4th Parliament · 2nd Session
Mr. Speaker took the chair at 10.30 a.m. and read prayers.
– I wish to know from the Minister of Home Affairs if the Commissioners for the redistribution of the electoral divisions of New South Wales have yet been appointed.
– No . We have not yet obtained the consent of the New South Wales Government to all the appointments.
– Will the delay mean putting off the redistribution until after the general elections?
asked the Treasurer, upon notice -
– It is not proposed to alter the Act in these respects.
asked the Minister of Trade and Customs, upon notice -
Whether he will lay upon the Table a short statement of the fees and allowances for expenses arranged to be granted to the members of the Sugar Commission?
asked the Minister of External Affairs upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are -
New South Wales Telephonists - Telephone Lines - Shortage ofcopper Wire. - Heywood-Dartmore Telephone.
– On the 24th November, the honorable member for Gwydir asked to be informed of the number of applicants who qualified for appointment as telephonists at the last examination in New South Wales, and how many have since been appointed, with the number each occupied on the list, and the date on which the appointee was notified to attend for duty. An interim answer was given, but the DeputyPostmasterGeneral, Sydney; has now furnished the details required. They are as follow : -
At the last examination, held on 24th June, 191 1 , for appointment as telephonist at Sydney and suburban; telephone exchanges, 172 candi dates qualified. Forty-five have since been appointed.
To these the Deputy-Postmaster-General, Melbourne, has furnished the following replies : -
The quantity of copper wire issued for use in country districts for two years, from 1st July, 1909, to 30th June, 1911, was 200 tons 12 cwt. o qrs. 25 lbs.
On the 24th November, the honorable member for Wannon also asked these questions -
The replies furnished by the Deputy PostmasterGeneral, Melbourne, are as follow : -
Mr. KING O’MALLEY laid upon the table the following paper : -
Election for Boothby, nth November, 191 1 - Detailed return.
In Committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message) :
Motion (by Mr. Fisher) agreed to -
That is is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a Bill for an Act relating to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration and the public service of the Commonwealth.
Resolution reported and adopted.
– I move -
That this Bill be now read a second time.
The measure affords an opportunity to the employes of the public to appeal to the Arbitration Court for the settlement of differences and the adjustment of anomalies Its provisions are , in many respects, similar to those of the principal Act. Obviously, it would be impossible for the Court to deal with individual cases, but the members of any class or grade, numbering 100, may register as an organization, and appeal to the Court, and where in any class or grade within the Commonwealth there are fewer than 100 employes, three-fifths of the total number may form themselves into an association and register. The powers of the Court are set out in clause 6, which is virtually a repetition of similar provisions in the principal Act. Under clause 3, employes in any division, class, grade, or branch of the Public Service of the Commonwealth, Or in any calling, service, handicraft, occupation, or avocation in it, are to be deemed employe’s in an industry within the meaning of the Act 1 904-11. An organization of employes may submit to the Court by plaint any claim relating to the salaries, wages, rates of pay, or terms or conditions of service or employment of its members, and the Court shall thereupon have cognisance of the claim as if it were an industrial dispute within the meaning of the principal Act.
The Court is empowered to make a common rule, which can be extended to persons outside, the organization represented before it. The Public Service Commissioner and the Minister of any Department affected by a claim may be represented, either jointly or separtely, in its hearing and determination, but neither party to a case can be represented by counsel or solicitor. The employer is the people of the country, of whom the Public Service Commissioner is the agent. He will represent the employer’s case, the organization will represent the employes’ case, and an impartial chairman, hearing what the two parties have to say, will make such award as he may think just. Clause 7 enables the Court to refer any claim or matter arising out of a claim to a Judge of a State Court, a police, stipendiary, or special magistrate, or other person authorized by the GovernorGeneral in that behalf, to whom it may delegate. such of its powers as it deems desirable. In such an event, for example, as a dispute arising in connexion with the construction of the transcontinental railway, the employes affected could not come to the Court, nor the Court go to them, and in all cases of the kind the matter will be referred in the manner provided for, but there would be an appeal to the Court from “the decision of the person to whom the hearing of the case was delegated. Under no circumstances, however, will there be an appeal from the decision of the Court itself. Iri clause 8 we have the necessary provision that-
The Public Service Commissioner, and the Permanent Heads and chief officers of the several Departments of State, and all persons in the Public Service of the Commonwealth, shall comply with the provisions of any award or order of the Court made in pursuance of this Act.
