼ hours per day.
– This is a bit of an eyeopener!
– But the work cf telegraphists is very arduous.
– So is pick and shovel work.
– It is just as well that the House should have presented to it some facts showing exactly how we stand in relation to these matters. A shift goes on duty at 8.30 a.m., and works until about 3 p.m. Another shift then comes on, and has been in the habit of remaining on duty, until a given time. They do not always leave the office at the same hour. By way of illustration I have selected the times worked by these officers on four different days in August and September, September, according to the records, being one of the businest months of the year. The calculation is based on actual facts, and if there is any variation at all, it is in the interests of the men.
– Does the honorable member propose to lengthen their hours?
– I do not. I have adjusted certain matters in relation to the staff in Sydney, so that telegrams will not be delayed for two and a-half hours after being handed in for transmission, I found that, at certain stages, men were walking about for two hours doing nothing, and I certainly intend to look into that matter.
– What is the Public Service Inspector doing?
– He has his hands full. I have selected four days, namely, 2nd August, 14th August, 4th September, and 13th September, in order to give the House an idea of the time at which the men on the afternoon shift finish work. We have taken a series of lines, and we find that these men who go on duty at 3 o’clock have their lines cleared as follows: - Maitland (quad.) line - Cleared at 7 p.m. on 2nd August, 8.20 p.m. on 14th August, 10.36 p.m. on the 4th September, and 7 p.m. on the 13th September. Bathurst line - Line cleared at 8.11; p.m. on 2nd August, which gave a working time of five hours and fifteen minutes; at n.45 p.m. on the 14th August - that was a late night, the line probably being out of order - and 7.37 p.m. on 4th September and 8.15 p.m. on 13th September. Then, again, the Goulburn (quad.) line was cleared at 6.21 p.m. on the 2nd August, which means that the man worked three hours and twenty-one minutes ; at 7.14 p.m. on the 14th August, giving a working time of four hours and fourteen minutes; and 8.50 p.m. on 4th September, which works out at five horns fifty minutes; and at 7.36 p.m. on 33th September, or a working time of four hours thirty-six minutes These were picked out as lines doing as much as, if not more than, the ordinary business of the Sydney office.
– Have you any figures in regard to Glen Innes?
– I have the case of Armidale, which is a long-distance line, and should cover what the honorable member asks for. On the Armidale line the man was finished on 2nd August at 6.45 p.m., having worked three and threequarter hours. On 14th August he finished at 8.15 p.m., on 4th September at 7.50 p.m., and on 13th September the line was clear at 6.17 p.m.
– I have had a case with regard to Glen Innes before the PostmasterGeneral for over a month.
– There is a roster of duty for late work, and it must be remembered that if there is a storm or other unforseen occurrence the men have to do a little extra time, but I am giving the facts in connexion with these officers to show that they are not worked exceptionally long hours.
– Can the honorable member give the number of messages each of them sent during the time?
– I happen to have with me a return in that regard, because the Sydney office business brought it up. It gives the average number of messages and words which a telegraphist in the Sydnev office receives and despatches per shift under the present arrangement. The average number of messages despatched and received per shift by one telegraphist is 186, and the average number of words is 4,323. That is based on the business of 23rd
October, 1911, over two Melbourne trunk duplex lines, two country quadruplex, two country Morse, and two suburban lines. Again, therefore, in three cases, the figures are given as relating to the heavy lines of the State.
– What does the honorable member mean by Morse?
– The honorable member knows the Morse system.
– A Morse line is not a heavy line; it is a mere simplex line.
– Is it a light line?
– It may be a light or a heavy line to work.
– What is considered a fair number of words for a man to send?
– Those figures average out at twelve words per minute.
– Average, yes !
– How are we to get at the matter if we do not average ? The honorable member objects to a statement that one man works only three hours fifteen minutes, and that another works five hours forty minutes. I tried to take the worst and the best, and to give the men, if anything, the best of the position in the instructions I gave for the preparation of these details, and then, when I give the average, the honorable member also objects. A man has to pass a test of ability to do twenty-five words per minute before he can qualify to become a junior telegraphist, and yet I have shown that the average of the work done in the Sydney office for five and a quarter hours in the evening shift, and six and a half hours in the morning shift, is only twelve words per minute.
– There are slack periods.
– Of course there are.
– What is the honorable member doing about broken shifts in the Sydney office?
– I have introduced a system which is called broken shifts in the Sydney office in order to get over the telegraphic difficulty which I indicated just now. By this system thirty-six men out of a staff of about 220 will be required to work for one week per month a broken shift, consisting of coming: on at 9.1s in the morning, working till 12.30 p.m. going off until 3 p.m., and finishing at 6.15 p.m.
– Are there not some exceptions where men work right through ?
– Only thirty-six out of the 220 men will be asked to do that broken shift in any one week, if it works satisfactorily - and it is still only on trial. Personally, I do not like broken shifts. I would sooner a man could go straight on and finish his job; but the interests of the public doing business with the Sydney office have compelled me to take this step. The men themselves, in their evidence, admitted that a re-arrangement of the staff was absolutely necessary to cope with the business of the office.
– Is it not a fact that already in country offices the men have to work broken shifts?
– I think it is. I intend to deal only with one other aspect of the business, and that is the financial obligation that has been accepted by the Government in connexion with it. I have already quoted the improvement that has been made in the condition of the service, and I hope that it will go on. I hope that we shall get a service in which every man will receive pay commensurate with the labour he is doing for the public.
– Have you any information about the letter-carriers?
– I have not. I have here a statement making a comparison between the recommendations in regard to the staff submitted by the honorable mem:ber for Gwydir and those submitted by the Public Service Commissioner; but I have already occupied more time than I intended to, and shall content myself by making to the House the definite statement that, as the result of the improvement that has been effected in the conditions of the service during the time this Government has been in office, we are incurring a permanent additional annual expenditure of £202,000.
– Is that justified?
– I believe it is.
– Is that as compared with previous rates?
– As compared with the conditions that the present Government found when they took office. This improvement, including the classification and the more rapid promotion that will be available in certain branches of the service, will ultimately lead to the Commonwealth having a permanent additional annual obligation of nearly £250,000.
– Is that for salaries alone?
– Yes. I believe in those circumstances that we have done a fair thing, and that the officers have had very considerate treatment. The Government are prepared to accept the motion, interpreting its meaning in a general sense in the way I have indicated.
– Accept it?
– With the interpretation I am placing upon it, yes. But we do not propose to accept the recommendation for the appointment of a Board of Management. Further, the recommendations with regard to finance cannot be agreed to. With regard to the staff, we intend to retain the system of control by Commissioner. The staff have now had a fair opportunity of dealing with Parlia-ment, but apparently there is still discontent in some branches of the service, and the Government propose to give the staff the opportunity cf going to the Judge of the Arbitration Court and getting his decision.
– That is the biggest mistake of the lot.
– I do not think it is. Parliament is a deliberative body, and is not, and never will be, capable of expressing an: intelligent opinion as to individual interests. It is not an investigating tribunal. In our deliberative capacity we have appointed an Arbitration Court to investigate claims, and an opportunity will be open to the public servants’ to get their cases investigated by that tribunal. They will approach the Court through their unions.
– They will not be compelled to do so.
– There is nothing to compel them to go to the Court.
– The telegraphists will not go to the Court ; they have too soft a thing on !
– I think we should be guided by experience. I have indicated the general policy df the Government in regard to the motion.
. -The honorable member for Gwydir, in his very lengthy and elaborate speech last evening, invited the attention of the House to a large number of subjects, and asked it to agree to a comprehensive motion, practically approving of the bulk, if not the whole, of the recommendations of the Postal Commission. The honorable member has chosen a very inconvenient method of submitting the question of postal reform and reorganization to the House.
Some of the hundred odd recommendations embodied in the report relate to pure matters of business detail and administration, whilst others go to the very root of postal policy and reform. Some of them may be carried out by the mandate of the Minister ; others will require to be dealt with by legislation. Probably, the majority of the House would be willing to acquiesce in the bulk of them.
– We have adopted over 100 out of 175.
– In fact, the honorable member for Gwydir told us that 108 had been already adopted. I am disposed to assume and maintain a sympathetic attitude towards the bulk of those which have not yet been adopted, but there are certain other proposals of an organic or basic character, with which the House is entitled to have the opportunity of dealing separately, dissociated altogether from matters of detail and business administration in which we all concur. I contend that it is impossible for the House to adopt this motion in the wholesale form in which it has been submitted. I wish first to take the opportunity of expressing my personal sympathy with the honorable member for Gwydir in the narration of his trials and tribulations as a member of the Royal Commission. I had ‘the misfortune to experience similar trials and tribulations as a member of another Commission, but I think I can say that 1 endured them in silence. The honorable member would claim that the Postal Commission was the most colossal and important ever appointed. I have no objection to him blowing his trumpet as loudly as he can, but on behalf of the Tariff Commission I would point out that the Postal Commission held only 228 sittings, and the TarifF Commission 404 ; that although the Postal Commission examined only 190 witnesses, the Tariff Commission examined 618 ; that although the Postal Commission asked only 49,000 questions, the Tariff Commission asked 100,000 ; and while the Postal Commission submitted one moderately-sized report, the Tariff Commission submitted fifty-three substantial and bulky reports. In my opinion, the Postal Commission made a mistake in not submitting progress reports, as the Tariff Commission did, to enable the Government of the day to institute reforms, and to take legislative action if necessary. The Postal Commission delayed its recommendations. During nearly three years no report was issued. When I was Postmaster-General,
I invited the Chairman of the Commission to submit progress reports for the information and guidance of the Department, so that we might consider recommendations,and, if necessary, give effect to them at once. Had the members of the Commission been desirous to expedite the redress of grievances, and the introduction of reforms, they would have submitted progress reports dealing with urgent matters. I promised the chairman that if that were done the Government would give the recommendations favorable consideration.
– I repeatedly explained, to the honorable gentleman that it could not be done.
– Yes, but I took x different view. To some extent the Department was hampered by the investigations of the Commission, it being felt that large changes could not be inaugurated while the Commission was taking evidence. As a matter of fact, when the Department made a change, the Commission complained that its reforms were being anticipated.
– That is not true. I challenge the honorable gentleman to prove his statement.
– I read the complaint in. some of the newspapers.
– It was made repeatedly.