That will place the employer of the public servants of the Commonwealth, or his agent, in exactly the same position as is an employer in private enterprise. In other words, they must obey the orders of the Court. The Court, under clause 9, may exercise any of its powers under the Act of its own volition in certain circumstances, or on the application of a claimant organization, or of a Minister of State, or the Public Service Commissioner. That provision is in keeping with the terms of the principal Act. Under clause 10, the Court in making an award will not be restricted to the matters set forth in the plaint. Power is given to it to make any award or order that it thinks necessary in the interests of the public or of the Public Service, This is a very proper provision to make, since it frequently happens that men, while knowing that they are dissatisfied, do not always recognise the precise cause for their dissatisfaction or the precise remedy that is called for. It is a very trite aphorism that the onlooker sees more of the game than do the players, and the power proposed to be conferred upon the Court under this clause has already been granted to it in dealing with private employers and employes. Clause 11 declares that no costs shall be allowed on either side; and clause 12 provides that neither party is to be represented by counsel or solicitor. I come now to clause 13, which repeats the amending section introduced in the principal Act by the Bill passed earlier in the session, providing, really, that the decision of the Court shall be final. This clause, however, will have a wider scope than has that in the amending Bill passed earlier in the session, to which I have just referred, inasmuch as our powers are, in regard to the public servants of the Commonwealth, plenary. We are subject in this regard only to those restrictions in the Constitution which deal with the rights of public servants. Those rights cannot be taken from them by this or any other measure; but, subject to that condition, this Parliament can do whatever it elects to do in respect of the Commonwealth Public Service, and can, therefore, delegate to the Court the same power. Under the Constitution, officers transferred from the States , to the Commonwealth have certain rights, and those rights cannot be taken from them by the Court. Subject tothe Constitution generally, however, the decision of the Court is to be final.
– But all these appeals would be for a grant of further powers or advantages ; no appeals are made to reduce, limit, or take away constitutional powers.
– There cannot, and need not, be any appeal on a matter clearly within the jurisdiction of the Court. If we are to have finality, we might as well have it here as well as anywhere else. I come now to a matter in connexion with which considerable difficulty naturally arises out of the circumstances of the case. Clause 14 provides that - (1.) Every award made under this Act shall be expressed not to come into operation until a future date, not earlier than after the expiration of thirty days after the award has been laid before both Houses of the Parliament. (2.) When an award has been made under this Act, the President of the Court shall forthwith send to the Prime Minister and to the AttorneyGeneral a certified copy of the award. (3.) The Prime Minister shall, within fourteen days after its receipt, if the Parliament is then sitting, or if not then within fourteen days after the next meeting of the Parliament, cause the award to be laid before both Houses of the Parliament.
Unless the scope of the Court’s authority in regard to matters brought before it by public servants was to be limited to the powers that could be exercised by the Public Service Commissioner under the Public Service Act, it is obvious that, if the Court thought proper to make such awards as were or might not be limited by the scope of the Act, those awards should come before Parliament. We have, therefore, provided, under clauses 14 and 15, for an award to be made by the Court which may, in effect, be or amount to, when adopted, an amendment of existing legislation. Whatever Statutes now govern the relation between the Commonwealth and its public servants necessarily impose upon the Public Service Commissioner certain restrictions. Whether he is desirous or not of going outside those restrictions he cannot do so. There is only one authority at present that is able to do so, and that is Parliament itself. For example, in the third schedule of the Public Service Act it is prescribed that in the clerical division fifth class officers shall begin at £40, £50. and £60 a year, and that their salaries shall increase until they receive, in the sixth subdivision,£160 per annum. If the Public Service Commissioner desired to pay the men in that subdivision£180 per annum he could not do so, although he might make such an increase in the case of public servants whose maximum salary was set down, not in the Act. but under some regulation under the Act. It is, therefore, perfectly clear, and, of course, there are many other cases of the kind, that unless the functions of the Court are to be so severely confined as to practically make it a mere censor of regulations under the Act, it must have power to make such awards as it thinks fits, regardless of whether or not those awards come within an Act of Parliament. And here we come to the most important point. It would obviously be mostundersirable that any
Court, tribunal, or person outside the Parliament should be permitted to fix, without supervision or regulation of any sort whatever, any rates or conditions of employment that it thought fit for public servants of the Commonwealth, irrespective of the ability of the Treasurer to pay therm or the country to find the money. It is perfectly true, and we must not forget it, however, that a private employer is bound to observe the awards of the Court, and must find the money necessary to enable him to do so. Once the Court has said that he must pay a certain wage he is bound to pay it. Mr. Justice Higgins the other day made an award in the seamen’s case, which I have been told will involve an extra payment in wages amounting to 00,000 a year. If this Parliament had suddenly to face the possibility of an additional expenditure of ^100,000 a year such a contingency would exercise our minds very considerably, and we should have to think very carefully before we assented to such a proposition. For the employers of the seamen, however, there is no escape - they must pay the extra money. I wish, however, to point out a fundamental distinction between the community and the individual as an employer. When Mr. Justice Higgins made an award in the Broken Hill case he prescribed a rate of wage which was considered by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, I think, to be such as could not be paid, having regard to the price which their ore was then fetching, and the company, therefore, declined to work the mine, and did not work it for some time. Clearly any employer has that option. If he carries on his enterprise he must pay the rates fixed by the Court, but he need not carry it on. The Commonwealth Public Service, however, is in a different position. It must go on, no matter what wage is prescribed. Take, for instance, the Postal Department. It is obvious that if for any reason the wages of public servants in that Department were trebled by order of the Court, the people of the Commonwealth would not listen to any suggestion that, because of that increase of wages, or for any other reason, the Postal Department must be shut down. It could not be shut down. We have, therefore, provided that since Parliament is the representative of the people, and upon us is the responsibility of the whole business, any award that is in conflict with any Statute or regulation under a Statute must, before it can take effect, be laid on the table of each House in the Parliament, and that if either House, by resolution, takes exception to it, it shall then become null and void. While giving an unlimited freedom to the Court to redress any grievance, we thus retain in the hands of the Parliament the right that belongs to the community of saying whether or not they are prepared to accept the conditions of service which the Court thinks proper to impose. While this is a check in one direction, it also imposes a very necessary check in another. The public servants will have the assurance that any proposed reduction in their salaries by the Court at any time, or any proposal to make their conditions worse, will come before Parliament, which may, if it thinks fit, object to such proposals - whether the proposals be for a reduction or an increase Parliament will have the right to veto.