– The Public Service Commissioner, in his report laid before Parliament on 15th September last,’ says that the appointment of the Commission was a signal for holding in abeyance all changes except those of a manifestlyurgent nature. The honorable member for Gwydir had no reason for complaining of the manner in which the work of the Commission has been received, either by the Department concerned, or by the public. Heought not to complain that many of the Commission’s recommendations were anticipated.
– I have never complained.
– The honorable member seems to think that his work has not received sufficient recognition. That, of course, is a personal matter. A Royal Commission should not be too exacting in demands of that nature. Probably the members of neither the Postal nor the Tariff Commission will receive a full recognition of their labours. A Government must always deal with the report of a Commission as it thinks right, and cannot be expected’ to proclaim from the housetops that this or that reform is pursuant to its recommendations. No doubt the evidence taken by the Postal Commission concentrated public attention on the work of the Postal Department, and the need for reform. The Department, as it existed in 1908, was the result of seven years’ development under Federation. Its first Commonwealth administrators had to deal with the great problem of federalizing the six separate State Departments, which had hitherto transacted business under different laws, rules, practices, and standards. The Commonwealth administration had to preserve the rights and privileges of the officers transferred from State to Commonwealth control, and for s Fong time was greatly hampered by having to preserve the State methods and practices, because to have suddenly changed them would have created confusion, and interfered with vested rights and interests.
– The administration hampered itself by unnecessarily concentrating everything in Melbourne.
– The Act of 1901 recognised the true Federal principle, creating a central administrative body presided over by the Minister. The centralized administration is primarily vested in the Secretary to the Department, but the Secretary is under the Minister, who represents Parliament. There is a dual control, Ministerial and official, a compromise between exclusive political control and exclusive departmental control. It was only by diplomacy and statesmanship that conflict was avoided at first between the statutory rights of the Secretary and the political rights of the Minister. When the Postal Commission was appointed, however, there were many complaints, one group relating to the grievances of the officers of the Department in respect to wages and hours and conditions of labour, and the other relating to- the dissatisfaction of the public, which was demanding improved facilities, in accordance with scientific advancement, and the increase of business. The object of Parliament in asking for the appointment of a Commission was to secure an investigation which would enable the grievances of officials to be redressed, and the service to be put on a proper footing. So far as T can gather, the Royal Commission principally devoted itself to official complaints, rather than to questions of great public policy, calculated to improve the administrative working of the Department.
– What about the inquiry into the telegraphic and telephonic administration ?
– The evidence taken by the Commission dealt more with personal grievances and complaints.
– That is not true.
– I think the bulk of the evidence goes to sustain my proposition. I am not “saying that such evidence was not justifiable.
– All the same, I say that the statement is not true.
– That is my opinion, at any rate. If the evidence is analyzed it will prove that the bulk has reference to personal grievances rather than to great public principles.
– It deals with general, and not personal, grievances.
– In fact, we have elaborate statements relating to grievances of persons or classes in the Department, which can hardly be dealt with by Parliament, without taking evidence at the Bar in order to afford information to honorable members on the merits of the cases. I apprehend that the true function of a Royal Commission is rather to deal with great questions of policy, capable of being dealt with by legislation - capable of being discussed in the form of definite propositions. In regard to the personal grievances of officials, we have the assurance of the Public Service Commissioner that, at the time of the appointment of the Commission, these were under consideration, and that, even if the Commission had not been appointed, it is possible that many of the suggested improvements in the position of the workers would have been made. The Public Service Commissioner, on page 10 of his report, says -
While much of the evidence was far from convincing, there was a general recognition of the fact that some action was desirable, in view of the upward tendency of rates of payment in outside occupations, combined with increased cost of living, to review the conditions of remuneration. For a considerable time prior to the close of the Royal Commission’s investigation, this matter had engaged the attention of the Public Service Commissioner, and the decision of Arbitration Courts and Wages Boards had been carefully considered in their comparative relation to service conditions. Immediately upon the issue of the Royal Commission’s report recommenda-tions were submitted by the Commissioner to the Government, with a view of placing the General Division upon an improved footing as regards rates of pay, and these proposals received the concurrence of the Government, and were passed into law by amended regulation.
I see no reason to doubt that the Public Service Commissioner, acting within his statutory rights and duties, would, in the ordinary course of events, have given fair and reasonable consideration to any and all of the voluminous suggestions submitted, even without the necessity of the honorable member for Gwydir and his fellow Commissioners undergoing the martyrdom of an investigation extending over two years and a half. The Public Service Commissioner was endowed by Parliament with the absolute and independent power of dealing with wages and other employment questions ; and we may assume that Mr. McLachlan, a high-class officer, appointed by Parliament, is one of the very best men available in Australia. He is independent of Parliament and of party, and was placed in his position to do justice to the service, on the one hand, and justice to the public, on the other hand. He is in a position where he has probably superior opportunities for considering the merits of each particular case - of considering the rights of public servants generally - and he has a free hand to submit recommendations with the object of redressing grievances and rectifying anomalies. Therefore, it is to be regretted, I think, that the honorable member for Gwydir, last night, in his lengthy speech, should go out of his way to deliberately attack the honour and fairness of the Public Service Commissioner. The honorable member seemed to have a vindictive delight in drawing attention to certain points and circumstances; in fact, he said, “ I am going to show you what type of man this Public Service Commissioner is.” I submit very strongly that there is no justification for attacking the’ honour, capacity, or fairness of the Public Service Commissioner, who, appointed in 1901 or 1902, when the Public Service Act was passed, for a period of seven years, was, at the expiration of the first term, reappointed to his position by the first Fisher Ministry, with an increase of salary from .£1,200 _ to £1,500 a year. This shows that at that time Mr. McLachlan possessed the confidence of the party with which the honorable member for Gwydir is associated ; and I have no hesitation in saying that the Public Service Commissioner possesses the confidence of both Houses of Parliament. He is placed in a position to do justice to both the public and the service.
– Scarcely that, because he is under an antiquated Public Service Act, which hampers him.
– If the Public Service Commissioner desires an amendment in the Act, it is always open to him to make a suggestion to the Government of the day. When the Government of which I was a member was in office in 1909, the Public Service Commissioner recommended an amendment to make provision for what is called a long-service increment. The recommendation of the Commissioner, which was introduced and passed into law, was to the effect that where an officer has been for three years in receipt of £160, he may, on the certificate of the Commissioner, be granted a long-service increment of £10, and, at the end of two years, a further increment of a similar amount. Then, again, a recommendation of the Public Service Commissioner in regard to fifth class officers was also carried into law ; and all this shows that he not only has the power, but the duty, to recommend reforms. He has a free hand; but he points out that, while the Royal Commission was sitting, he to some extent felt hampered in suggesting any general scheme which he might have felt inclined to support. He recognises that, in view of the general increase in salaries in private employment, there ought to be a corresponding increase in the Public Service. Such amelioration, however, cannot be introduced by leaps and bounds, but must be gradual, otherwise public dissatisfaction may be created. If the remuneration of public servants exceeds the general standard, there will be complaint from those not within the Public Service, and, probably, charges will be made of overpayment. I make these remarks in defence of the Public Service Commissioner against the attacks of the honorable member for Gwydir, who practically accuses the Commissioner of not moving fast enough in recognising the rights of the public servants. In my opinion, however, the Public Service Commissioner has displayed a sympathetic attitude. Certainly he has not been in advance of the time, of public opinion, or of the demands of Parliament ; but he has been sympathetic and responsive, and has shown a desire to develop by what he called an evolutionary process, the Public Service, and thus place and keep it on a first-class footing. I believe that, on the whole, the Public Service Commissioner has been a friend to the public servants throughout’ the Commonwealth, and that he is a man entitled to the confidence of the Parliament which he has hitherto enjoyed. The honorable member for Gwydir, in his attacks on the Public Service Commissioner, submits an alternative proposal which, I understand, is to transfer the power now vested in the Commissioner in regard to wages and employment questions to a Board of three members. If that proposal be carried out it will merely mean the change of power from one man to three men ; we shall still have to vest the power in some official or group of officials. It is not proposed, so far as I can gather, to give the power of final determination to the Minister ; and of that I am glad.
– We are not sure that that is not the idea.
– So far as I can see, the honorable member for Gwydir wishes to transfer thepower of the Public Service Commissioner to a Board of staff officers.
– But is the Minister to have the final responsibility?
– I am not sure; but, so far as I can gather, the position is as I have stated.
– The Government propose to transfer the power to another authority now.
– The trouble is that nobody seems to know what is the power of the present Public Service Commissioner ; it is exercised one way in one State, and another way in another State.
– That is not so.
– I understand that the powers of the Commissioner in regard to wages and employment are clearly defined by law. Parliament alone can reverse the decision of the Commissioner on such questions. The Minister may introduce amendments in the Public Service Act, or refuse to” introduce regulations making alterations or granting concessions to the Public Service - his is the power of veto, but the power of initiative is with the Public Service Commissioner.
– But the Government propose to hand over the ultimate power to the Arbitration Court
– That is introducing a new branch of the question which I do not desire to discuss: What I am concerned with at present is the position of theCommissioner: I wish to show that even the reform proposed by the honorable member for Gwydir would not take away from some non-political agent the power of dealing with these matters, and I do not think any responsible politician in this country would be prepared, at the present stage in our political history, to suggest that political patronage and the determination of the whole of the rates of pay should be vested in any Minister.
– No one suggests such a thing.
– Somepeople do.
– Then, if we are agreed as to the desirableness of a nonpolitical system of management, why this attack upon a non-political officer by the honorable member for Gwydir? The Public Service Commissioner has been doing his duty to the very best of his ability. The officer at the head of the service, whether he be termed a manager or a director of the Public Service - and even a Board of postal managers - would have to be intrusted with some discretion. Every such officer must be allowed to exercise his judgment to a considerable extent. It would be folly for a Minister to attempt to dictate to or to thrust upon the Commissioner or a Board of Commissioners, his own opinions with reference to all these details of employment.
– Does the Commissioner take any responsibility for the successful working of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department?
– That is an entirely different point. I am prepared to admit that certain alterations of detail in the system of management might be made, increasing the power of the Postal Department to control its own affairs. But just now I am dealing with the staff with a view of showing that the Commissioner has done his best according to his judgment.
– He has done most excellent work.
– At present, however, the Postal Department is undera dual control.
– I am prepared to admit that some improvement might be made in ‘the present method of managing the Department; but I am now dealing only with the Commissioner and the exercise of his statutory rights, with a view of showing that he is not deserving of the attack made upon him by the honorable member for Gwydir. I have cited an Act passed while we were in office improving the condition of the fifth-class officers by making provision for long-service increments on the recommendation of the Commissioner. Honorable members are, no doubt, inclined to take a very sympathetic view of the grievances of public officers. We are only human, and every member of Parliament, I believe, would be inclined to make concessions, and to grant increases of pay or improved conditions of labour to public officers if he could justly do so. But we have a trust imposed upon us, and we are to do what we consider to be fair. The Commissioner, having, as he has, an opportunity to investigate all the minute details of the work done by officers or groups of officers, is in a better position than is any member of Parliament to arrive at a fair decision as to the value of the work done, the apportionment of the work, and the payment made for it.
– Then why the continual alterations that are going on in the service ? ‘ .
– The service naturally responds to improving conditions. It must not be cast-iron; it must not go too far ahead nor lag too far behind. An officer shows that he is a good man when, either as a member of a Board of Management or as Public Service Commissioner, he is able to read the signs of the times, and is alive to the necessities of the hour. What might be a reasonable rate of pay in 1901 would not necessarily be a fair rate in 1908. We must trust the man. If we cannot, the system itself cannot be trusted. Every system of government depends upon human judgment ‘ and human discretion, and as long as we have a good man at the head of affairs we ought to make allowance for any errors of judgment which that good man may commit in the exercise of his statutory powers. I strongly object to the practice of “nagging “ at the Public Service Commissioner which seems to have grown up. The Public Service Commissioner is placed in his office to do his duty, and we ought not to lose sight of the fact that the taxpayers of this country are just as much interested in the Postmaster-General’s Department as are the members of the Public Service. It is our duty to insist upon a sound progressive policy in the administration of that Department. It ought to be both up-to-date and progressive. From knowledge which I acquired whilst 1 had the honour to occupy the position of PostmasterGeneral, as well as from knowledge gained by me as a member of this House, I have to say that about the time of the appointment of the Commission, the postal, telegraphic, and telephonic services were not in that up-to-date and progressive position which they ought to have occupied. I believe that in point of strength and in point of a works policy the whole of these three services were far behind the demands and requirements of the tunes. Generally speaking, when I went into office and endeavoured, as any Minister might reasonably have done, to investigate the causes of the so-called postal muddle - as it was then termed - I found, according to the information of the officers, that the trouble was caused, to a very large extent, first of all by shortage in staff, and, secondly, by shortage of funds.
– What did the honorable member do to remedy it ?
– In the first place, I submitted a scheme for increasing the staff by 1,500 hands. My colleagues concurred in that proposition, and provision was made in the Estimates of 1909-10 for the appointment of 1,500 additional hands in that branch of the service.
– What did the honorable member do about the cash?
– I convened a conference of professional advisers of the Department, including, the electrical engineers, and asked them to submit to me proposals showing the expenditure necessary, and what work ought to be done in order to place the telegraph and telephone services in a state of efficiency. That conference submitted to me a scheme showing the new works, extensions, improvements, and reconstruction work required. Their report showed that in order to place the telegraph and telephone services of the Commonwealth on a proper footing expenditure was necessary to the extent of £2,386,700. The conference also submitted a recommenda-tion for three years’ staff additions, involving an extra cost at the end of three years of £132,378. The details of the new works required were as follows: - Extensions, £1,362,620; reconstruction works, £465,432; maintenance and repairs, £558,649 ; additions to engineering staff - annual cost at the end of three years - £102,489 ; additions to telephone staff - annual cost at the end of three -years- £29,883. I found it would be impossible to carry out all these recommendations in the one year. It could not be expected that the Commonwealth would launch upon an expenditure of over £2,000,000 on public works and carry out those works in one year, nor could it be expected that the whole of the staff required would be appointed within that time. I therefore adopted a scheme to carry out these various work’s by instalments extending over three years. Of the recommendations to which I have referred, provision was made in the Estimates for 1909-10 as follows : - Telegraph and telephone extension and improvements, £564,042 ; maintenance and repairs, £134,373; additions to engineering staff, £57/130. Other staff additions were also to be made, totalling altogether 1,500 new appointments. I mention these facts and figures to show that in 1909, whilst the Commission was actually sitting - before it had sent in its recommendations, and, as a matter of fact, at a time when the Commission had refused to assist me by submitting progress reports - I, as the PostmasterGeneral of the day, with the concurrence and hearty assistance of the Secretary and the administrative officers of the Department, introduced this scheme providing for an increased staff and increased progressive expenditure. An instalment of that expenditure was actually provided for in the Estimates of 1909-10, which were submitted to the House by the then Treasurer, the right honorable member for Swan, who explained that we were entering upon a series of three years’ instalments of expenditure for the improvement of the Department.
– And that expenditure was required to bring the Department to a condition of efficiency?
– I was advised by the officers of the Department that an expenditure of £2,386,000 was necessary to place these various services in .a state of efficiency.
– They were overdue works.
– Overdue works that were required. Is it any wonder that there has been an outcry from the public on account of the inefficiency of the service, the defective old works, and the need for new works? I think it only right on behalf of the Department to make a statement showing that, in 1909, before the report of the Royal Commission had seen the light of- day, a policy of reform - a policy to improve the conditions of the Department - was inaugurated within the Depart ment itself upon the advice of its responsible officers, and with the conanrence of the Government of the day.
– Based upon the evidence taken by the Commission.
– Based upon the reports of the responsible officers submitted to the Postmaster-General. Those reports may now be found in the PostmasterGeneral’s office.
– How far had the Commission proceeded with its work when those recommendations were made?
– The Commission was appointed in 1908, and the reports were made in 1909. I asked the Commission for assistance and advice, but they were not ready to give it, and I therefore launched upon this scheme on my own account with the concurrence and assistance of the responsible officers of the day. From the inauguration of that policy of carrying out reforms by instalments, a great deal of the public dissatisfaction began to tone down and disappear, and as the result of two or three years of expenditure that has been going on since then, and which the present Postmaster-General is still carrying out, the service, particularly the telephone service, has been greatly improved. We do not see as many complaints in the press now, or hear as many on the floor of this House, as there were before the institution of this scheme. The honorable member for Gwydir last night took the opportunity of claiming all the credit for the Commission, and it is only a matter of fair play and justice that I should mention these facts, which I do not think I ever had the opportunity of mentioning on the floor of this House before, in order to show that the Postal Department commenced, as far back as 1909, the series of reforms which have had such good results, and which are now being completed by my successors. They were carried on by the honorable member for Barrier when he was in office, and are being continued by the honorable member for Kalgoorlie. I venture to say that all these works that have found their place in the Estimates prior to or since 1909 have been brought forward on the recommendations of the officers of the Department. They fully realized the necessities of the service, and informed me that in previous years the Department had unfortunately been hampered by want of funds. That was the excuse for this accumulation of ar-‘ rears of work. I am not here to criticise the attitude of any previous PostmasterGeneral who allowed his Department to -be hampered by want of funds. There may have been special circumstances in our Federal history which prevented the Department launching into greater expenditure in the first six or seven years, and which do not exist at the present time. From 1909, I think, the Department in the way of expenditure and improvement has been on the up-grade, and has been getting into smooth and still waters so far as concerns overtaking the requirements of the Public Service in reference to telegraphs and telephones. > There are a large number of recommendations in the Commission’s report which cannot be adequately or conveniently dealt with by the House in a motion like the present. The motion is altogether too comprehensive, and might, if carried, commit the House to proposals which upon later consideration may be found inadvisable and inconvenient. The importance of many of the recommendations has been unduly inflated by the representative of the Commission in this Chamber. Many of them relate to small matters of detail, such as account-keeping, balance-sheets, purchase of materials and suspense account, amalgamation of parcel and packet posts, payment of bulk postage by stamps, and so on. I venture to say that those matters of petty detail hardly required the time and expense of a Royal Commission. They are quite capable of being dean; with by anybody invested with the management of a great concern such as the Postal Department. A lot of these detailed business matters which have been so elaborately dealt with by the Commission were, I venture to say, under the consideration of the Department when the Commission was appointed, and were being gradually adopted, and would have been adopted in the ordinary life and experience of the Department without the necessity of a Royal Commission. I wish to make a few observations on the general question of the management and control of the Department, and to draw attention to certain points in respect of which it is quite possible that we ought to have some improvement, involving the necessity of an amendment of the Statute law. There can be no doubt that at the present time the Postal Department is under a divided control or management. It is not merely under a dual control, but under almost a quadruple con trol. Firstly, certain powers are vested in the Secretary and the Minister. Secondly, there are certain supervising or checking authorities vested in the Treasury. Thirdly, there is power vested in the Minister of Home Affairs to deal with public works; and, fourthly, there is the power vested in the Public Service Commissioner of dealing with appointments, promotions, transfers, and increments. I am prepared to express my concurrence in some of the observations of the Postal Commission to the effect that there ought to be a greater unity of organization, or a greater concentration of power of organization and control, in the Postal Department than there is at present. It was the opinion of Sir Robert Scott, the late Secretary of the Department, that the Department ought to have inherently within itself more centralization of control over management and policy than it has had hitherto, and that there should be a judicious revision and amendment of the powers now distributed amongst four separate Departments. The problem is, how can we- remodel and improve the management of the Department without trenching upon or unwisely interfering with the powers which are at present exercised by the Treasury Department, the Home Affairs Department, and the Public Service Commissioner respectively? As the result of consideration and inquiry, I arrived at the conclusion that an amendment of the law should be effected on the lines to which I gave expression in a policy speech delivered at Bendigo in February, 19 10, on the eve of the general elections, and reported in the morning papers of 18th February of that year. I there said that there ‘ should be an improved and strengthened central administration in the form of a Board or Commission of Management, at the same time reserving to the Minister the final decision of all questions of finance and policy. Honorable members will observe that by that provision I did not intend to take away from the Minister or from Parliament any of those grave and supreme questions . of policy and finance which are justly viewed with jealousy by Parliament itself. I do not wish to surrender to any Board or Commission of Management any of the great powers which Parliament ought still to exercise, but I am of opinion now, as I was in February, 1910 - and that was before the report of the Commission, which did not appear until October, 1910 - that the Postal Department is capable of being re-organized, improved, and remodelled as regards its central administration on the principles which I had enunciated. There should also be an improved and strengthened State administration. At present there is a division of authority and power between the Central Administration and the State administration. That, of course, is a Federal principle. Under the Act as it stands at present the Minister can delegate to the various Deputies certain powers and authorities. That seems essential in order that the Deputies may deal with matters of local interest and importance which ought not to be, and do not necessarily require to be, referred to the Central Administration. Those powers and authorities have been so delegated in order to relieve the Central Executive, not of responsibility, but of overburdensome work and duties. Local details may fairly be left to the Deputies, under proper advice. In making that suggestion, I also said that the Deputy PostmastersGeneral ought to be relieved of construction works and the maintenance of lines - duties which might be intrusted to a competent engineering staff in each State, allowing the Deputies to attend to matters of management.