This Bill seems to me to give the Public Service a tribunal from which they, by no conceivable means, can suffer any detriment to which Parliament itself does not assent. Any . dispute or difference will be heard, sifted, and adjudicated on by an impartial tribunal, and any award made will be laid, in substance and in detail, before honorable members, who will have an opportunity to express their opinion upon it, and, if thought proper, vote against it. ‘ It is provided in clause 16 that the office of the Industrial Registrar, the duties of which have been most satisfactorily performed by the present occupant ever since the inception of the Court, shall be taken out of the control of the Public Service Commissioner. It would be obviously an anomaly to allow the Public Service Commissioner to regulate the salary of a person who will, at the same time, be in a quasi judicial position in regard to the officers under the Public Service Commissioner. It is, therefore, proposed to make the Industrial Registrar an independent officer subject only to Parliament. His salary, which will be appropriated, commences at £600, and increases by yearly increments of ,£50 to .£850. This Bill will affect, at present, some 35,000 persons, and in the future, no doubt, a considerably larger number. The number of permanent hands in the Public Service is slightly over 16,000, and the temporary hands are about 19,000; while the salaries paid to the permanent hands aggregate £2,300,000, and those to the temporary hands about ,£400,000. The total in 1910 was ,£2,516,000. Since this Government came into office the Commonwealth permanent public servants have received increments totalling some £200,000 per annum, and the temporary officers about £50,000. This means that, as a result of the action of the Fisher Government, the public servants now receive £250,000 per annum more than previously. The Court has, in this Bill, been rid of all those restrictions that have hampered it in its general application ; and the public servants will have a tribunal from which they will receive expeditious and economical treatment, and the assurance of a careful and independent hearing, and they will know that whatever award is made will be subject to approval by Parliament. There will be absolutely the best possible guarantee that any employes, either public or private, could, or ought to, desire. Any matters of detail to which I have not referred I shall deal with in Committee, and simply content myself now with moving that the Bill be read a second time.
.- I should have liked a little more time to look at the Bill. I recognise, however, that the Government are desirous of getting on quickly with the business, and, as some professional engagement may prevent my being here next Wednesday, I should like to say at once how the measure strikes me. I do not know why the Bill has been introduced except to get over some difficulty in connexion with the claims of transferred officers. I cannot understand why, as a matter of policy, we should supersede the Public Service Act, and, to some extent, upset our power of fixing salaries by Act of Parliament. I remember that there were deputations to the PostmasterGeneral and other Ministers in connexion with what are called the accrued rights of some of the transferred officers. Eventually a way out of the difficulty was suggested by one Minister, who thought that the matter might be referred to the Arbitration Court. Apparently, therefore, the genesis of this Bill is the difficulty in connexion with some of the transferred officers as to their accrued rights under section 84 of the Constitution. I may, of course, be wrong in this supposition ; but one PostmasterGeneral - the present Minister of External Affairs, I think-was reported in the press to have made the suggestion I have indicated. Is this Bill the result of that promise? If so, it seems to me very unwise to upset all our agreements, and the parliamentary control over the public servants, in order to surmount a difficulty which we have not attempted to face by a special Act. There are some transferred officers who consider that, under section 84 of the Constitution, they have been deprived of certain annual increments they were entitled to under the Acts of the States. They also complain in regard to certain allowances for doing Savings Bank business, and in regard to their furlough having been cut down. There are these and some other rights of which, according to their contention, they have been deprived. I am not now, of course, dealing with the merits of their contention. Personally, I think that the Public Service Commissioner did what he was perfectly entitled to do under the Public Service Act. I do not say that the transferred officers have been fairly treated by Parliament - that is another matter. AVe have invested the Public Service Commissioner with certain powers and responsibilities either directly or .by necessary implication in the terms of the Act j and this, at all events, has been his legal justification for not classifying all the officers in a special way under the Act, 50 as to give them the full rights in all cases that they enjoyed under the Acts of the States. But whatever may have been the restraint which prevented the Public Service Commissioner, perhaps, from- recognising the full claims of these officers, there is no doubt that we could have amended the Public Sevrice Act so as to have granted what was fair and reasonable in the demands of those officers. If the officers have any very strong claim, it is in relation to the policy of the Government rather than in connexion with the administration of the Act by the Public Service Commissioner ; at any rate, that is how the matter strikes me. The officers ask, for instance, that their salaries shall be at a higher rate than is possible under the Public Service Act as it stands. It is said that some men who were receiving .£250 under .the State Acts at the time of the transfer lose, perhaps, z£5° or £>&° by the gradation that is necessary under the Public Service Act; and what we ought to have done was to amend the Act. Six or seven years ago, Sir George Turner, when Treasurer, informed us that the total amount involved in the claims of the transferred officers was about ^44,000 a year. In the State of South Australia, which has been most exigent in the matter, because the salaries there were cut down to a greater extent than in any other of the States, the amount necessary to settle all the claims was only ^4,000 a year, in addition to the expenditure under the Public Service Act. Time after .time, the claims of these transferred officers have been pressed on Ministers, and half-hearted and halting promises of redress have been made. ‘Their claims have never really been settled by Parliament - never actually repudiated once for all, or any attempt made by Act of Parliament to recognise them.