– That is done.
– It was not done when I was in office, because at that time the Deputies were terribly worried and overworked in attending to construction and maintenance matters. By an improved and strengthened State administration, I would relieve the Deputies of a lot of these details of clerical, maintenance, construction, and supervision work, and leave them to deal with matters of pure management and administration.
– Does the honorable member mean to tell me that the Deputies used to interfere with the electrical engineers ?
– Undoubtedly they did. They were always in consultation with them. The powers and authorities were delegated to the Deputies themselves, and they, alone exercised them. The view of Sir Robert Scott, from whom I got the idea., Was that a competent engineering staff in each State, and not the Deputies, should attend to the matters I have indicated. Honorable members have asked me to define in what way the administration of the Department may be improved and strengthened binder a Board or Commission. I cannot say that I am prepared, any more than is the Chairman of the Postal Commission, with all the details of such a scheme. They may require time and consideration to work out, but an improved and strengthened central administration might be effected, without impairing Ministerial power and responsibility, by substituting for the present Secretary a Board or Commission. The advantage of such a body would be to divide among groups of officers a lot of administrative or management work, which at present is absolutely and exclusively vested in the Secretary. The work is big enough, and diversified enough, to justify the division of - the duties of the Secretary among three officers, each specially qualified in particular lines. We might have, for instance, a general manager for postal matters, an officer to control telegraph and telephone branches, and an officer to deal with the staff and works.
– We have such officers now.
– All the heads are now under the Secretary. What I suggest is a Board, whose members would cooperate. Instead of the Chief Electrical Engineer being under, and dependent on the Secretary, he would be that officer’s equal.
– Does the honorable member think that the Secretary vetoes the recommendations of the Chief Electrical Engineer in any technical matter? .
– The Secretary is above all, and it would be better to have power and responsibility distributed among three specially qualified men. In railway administration responsibility is so divided.
– Are not the junior Railways Commissioners under the Chief Commissioner ?
– I suppose the Railways Commissioners, as they constitute Boards, work together. It is not assumed that there will be conflict between any group of Commissioners. I wish to give individuality to each of the three men at the head of the Postmaster-General’s Department, making them responsible for the work performed by those under them. In that suggestion 1 have the concurrence of the ex-Secretary to the Department. I am not making a blow at any man or at any office, but suggesting a course which, I think, will increase the efficiency of the service.” The question remains - how fax a Board of Management could go, without interfering with the Public Service Commissioner. I do not suggest any organic change. My proposal is a redistribution of duties, with a view to greater efficiency. It has been complained by the Secretary to the Postmaster-General’s Department, and by the Deputy Postmasters-General, that in the past they have not had the full and adequate control which they should have had. Transfers cannot be effected without the approval of the Public Service Commissioner, nor can increments be given or promotions made without reference to him.
– The officers referred to can make recommendations.
– Which the Commissioner can veto.
– Is not that a good thing ?
– The Minister is under a misapprehension if he supposes that I wish to take power from the Public Service Commissioner to give it to a Minister. I merely suggest a modification of the present non-political control, with a view to improvement in the working of the service. My experience, observation, and study leads me to think that we should retain the Public Service Commissioner to conduct entrance examinations, with a view to preventing political patronage, but as to how far full control, and authority to deal with officers and promotions, should be given to those intrusted with the management of Departments, I have not made up my mind. On a question like this, one is entitled to put forward tentative suggestions. I am not formulating a matured scheme, nor am I prepared to say whether I would support the appointment of staff committees for each State, as suggested by the Postal Commission. A central revising control in connexion with promotions, transfers, and increments, may be necessary, but departmental officials ought to be in a better position than the Public Service Commissioner to determine the merits of those who are under their constant observation.
– The Public Service Commissioner has practically nothing else to do but consider the work of the officers of the service, whereas departmental heads axe concerned with other matters.
– Departmental heads have greater opportunities for becoming acquainted with the capacity of the men under them, and of the requirements of the Department.
– Are they not always consulted ?
– When a departmental head recommends a promotion, transfer, or increment, it may be vetoed. It is thus that dissatisfaction is caused. In railway management control is kept within the Department itself, no interference from outside being allowed, and the principle of organization and management upon which the railways are conducted has, on the whole, justified itself. There is a great difference between the Railway Department and a Chief Secretary’s Department. The Railway Department is a great carrying business, requiring officers with special experience. Similarly, the Department of the Postmaster-General can be distinguished from the. Customs Department. The Postmaster-General’s Department performs direct services for the public, with whom its officers are brought into contact. These must have special qualifications, and be prepared to undergo severe strain when business is excessive.’ To make the Department a machine which will work efficiently, there should, I think, be internal control, or at least no unnecessary interference from outside.
– Does the honorable member think, from his own experience, that the Public Service Commissioner’s control in any way interferes with the work of the Postmaster-General’s Department?
– Complaints were made to me on that score by the responsible Beads of the Postmaster-General’s Department.
– I ask the honorable member’s own opinion.
– I am merely endeavouring to summarize views which are current, and entitled to expression. The responsible heads of the Department have complained that they are interfered with. That complaint has been voiced by Sir Robert Scott, as the evidence of the Postal Commission shows.
– In what way is there interference ?
– The Secretary could not, without reference to the Public Service Commissioner, transfer a man from one branch of the service to another.
– Would not the Minister support the Secretary if the Public Service Commissioner refused to sanction what was needed ?
– That would mean bringing the Minister into conflict with the Public Service Commissioner, and fighting out the matter in Parliament.
– The Minister would get his way if that were done.
– But the Commissioner acts within his statutory rights.
– The Minister would be doing the same. Surely on a big question, such as an important appointment, the Minister would bring the matter before Parliament.
– On a matter of sufficient importance, of course; but a Postmaster-General cannot, in the multitudinous affairs of the Department, run to Parliament for an amending Bill to coerce the Public Service Commissioner. I am at present endeavouring to assist in the solution of the problem before us, and not in any way reflecting on the Public Service Commissioner, who has not exceeded his duty if he has refused transfers or promotions.
– In nine cases out of ten the Commissioner is right.
– That may be. If by more centralization the Department can be equipped with greater equality, with the result of greater efficiency, it ought to be centralized. The Department is open to reform in management and control ; and, without pledging myself to the detailed suggestions of the Royal Commission, I invite the House to consider the whole of them in a reasonable and practical manner. It would he a mistake, however, for Parliament to adopt these recommendations in globo, for there are many which require separate examination. The honorable member for Gwydir has, I think, achieved his purpose ‘in emphasizing the necessity for postal reform and the redress of grievances, and has done his work fairly well and exhaustively. The matter now ought, I think, to be left in the hands of the responsible Ministers. The recommendations may, of course, be dealt with later on seriatim in connexion with the Estimates ; but it would be absurd, on a motion like this, to adopt them in globo, even in the general way indicated. The honorable member would have served his purpose better if, instead of occupying so much time in the discussion of minute microscopic details, he had directed attention to some broad principles which could have been grappled by the House. That would have been much better than frittering away our attention for so many hours on small matters of detail.
.- The honorable member for Gwydir is entitled to recognition for the wholeheartedness with which he entered on this investigation into the undoubtedly unsatisfactory condition of the Postal Service.
It is admitted by the honorable member for Bendigo, who was Postmaster-General during^ a portion of the time the Royal Commission was sitting, that there is room for reform in the Department; but the shortage of the staff and the starvation of the service were brought about by the party to which he belongs, though he now tells us that that is the party which was going to put “ the house in order.”
The honorable member tells us that, during his term of office, certain reforms were going to be gradually brought into operation; but it is a noteworthy fact that these ideas were not made known until, for twelve months, the daily press had been flooded with evidence of the chaotic condition of the Department as the result of the Commission’s inquiry. The Public Service Commissioner and the officials of the Department followed the evidence day by day, and had reports thereon submitted ; and, as glaring instances of mismanagement were brought to light, they were compelled to take some steps towards the remedy. Ample justification has been shown for the appointment of the Royal Commission, and for the attitude taken up by the honorable member for Gwydir.
The whole system of management, which involves interference by the Public Service Commissioner in staff matters, has broken down. For eight or nine years the Department was run under the existing arrangement; and, until some outside authority interfered, the management was going from bad to worse. Are we to go on with the same old system for another nine years until another Royal Commission is necessary to show where reforms are imperative?
The difficulties have been proved to be absolutely inherent; and it is impossible to have success with a Public Service Commissioner who, independent of the De*partment, and without any responsibility for the working of it, can interfere with the recommendations of responsible officers. I do not make any attack on the Public Service Commissioner as an individual, because I believe him to be a very able officer, who has performed his duties to the best of his ability ; but, as I say, the difficulties lift in the system. Recommendations relating to the staff are sometimes “ turned down “ by the Commissioner ; and that this should be done with suggestions by responsible officials shows that we have a system absolutely vicious. The Public Service Commissioner cannot be expected to be able to form an opinion on such matters with such precision as the responsible officers in the Department. When the Commissioner carries out such recommendations, he shows his office to be useless, and where he deviates from them he is operating on an unbusiness-like principle. We saw an instance of that this morning, when the question was raised as to the number of hours worked by telegraphists. Honorable members, who have been carpenters, plumbers, or have followed other laborious occupations, immediately jump to the conclusion that a six hours’ day in the case of the telegraphists must mean a heaven of delight.
– I would rather work as a telegraphist than six hours underground.
– The honorable member has never worked for a minute as a telegraphist, and is not competent to express an opinion. This is one of the results of placing men in charge who know nothing whatever about the work.
– We cannot get Ministers who have followed all occupations.
– Certainly not. T am replying to the honorable member for Barrier, who seems to think it marvellous that telegraphists should work only six hours.
– I agree with the view of the honorable member for Cook ; but, at the same time, I would sooner be employed as a telegraphist than in mining.
– Inhere are, of course, certain disadvantages attached to mining, but even if that be sp under private enterprise, is it any argument to be applied to the case of the Public Service?
– The honorable member spoke of carpenters and others, and said they knew nothing of the work of telegraphists.
– And neither do they. If there is anything in the argument of the honorable member for Barrier, it is that telegraphists should work eight hours. The telephonists work six hours a day, and it is recognised that the strain placed on them and on telegraphists also is almost too much for endurance.
– That is so in regard to telephonists.
– And so it is in regard to telegraphists, so far as I have been able to gather.
– I would rather work as a telegraphist than as a telephonist.
– Although the honorable member for Barrier has been mostly concerned with mining, I would rather have his opinion on the point under discussion than that of some honorable members who, quite new to the House, were scarcely able, until quite recently, to tell the inside from the outside of a post-office. Do such honorable members say that some reforms are not required?
– Alterations are being made every day for the benefit of employes and the public.
– Not minor alterations, but radical reforms, are required.
Sitting suspended. from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– The time at the disposal of the House for the consideration of this very important matter is exceedingly limited. I know that other honorable members are anxious to address themselves to the question, and as it is very desirable that we should have a vote upon it, I shall curtail my remarks as much as possible.
Before we adjourned for lunch I referred incidentally to one or two questions affecting the conditions of employes of the Department, but owing to pressure of time I shall not touch further upon that aspect of the matter.
As a representative I am always prepared to listen to the grievances of public servants, and, where I come to the conclusion that an injury or injustice has been done, to do whatever I can to remedy the trouble. At the same time, I recognise that Parliament does not exist only to deal with such matters.
I should like to see such a system of organization and control of the Postal Department as would, I believe, minimize the necessity for public servants to be placing their individual and collective grievances before representatives of the people in this House. Parliament is quite incompetent to deal with the details of employment in any service. In order thoroughly to understand the grievances which affect letter-carriers, sorters, telegraphists, and others a very close investigation is required. The case both for the employes and the administration has to be considered to enable one to express an opinion of any value on the matter. Such a process in regard to the public servants of the Commonwealth is practically impossible from the point of view of representatives of the people here. Our time is occupied with the consideration of great legislative matters of national concern, requiring much research and close study, and the research and investigation necessary to enable us to express an authoritative opinion upon individual grievances would make such inroads upon our time as would seriously prejudice our work in this large representative capacity. It is because I believe that complaints both from the service and the public would be minimized by placing the Department under some kind of business management that I strongly favour such a change.
– The same arguments were used about our railways.
– We have in Australia to-day no party that can obtain any support at the ballot-box that will advocate a return from the control of the railways by a Board of Commissioners to the old system of political control.
– I do not think it has ever been tried
– The honorable member’s own party in Queensland does not advocate such a thing.
– New Zealand, after trying the Board system for a long time, has gone back to the old order of things.
– I have been personally in touch with the New Zealand railways for a long time, and cannot remember a time when they were under the control of Commissioners. If the Commissioner control of the railways has proved to be a failure generally in Australia, then there can be no justification for Commissioner control of the Postmaster-General’s Department. It is because I believe that Commissioner control of the railways has been a success in Australia, taking it by and large-
– The honorable member must represent a city constituency.
– The honorable “member knows, quite independently of what I am saying, that I do, and therefore there is no reason to affect that my argument shows that I represent a city constituency. Under Commissioner control we have our developmental railway lines and our non- paying lines, and it is farcical to say that Commissioner control of the PostmasterGeneral’s Department would absolutely prevent any new service being instituted unless those directly concerned paid for them.
– God help the country dis tricts.
– I am not tying myself up to every detail of railway management. The powers with which the Postal Commissioners, if appointed, would be invested would represent the views of the Parliament as to the extent of the control that they should exercise.
– The honorable member, or the House, said the same thing about the Public Service Commissioner. Now he says that the Commissioner has too much power.
– I did not say anything favouring the control of the Federal Public Service by a Commissioner as existing at the present time.
– The honorable member waa not in this House when the Public Service Bill was passed, but he has been “ croaking about it ever since.
Mr.J. H. CATTS. - I express my views in this House, as I am entitled to do.,
– And do not express them as the honorable member for Maranoa does.
– The fact that I do not express the same views as he does is not a sufficient reason for designating my remarks as “ croaking.” Objections can be raised to every system, and where we have Commissioner control we have objections raised against it. Some honorable members think that we should get rid of all the trouble by returning to Ministerial control, but when we got back to that system they would find their troubles still with them, and would want something else to avoid them. As a matter of fact, there may be some trouble under either Ministerial or Commissioner control. Any human system is necessarily imperfect ?
– If we get rid of the present system I am afraid we shall be in worse trouble.
– The existing system admittedly needs amendment. The trouble is that no one in this House seems to be prepared to do anything; we are drifting all the time. It was only when the Postal Commission was appointed, and certain evidence was adduced before it, that those in control of the Postmaster-General’s Department saw the necessity of making certain alterations.
Even now they are dealing only with the minute details of the service, and not with the basis of the whole matter.
Difficulties have arisen because of our system of control. Notwithstanding my admiration for the present Postmaster-General, I do not think that the difference between the ability he will exercise in the discharge of his office, and that exercised by his predecessor or predecessors is going to be so marked that we shall have a transformation from the present unsatisfactory state of affairs in the Department to everything that we could desire. It is unreasonable to place a Minister in charge of such a great business Department, and to expect him to be able to transform it. He cannot give the necessary time to the work. He has his ordinary parliamentary duties to attend to, and he would need to give the whole of his time to the work of the Department in order to be able to deal intelligently with the problems that confront him. So far as he is unable to devote the whole of his time to that work subordinate officers have to deal with it.
– What is to block him from giving the whole of his time to the work ?
– He has to be in the House all day.
– That is part of his duty.
– But while he is here he cannot be managing the business of the Department.
Mr.PAGE- he were away there would be trouble.
– That only shows that the Parliament itself makes calls upon the Postmaster-General, and to the extent that he meets them by being present in the House he cannot be manager of the Department.
– Does the honorable member think that the Postmaster-General should be the parliamentary mouth-piece of a Board of Control?
– No. Broadly speaking, the honorable member for Bendigo has represented my views. I think, for instance that matters of finance could not be taken out of the hands of a Treasurer who is responsible to Parliament for them. If the Treasurer cuts down the Postal Estimates to the last farthing, and so prevents the extension of country services, then Parliament must take the responsibility.
– It does so now.
– Yes ; and no alteration in that respect would be advantageous. Large matters of policy must always be dealt with by Parliament, but ordinary questions of management - questions relating to the staff, and the ordinary business transactions with the public, and so forthought to be entirely separated from great questions of policy. I am with the honorable member for Bendigo, broadly speaking, in his statement of the changes which his experience in the Department has shown to be desirable.
Our present system of control of the Department has been ridiculed time after time in this House. It is agreed that things are not satisfactory, but what are we going to do to alter them? It is all very well to take up a non-committal attitude - to say that things are going on all right, that a few more “ i’s “ are being dotted, a few more “ t’s “ being crossed, and a few more commas being put in, but that will not cure the existing defects. At the most, it can only alleviate the trouble to a very minor extent. My desire is that there shall be some effective and radical change which will not only overcome existing difficulties, but obviate their recurrence. The investigation made by the Royal Commission has shown more than has anything else the shortcomings of the management of the Department. They have been proved out of the mouth of the Public Service Commissioner, so far as staff matters are concerned. The Public Service Commissioner’s evidence has been quoted during this debate, and from what I understand of it he suggests that there should be a business manager in charge of the Department.
– Where does he say that?
– The honorable member for Gwydir quoted extracts from his evidence last night.
– But not that he said that a business man should be put in charge.
-Something to that effect was quoted. The honorable member for Gwydir also quoted the evidence of the ex- Public Service Inspector of New South Wales, Mr. McKay, to the effect that there should be a business manager in charge of the Department, and recommending that Mr. McLachlan should be appointed to that position,
– He is practically business manager now.
– No. He deals with staff matters, but has no responsibility for the successful conduct of the Postmaster-General’s Department as a Department. He is, therefore, not a business manager. He has, amongst other things, to attend to certain staff matters, but has nothing to do with the general success of the Postal Administration. It does not concern him in the slightest.
– He does not want it either.
– I am not saying that he does want it. What I say is that this House wants a change. I do not see why he should want it. He has a very comfortable position.
– Has he? It is a bed of roses !
– I am considering the remuneration for his position.
– It is not enough.
– I think .£1,500 a year is a fair salary for that officer. He has his duties under the Public Service Act, and carries them out, no doubt, to the best of his ability. It is the system of control against which I am making complaint. Without going further into the minute details of the powers of a Board of Commissioners, I am in favour of the control of the Postal Department by such a body, reserving to this Parliament the right to deal with the great matters of policy and finance, and making the Commission a Board of expert management for the Department in the way outlined by the honorable member for Bendigo.
We come then to the question of the staff. I was very pleased to hear the announcement of the Postmaster-General that it was proposed to enable the public servants to submit their cases to the Arbitration Court, if they desired to do so. It must be distinctly understood that they are not to be compelled to go to the Court.
– Hear, hear.
– I tried to induce the Postmaster-General to make a definite statement to that effect in answer to an interjection. What it is proposed to do is really to offer another privilege to the public servants, not to take something from them.
– To give them the opportunity which they need not avail themselves of unless they like.
– Certainly not. If they say they are being fairly dealt with without going to the Arbitration Court, they will not go. A matter can come before the Court only if a claim is presented by some party interested. The Government are not likely to present to the Court a claim to reduce the rates paid to the Postal servants. If there is any complaint it will be by the public servants against the Government, and if they cannot get the redress to which they think they are entitled, they will have the right to go to Mr. Justice Higgins, saying, “ We have placed our evidence before the Government, and as they have not responded to our just demands, you can consider our case, and instruct the Government to do the fair thing by us.”
– Four thousand of them have signed a petition against it.
– They did not understand what they were signing.
– That does not speak very well for their intelligence.
– They have been misled. Some two or three years ago these complaints of the public servants were being brought under my notice day after day, and I could get no satisfaction one way or the other. I said to these men, “ Why not organize in such a way that you will be able to present your case to the Federal Arbitration Court?” I addressed mass meetings of the men, and induced a General Division Organization to agree to this proposal. In a couple of weeks I drafted a constitution for them, in compliance with the schedules of the Arbitration Act. I said, “ If you like to elect me president of the organization until its registration is effected, I am prepared to take the responsibility of carrying the thing through, so that you need not be apprehensive of your position in the matter.” I lodged the application for registration with the Registrar, and the honorable member for Darling Downs, who was then, I think, AttorneyGeneral, lodged an objection to the registration. I had some of the best advice that it was possible to get, and the effect of this was that the honorable member for Darling Downs had not “Buckley’s chance” of succeeding with his objection. But the public servants, I think, became alarmed because the Government put their backs up against the registration, and without consulting me, who had taken all the trouble in the matter, they withdrew the application and let the thing go by the board.
One of the reasons why I rose in this debate was to point out to these men that they need have no fear of losing their privileges by this proposal. Those 4,000 petitioners, or the great bulk of them, are under the impression that, if they go to the Arbitration Court, the privileges of the service will be immediately lopped off. That is not so.
– Would the honorable member allow them to appeal to the Minister if they are not satisfied with the award of the Arbitration Court?
– Certainly. It cannot be prevented. Parliament after all is the supreme body; but I suppose the fact that a matter had been decided by the Arbitration Court would have a great deal of weight with the Minister.
– A kind of experiment !
– The honorable member knows perfectly well that if the public servants have the right of appeal to the Arbitration Court, nothing can take away from them their ultimate right of appeal to Parliament.
– Would it be fair for them to go to the Court, and then, if dissatisfied, to come back to Parliament ?
– If the Court had not given them redress-
– That is too thin.
– The honorable member is trying to put a nice little question to me, which I am not going to answer just as he likes.
– The hands of the Minister would be greatly strengthened by the fact that the Arbitration Court had given a decision.
– He would no doubt have the advantage of the fact that an inquiry had been conducted. Nothing can take away the right of any citizen of Australia to appeal to this Parliament on matters within its jurisdiction.
– Would the honorable member have them appeal to the Government after going to the Court?
– They could appeal to the Government as representing this Parliament, or appeal to the Parliament as a whole. It is of no use to quibble about words. If, for instance, the public servants were working more than eight hours a day, and appealed to the Arbitration Court for an eight hours day, and the Arbitration Court did not give it to them, they would have the right to come to this Parliament and ask for an eight hours law. No doubt, Parliament would be guided very largely by the evidence heard in the Court, and the decision of the Court. But to ask me to say that I would be a party to taking away their right of appeal to Parliament in any circumstances is to ask me to subscribe to something to which I am not prepared to agree.
As a matter of fact, in New South Wales the Railways Commissioners are a registered body under the local Arbitration Act. The railway men of New South Wales have certain privileges not enjoyed by the outside public ; but, although there are some fifty or sixty awards which, in some respect or other, direct the Railways Commissioners as to the industrial conditions of their employes, there is not a single case in which any privilege has been-taken away from a railway man by an Arbitration Court or a Conciliation Board. In fact, we have been trying to get those privileges incorporated in the awards, so as to deprive the Railways Commissioners of the right to lop them off at their own sweet will.
I desire to quote, for the benefit of the public servants, an award which shows that the privileges of the Public Service have been really conserved by these Boards and Courts. The Commonwealth Arbitration Act defines industrial matters - that is, matters which can be referred to the Court for determination - as including “all matters relating to work, pay, wages, reward, hours, privileges . . . “ It is therefore provided that the privileges of employment shall be taken into consideration as an industrial matter. But The New South Wales Act is a little stronger in that respect, providing, as it does, that the customs prevailing in an industry shall be taken into account. At any rate, the definition of industrial matters lr the Federal Act has now been made wide enough to enable the privileges and customs of an industry to be taken into account in determining any claims which may be made under the Act. In New South Wales the ordinary claims are put forward by the railway men as to pay and hours, and then it is claimed also that the existing privileges shall be incorporated in the award. I wish to quote in that regard from a recent award, so that it may be on record for the public servants to see, because I know they will be looking at Hansard for the results of this debate. I refer to the Tramway Permanent Way Award, published in the New South Wales Government Gazette of 1 st November, 191 1. It was heard before the Government Railways and Tramways (Tramway Permanent Way) Board, the matter being an application by the New South Wales Amalgamated Railway and Tramway Service Association to determine industrial matters arising between it and the Chief Commissioner of Railways and Tramways. I shall not quote all the award, which deals with various mattersof. interest to the employes, but one clauserelates to the question of relieving. That has been a vexed question in the Commonwealth Public Service, and the honorable member for. Gwydir pointed out at some length last night how junior officers had been sent to relieve senior officers in receipt of some hundreds of pounds more per year, without extra remuneration.
– Would the honorable member advocate that the relieving officer should get the same salary in every case as the officer he relieves?
– He should get the minimum rate for that grade.
– How could you do that?
– It has already been done in the case of tens of thousands of men.
– The logical conclusion of the honorable member’s argument is that an officer who relieves a man at a lower salary should get only that lower salary.’
– Not at all. In New South Wales the principle adopted is that an officer relieving another of a higher grade shall be paid the minimum salary of that grade ; but where, for the convenience of the service, an officer relieves another of a lower grade, it is not fair to reduce his salary. When an officer is absent on leave, or through sickness, the relieving officer is entitled to the minimum salary of the grade in which he is serving, although it may be only temporarily.
– An officer should be paid at the rate fixed for the grade to which he belongs.
– No; he should be paid at the rate fixed for the work that he is doing, as long as it is not less than his ordinary pay. That is provided in the award dealing with the conditions of the New South Wales railway men.
– The honorable member would not like to pay out of his own pocket according to that rule.
– It has been determined by an independent authority that the rule is a fair one. The honorable member has paid such diligent attention to the concerns of western Queensland that he has not kept in touch with what has taken place in industrial matters.
– Officers are sometimes appointed to do the work of others of a higher grade, not for a limited, but for an unlimited period.
– Yes, and in that way promotions have been unjustifiably deferred, and, in effect, the men doing the work of one grade have been paid at the rate fixed for a lower grade.
– The rate fixed for the higher grade must be paid after six months:
– It should be paid from the time a man commences to do the work of a higher grade. In. the award to which I have referred this clause appears -
Any employe ordered to act, or to relieve or. act for another, in a higher grade shall, while so employed, be paid the minimum rate payable to men in such higher grade, provided such minimum be not less than the rate he is already receiving.
The members of the Postal Commission think that their recommendation is the last word on the vexed question of promotion, but in the award from which I have just quoted an equitable principle has been re cognised after years of dispute. Clause 9 of that award provides that -
That last clause is absolutely fair, though paragraph a is not satisfactory. If there is a vacancy where the rate of pay is 10s. a day, the man with the longest service holding the position immediately below must be promoted, unless it can be shown that he is incompetent for the higher work. No one would say that an incompetent man should be promoted.
– Has the honorable member in his lengthy experience found the arrangement to work satisfactorily?
– Yes. The Minister of External Affairs tells me that the principle is in operation in the Commonwealth service, but I ask him whether the promotion is automatic in every case in which incompetence cannot be alleged ?
– The senior man always has the first call for promotion. A junior would be promoted only if the senior could not do the work.
– There is nothing to complain of in that, but I think that an officer often says, “ I intend to promote the man I think most suitable for the work,” and his regard for general suitability enables juniors to be promoted over seniors. I investigated a case of the kind in the Post Office, in which it was not denied that the senior man had done the work of the office to which a junior had been promoted. The head of the Department did not allege incompetence against him, but he said that there were others who were better.
– Is it not a fact that the senior man was not competent?
– Then why was that not stated ; and why had the senior man been allowed to relieve in the higher position ?
Another provision of the award regulating promotion is that -
Where any employe is of opinion that he has been improperly passed over, he may apply in writing for an explanation, and an explanation shall be given him in writing.
The privileges of the service are safeguarded in the following clause : -
No employe” who at the date of this award is in receipt of pay at a. higher rate than herein fixed shall have his pay reduced, merely as a consequence of this award.
Where a man by reason of long service was receiving a higher rate of pay, that advantage is preserved to him. The following clauses in the award preserve certain special privileges -
The following privileges, already existing and in consideration of which the rates of pay hereinbefore mentioned have been fixed, shall be continued, namely : - Every employe on the permanent staff, and every employe not on the permanent staff, who has been employed for six months or more, shall be entitled to -
The privileges of the service are incorporated in the award, and placed beyond the caprice of the Railways Commissioners.
Employes who are charged with offences are to be dealt with in this way - (i.) Every employe summoned to attend before his superior officer to answer any charge shall be informed in the notification summoning him of the particulars of the charge preferred against him, and shall be entitled at the hearing to give and call evidence on his own behalf, (ii.) Every employe giving evidence shall be entitled to read over his statement before signing it. (iii.) Where an employe has been summoned to attend before his superior officer to answer any charge, he shall be paid for the time lost in attending, and any fare he may necessarily have paid shall be refunded to him, unless it is found he is guilty of the charge, or that his conduct has justified the charge being made, in which case such matters shall be in the discretion of the officer dealing with the charge. An employe summoned to give evidence in any such case shall be paid for his time, and be supplied with the necessary passes, (iv.) Every employe who has given notice of appeal shall be entitled to obtain, at his own expense, a copy of all the evidence of the departmental inquirv, at least a week before the appeal is heard : Provided that, if the appellant consents, the appeal may be heard within less time than a week from the day he has obtained such copy of the evidence.
There is not time to read the whole award, but I should like to point out that the special privileges of the service have not been interfered with, and privileges which had been acts of grace on the part of the Commissioners have been incorporated in the awards, and have thus been given the force of statutory enactments, so that they can be upheld in the Courts, while their infringement is punishable with heavy penalties. I therefore adhere to the advice that I gave to the public servants some years ago, to register under the Arbitration Act. If they can get their grievances redressed without going to the Court, let them do so; but if, having exhausted other means, they are still suffering, they should take their cases before an independent and unbiased Judge, and Jet him determine what is a fair thing. They need not fear that they will lose anything. The experience of the railway men is that they have got awards regarding promotion and the like, and have had a legal status given to their privileges.
There is also necessity for a properly constituted Board of Appeal to deal with the punishment of employes. At present there is a lop-sided Board, with a very limited jurisdiction, consisting of two departmental representatives and one representative of the staff. There ought to be a Board consisting of a representative of the staff, a representative of the Department, and an independent chairman; and the employe’s should have the right to be represented by their union officers or by an advocate. In dealing with the discipline of a large service, scattered over the whole continent, the Deputy Postmasters-General and the Public Service Commissioner have to judge cases on paper ; and it very often happens that, if they knew the type of man personally, a caution would be deemed sufficient. As it is, however, a case may look much blacker than it really is, and the punishment may be out of all proportion to the offence.
– We had a case of that kind in Western Australia a little while ago.
– There will always be cases of the kind in a huge service where employes are dealt with on reports. It is necessary to have some semi-departmental tribunal constituted as I have suggested, in order to decide, first of all, whether the case is proved, and, secondly, whether the punishment is adequate. If this were done, there would be removed a considerable cause of complaint.
Briefly, I desire to see the Department, for ordinary business purposes, placed under a Board of experts, independent of political control as to details. Matters of policy and financial questions will, of course, have to be left to the determination of this House.
I desire to see the staff organized into representative unions, and not into a number of little tinpot bodies as at present. For the 12,000 men I suppose there are at least a dozen organizations which compete one against the other, and do more than any thing to increase unrest and discontent. There ought to be a thoroughly representative organization, under the control of a governing body, with representation for particular sections on purely sectional matters, but, on all matters affecting the service as a whole, speaking with a united voice. The grievances could then be thoroughly threshed out by representatives, and one section would not be played off against the other. There would be a guarantee of a reasonable case being presented, and, if it were necessary to go to the Arbitration Court, this large body, with its financial and moral backing, would be able to adequately protect the interests of the men.
If there were business control of business affairs, provision for employes to appeal to the Arbitration Court if not satisfied with the terms and conditions of their employment, with some semi-departmental Board of Appeal with an independent chairman, we should have a very effective reform in the management. Peace and content would be encouraged, and better value and service obtained for the public money expended, than is the case under the present system of divided control. At present the Public Service Commissioner interferes in staff matters without any responsibility for the success of the Department ; and the time of the Postmaster-General is taken up with a number of detailed matters to which he has no opportunity to adequately attend. The Minister is thus prejudiced in his efforts to deal with larger questions affecting the people as a whole. Having found out the lamentable inadequacy of the present system, we are entitled to ask for some drastic alteration - some improvement .of the kind I have indicated. We could take from or add to the powers of the Board of experts as experience showed to be necessary ; and, developing on these lines, we should shortly evolve a system as near perfection as can be attained in a great business undertaking of the kind. We should then further justify State control of the Post Office, and, by showing its successful operation, we should encourage the people as a whole to embark on other Socialistic undertakings, and gradually eliminate those difficulties of private enterprise which it is one of the many purposes of the Labour party to solve.
.- It is to be regretted that we have been obliged to tackle this large and important issue in the course of a few hours taken from other urgent public business. Naturally the minds of most Of us have been running on the Budget, and the important duty that falls to all of Us as critics of the financial proposals of the Government. However, since the honorable ‘ member for Gwydir has introduced the subject, it is the duty of those who have been paying some attention to the work of the Postal Commission to say a few words. . I do not wish to detain the House very long, because I know there are others who desire to speak. The Minister in charge of this important Department has, I think, adopted a distinctly disingenuous attitude in regard to the motion. To accept such a proposal, putting one’s own interpretation “on it, is a perfectly safe thing, and any proposal so submitted might be nominally indorsed with such a reservation. This shows that the Government are by no means of a mind with the honorable member for Gwydir with regard to many of his proposals. There is no doubt room for difference of opinion; but, as regards the suggestion to put the public servants within the operation of the Arbitration Court, I fail to follow the argument of the honorable member for Cook when he points out that it will be optional on the part of the public servants to apply to the Court. Nominally, it will be optional, but in reality it will be obligatory. When the public servants come to the Minister with grievances or wishes he will say, “ I am very sorry that I cannot see that we can grant these requests, but if you think you have a fair case you had better go to the Arbitration Court.” Any Minister, unless he were perfectly sure that the claims of the public servants were of a just and moderate character, would naturally take up that position; and if the Arbitration Court decided against the appellants, then the Minister would be immensely strengthened in his previous decision, and he would say to the public servants, “ You see that the Court has decided against you, and you cannot therefore expect me to go beyond that decision.” Therefore, I do not think that, in reality, the fact that appeal to the Court is optional will make it any the less obligatory. I think this proposal is only a method, and, perhaps, from their point of view, a justifiable method of enabling the Government to dodge a very awkward corner.
I am very glad to see that the Royal Commission fully realized the danger of over-centralization; and this is a matter to which I hope the Government will give careful consideration. Undoubtedly outlying States have had the usefulness of the Post Office seriously interfered with by the over-centralization in the earliest years of Federation. The evil has been modified considerably of late years, largely, I believe, on account of the criticism and objection made by honorable members, like myself, from outlying districts.
– Does the honorable member know what tends more than anything else to centralization?
– I shall be glad if the Minister will inform me.
– It is honorable members bringing before the central office matters that have been “ turned down “ in the local offices.
– So far as I am concerned, I have always made it a point to bring matters of detail before the local offices.
Mr-. Thomas. - And if the honorable member fails there, he brings the matter to the Central Office.
– Not where the matter is one that the State officers have the power to deal with. Unfortunately, however, the State officers have been denied the right of decision in the past on so many matters of detail that the Central Administration has been deluged with matters that ought rightly to have been dealt with outside of it altogether.
– It is not the fault of the Central Office.
– The system of decentralization can yet be extended to a much greater degree than has been adopted. So long as the officers at the head of the Department in the different States are capable, it stands to reason that they must be better able to deal with local conditions than the officers of the Central Administration can possibly be. By way of illustration, I propose to lay before the Government two cases. Western Australia, as we all know, is not in such an advanced state of development as are some of the other portions of the Commonwealth, and living there is undoubtedly higher than elsewhere. Some four years ago, therefore, it was arranged that a special living allowance should be granted to the officers of the Postal Department in that State. But there is also a wide difference between the cost of living, say, in Perth, and that on the gold-fields or the remoter parts of the State, and, therefore, a district allowance
– The salary of£132 is received by the permanent men?
– I understand so.
– And11s. a day is received by the casual employe’s?
– That is the standard rate of wages in Perth for artisans outside the service.
– The permanent men have certain rights, and are paid for holidays, which the other men do not get.
– I fail to see that there should be any radical distinction between the payment of permanent and casual hands.
– No ; I say that the permanent men in this case should be receiving the standard rate outside the service. The minimum should not, in any case, go below the standard for the district. This state of affairs is due to the trouble that exists with regard to the payment of officers upon a scale as uniform as possible over this vast extent of territory. Another complaint is that the allowance of 5 per cent., established in respect of officers in Western Australia, is not paid to those who are drawing a district allowance. In other words, officers in Western Australia receive 5 per cent, in addition to the ruling rate in the other States, but an exception is made in the case of those men who, under special conditions, are drawing a district allowance. Manifestly, the 5 per cent, allowed, as representing the difference in the cost of living in Western Australia, compared with the cost in the Eastern States, should be paid all over Western Australia, and should be received by every officer whether he is drawing a district or local allowance, or is not doing so. All this trouble arises very largely from the policy of centralization, under which an attempt must always be made to secure the maximum of uniformity, where local conditions are not fairly met, because they are not fairly understood. I hope that I have impressed on the Minister and his party the necessity for a greater degree of decentralization in order that local conditions may be dealt with by the men who understand them, and can deal most effectively with them.
– I desire, in the first place, to congratulate the honorable member for Gwydir upon the information that he has presented to Parliament. He has placed both the House and the country under an obligation to him for the details with which he has furnished us. With this introduction, let me say that I intend to occupy the attention of honorable members for only a few minutes because I do not think this House is the proper place to discuss further the details that have been brought before us. The details having been submitted, we are here to judge of them. The honorable member for Gwydir has told us that 134 out of the 175 suggestions made by the Commission have either been adopted or are being favorably considered by the Department. That fact in itself constitutes a triumph for the Commission. I think that if the honorable member had received from the Government some fitting acknowledgment of his services, it would not have been necessary for him to take up the time of the House as he did.
– What does the honorable member mean?
– What I say. If the honorable member for Gwydir had had his services recognised in some way the position would have been different. But as a matter of fact no comment, favorable or unfavorable, has been made on the work done by him.
– What did he want? Mr. CARR. - I am looking at the matter from the point of view of human nature. The right honorable member knows what I mean, for no one is more susceptible than he is to the virtue of duty well done. The Commission is to be complimented on the fact that so many of its suggestions have either been adopted or are being favorably considered. The Minister at this late hour has supplemented that announcement by stating that he virtually accepts the report. It is understood, of course, that he does not accept it in detail. No doubt there will be many qualifications ; I sincerely trust, at all events, that there will be some. I hope also that the Minister will not adhere rigidly to the statements to which he has given utterance. I wish to emphasize more particularly the point that the report of the Royal Commission proves indisputably that there has been mismanagement, and consequent unrest of the staff, and that as the result of the condition into which the Department has drifted, there has been much discomfiture on the part of the Department. That, I think, has been proved right up to the hilt. I agree with the honorable member for Bendigo that this House is not in a position to deal with the details of a great Department. Although we recognise that that is so, there is a tendency on the part of honorable members to be rather discursive in dealing with these questions, and if we adopt certain proposals that have been brought before the House, and manage all the means of production, distribution, and exchange, I do not know how we shall ever be able to get anything done. However, we are not here to deal with all these matters of detail, and we must, therefore, depend upon the gentlemen who are nominated to control the public Departments. We must make business concerns of the Departments of the Commonwealth, and appoint managers of them just as we should do if we were privately interested in some large establishment. We must secure the best men available for the positions, and make them responsible for the work intrusted to them. That being so, and as the affairs of the Department are not as they ought to be, we have a right to blame the managers whom we have appointed, provided that it cannot be shown that the fault lies with the system and not with the managers themselves. We have a perfect right to expect of our managers order and satisfaction in the Departments they control; but we find that there has not been, for some years, either order or satisfaction in the Fostal Department. In these circumstances, we must either blame the managers or the system. If the managers have blundered, then those responsible for the control of the Department have committed a crime, and we cannot excuse or palliate their conduct by tolerating them further in the capacity which they occupied when they committed that blunder.
– I think that the system is largely to blame.
– The Minister says that the system is not wrong, and that he is going to perpetuate it. If it is not, then the management is wrong, and the management should either go, or should have its functions diverted to some other channel. There is no alternative from a logical or business point of view. If the Minister says things have been wrong and have been remedied hurriedly as the result of the work of the Commission, there is no excuse. The Minister says the system is not wrong, and, therefore, we are going on as we were before. I say if it is not wrong we should not go on as we were going before. If the old system is to go on, the managers should be changed. I, however, admit that the management has done its best with certain limitations. As the report shows, there were cases in which culpable incapacity was discovered by the investigation.
– Whose fault is it that they cannot be removed? It is the fault of the Public Service Act.
– If that is so, again it is the system which is at fault. When we depute a Commissioner to staff our service, giving him the sole right to select the staff, there must be some way out for that gentleman, either by the dismissal of these men or by varying their employment. If that gentleman does not select the staff, then I must misunderstand the position.
– He must select them from the people in the service.
– Will the Minister tell me that among six deputies in the States only one efficient man can be found ? Surely our Public Service has not degenerated to that forlorn condition. Either the system is wrong, or the managers are wrong, and I do not think the fault lies entirely with the managers. I think largely it is the system which is’ to blame, and, therefore we should change that system; yet the Government are not proposing to change the system in its vital parts. We are told that the Commissioner is to go on as heretofore. I strongly advocate making a change, which would have been made at once if any similar private concern of this size had gone wrong. That change ought to be in the nature of appointing responsible general managers as heads of each branch of the Department with sub-managers in each State.
– And with the right of dismissal.
– 1 should let those managers be responsible to Parliament, through the Minister. The question of an Appeal Board should also be considered in this connexion. I do not favour the Minister’s idea of handing these people over to the Arbitration Court, which will put them to considerable expense in the matter of counsel and so forth. That step ought not to be necessary, because we, as a Parliament, are here to-day to lay down certain lines to guide the Judges in their conduct of civil cases. If we are competent to do that, we are surely competent to instruct our own managers to lay down certain lines for the guidance and control of our own Departments and our own staffs. It is a regrettable confession of weakness on the part of the Administration to say, “ We must hand our own servants over to the civil Courts.” What is to hinder this Parliament from decreeing that there must be paid throughout the Civil Service rates of wages which shall not be below those awarded by Arbitration Courts to people in similar employments outside. That seems to be as far as Parliament can go in laying down a course of action for its own Departments. As others are anxious to speak, I shall content myself with urging the Government to change the system in some way, and not to let us be harassed any further by such interminable details as we have had to listen to - rightly so in the circumstances - but which I hope we shall not have the painful necessity of listening to again.
.- Is the Minister prepared to allow the debate to be adjourned?
– Not yet ; we must go on until the ordinary hour for adjournment.
– There are many other honorable members who wish to speak on this important question. The report of the Commission has furnished a great deal of valuable information, and contains recommendations which may help the Minister in any future policy which he may be disposed to initiate. It is unnecessary to enter into a detailed discussion of the report at this stage. We shall have an opportunity of discussing the whole policy of the Department in detail on the Budget and the Estimates-in-Chief. The most important question involved in this discussion is the alteration of the principle of management of the Department. The Commission recommends the placing of the Department under a Board of Management. We have had sufficient experience of Boards of Management throughout Australia to have formed a good idea whether it is advisable to adopt that system in this case. I believe it is necessary to place certain branches of any great public Department outside of political control altogether. We have already gone half-way in that direction by passing the Public Service Act, which places the staff under the direct control of the Public Service Commissioner. We have no time or opportunity now to discuss whether a single Commissioner is the best tribunal to finally determine all cases of appeal or adjustment with respect to the staff of a great Department like this, but we have, at any rate, placed the permanent staff outside of political control. That is one step in the right direction. We can also with advantage place under the control of a separate branch, if not out of political control altogether, the question of the construction throughout the Commonwealth of public works for the Post and Telegraph Department. When the system of control in the Victorian Railway Department was changed, the chief charges brought against political control were that the Minister had charge of the construction of new lines of railway, and also of the staff employed. Those were the two chief reasons why those two branches of the affairs of the Railway Department were taken from the direct jurisdiction of the
Minister and passed over in one regard to the Railways Standing Committee, and, in. the other, to a special Board of Commissioners. I have failed to gather from this debate, or from a careful perusal of the report of the Postal Commission, how it is possible to leave the control of the policy of the Postal Department wholly in the hands of the Minister, and at the same time to appoint a Board that will give us anything like efficient or independent management.I do not know where the two forms of control or management are to be separated. If the policy is to be left in the hands of the Minister, there is no necessity to appoint another Board of highly salaried officers to carry out the purely administrative part of the work. The Postal Commission make, in their report, a suggestion of some value, to the effect that a chief accountant should be appointed to go into the details of the service.
– He has been appointed, and has been doing work for some months.
-He ought to be absolutely independent of the whole Department, occupying the status of the Statistician or an officer of that kind.
– Mr. Trigg practically occupies that position. He is, of course, a member of the Department, but he cannot be controlled by anybody.
– He Ought to be in an unassailable position. Will he send in an independent report to be laid on the table of the House, in the same way as the Public Service Commissioner does, in order that this House may ascertain how far each of the services of the Department is being carried out on proper lines, and whether they are paying or not paying?
– That is what he is doing now, and in his next annual report he will be able to show that to the House.
– Does he present that report independently to Parliament?
– The Minister would, of course, regard it as a report that should be placed before Parliament.
Mr.Deakin. - I expect he presents it to the Minister first, and the Minister might desire it to be amended.
– The House is entitled to have an independent report from the accountant himself. That is an absolutely necessary reform. A good deal of criticism has been levelled at the Public Service Commissioner, but I suppose, like ether human beings, he is not infallible.
I do not know him, and have not had the pleasure of seeing him, but, from reading his reports and from the general way in which he has controlled the great Public Service of the Commonwealth, I am sure he is a strong and highly capable officer.. If we desire to establish the independent control of our staff, and prevent the return of political patronage to our Departments, it is the duty of this House, having appointed an independent officer of that kind, to support him in the fearless discharge of his dudes. The best testimonial that could be given to the ability and impartiality of the Public Service Commissioner is the petition of 4,000 employes of the PostmasterGeneral ‘s Department, praying Parliament not to bring them under the Arbitration Act. In my opinion, if we place the Department under a Board, we shall take a retrograde step, because the construction of important works in country districts would, as a consequence, be seriously impeded. That has been the effect of placing the railways under independent control. In the country districts of Victoria, the trains are ‘slower to-day than they were when there was political management, and during the last wheat harvest it was impossible to send away the grain quickly enough, because of the insufficiency of the rolling-stock. Thus progress has been seriously hampered, and the experience should make us hesitate before abolishing the Ministerial control of the Postmaster-General’s Department. No doubt the employes of that Department have in many instances good reason for objecting to their classification, but it was impossible for the Commissioner toso classify them as to satisfy all. A great many of them were transferred from the State services, where they were working under diverse -conditions, which had to be harmonized and brought within a uniform system. The surprising thing is that there has not been more discontent, and that the Postal Commission has not been able to lay bare more serious anomalies. So far as appeals are concerned, it might be possible to create a tribunal to which grievances could be submitted, even after the Public Service Commissioner- had dealt withthem.
– The trouble is that many complaints never reach the Com- missioner.
– That is the fault of the administration.
– A Board that would be independent is asked for
– I understand that what is suggested is a Board consisting of an independent chairman, a high official, and a representative of the employes. I have felt that some kind of appeal tribunal is needed. The honorable member for Gook has complained that the Public Service Commissioner has not sufficient knowledge of the business of the Postmaster-General s Department to be able to satisfactorily regulate appointments, promotions, transfers, and the like, but in Victoria the Public Service Commissioner controls the staffs of half-a-dozen Departments. He investigates the evidence collected by responsible officers, and thus makes himself acquainted with the qualifications of the service and the needs of the Department. Coming back to the proposal of the Commission to appoint a Board of Management, which is the central point of the debate, while opposed to the proposed Board, I am of opinion that a subdivision of duties is necessary. The Deputy PostmastersGeneral might be given wider administrative powers, with a view to avoiding delays in the carrying out of works, and the Central Administration might be represented by a consultative Board of three Heads of Departments. But as it is now nearly 4 o’clock, I ask leave to continue my speech on a future occasion.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Mr. KING O’MALLEY laid upon the table the following papers -
Lands Acquisition Act - Land acquired under, at Redbank, Queensland - For Commonwealth purposes - Notifications -
Dated 20th October,1911.
Dated 25th October, 1911.
Derelict on the Coast. - Royal Commission on Iron Industry. - Order of Business.
Motion (by Mr. Thomas) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
– I have to announce that the commissioners appointed to deal with the redistribution of seats in Victoria are - Mr. Oldham, the Chief Electoral Officer of the Commonwealth ; Mr. Molloy, Chief Returning Officer for Victoria; and Mr. Reid, SurveyorGeneral for Victoria.
– Has the Minister of Trade and Customs taken any steps towards instituting a search’ for the derelict vessel reported off the South Australian and Western Australian coast?
– As I informed the honorable member yesterday, I approved of the trawler Endeavour being despatched as soon as possible in order to make a search : and the arrangements have so far advanced that the vessel will be able to leave late to-night or first thing to-morrow morning.
Mr. CANN (Nepean) £3.55].- Have the Government any further information in regard to the report of the Royal Commission on the iron industry at Lithgow ?
– I am informed by the Minister of Trade and Customs that the report has arrived. The Budget will be the first business on Tuesday, and the Government hope and expect the debate will be concluded next week. The second reading of the Commonwealth Banking Bill will be moved on Wednesday, and the debate adjourned until after the Budget debate has been disposed of.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 3.57 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 10 November 1911, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1911/19111110_reps_4_62/>.