– What does the honorable member say .the claims of the transferred officers are?
– I have mentioned some of the specific claims. There are cases in South Australia where the classification under the Public Service Act has meant considerable reduction, in one case a reduction of .-£130 in a salary of ^400.
– As compared with the State salaries?
– I must ask .the honorable member not to go into these details.
– I have no desire to do so, but there have been very great reductions caused by the method of classification prescribed by the Act, the carrying out of which is incumbent on the Public Service Commissioner. If there are any merits in the claim of the transferred officers, it is for Parliament to recognise them by an amendment of the Act. We should be justified, as a matter of policy, in providing certain conditions as applicable to transferred officers in order to get over the difficulties of the transition period. As I have said, the total amount involved was, some years ago, estimated to be about £44,000. My point is that this question has never really been tackled by any Government by means of an amendment of the Public Service Act. It seems to me that the Government now propose to get over the difficulties raised by the demands of these transferred officers by saying, “ We will refer the claims of the whole service to the Court of Arbitration.”
– Does the honorable member suggest that a claim arising out of constitutional rights should be referred to the Court of Arbitration?
– I do not. These transferred officers claimed certain constitutional rights under section 84. The High Court has said that section 84 does not extend to all their cases - that was decided in the cases of Bond against the Commonwealth and Cousins against the Commonwealth - but the officers say that on the merits, apart altogether from the law, they are entitled to have their claims recognised. The High Court said that with regard to some of them, the rights to salaries were preserved only until some competent legislature had dealt with the matter,, that they enjoyed those rights under the Civil Service Acts of the States, but that those Acts could have been amended by Parliament at any time, arid that, therefore, it was competent for this Legislature, which now deals with these officers, to do what the States could have done by amending the Act. Apart, however, from the question of law, the merits are for Parliament to deal with, and it seems to me a well-founded complaint on the part of the transferred officers that there has never been an attempt by Parliament to deal with their claims. What, however, was hinted at on one or two occasions was that possibly the whole matter might be referred to the Court of Arbitration, excluding, of course, the question of law as to whether or not their claims were preserved as accrued rights under section 84.
– It was suggested at one time that a friendly case should be stated on the matter.
– It was, but I am sorry to say that the Government rather blocked the way to that friendly case coming on, because, when action was taken in that direction by the transferred officers in South Australia, every technical defence open under the Act was put in by the Government of the day, including, for instance, the defence that, as Parliament had not made the necessary appropriation, the salaries could not have been paid.
– The South Australian officers came to see me, and I advised them that they would not gain from such a hearing, and they took my advice.
– I think the AttorneyGeneral is quite right in offering the opinion that, on the law, it was exceedingly doubtful whether they could establish their claim. I regret that some Ministry has not felt it incumbent upon itself to allay the discontent of these transferred officers by bringing in some recognition of their claims upon the merits, either by motion or by a Bill to amend the Public Service Act.
– Is it suggested that this should be done by an Act, or that some inquiry should be made into the merits of each particular case?
– There are only two States affected to any extent - South Australia and Queensland, and the merits of the claims of the officers in each State could be dealt with. It is not necessary to deal with each particular officer, because their case is that they have been affected as classes, and of course the individual has suffered to the extent to which, his salary has been reduced by classification. I would even now ask the Government whether it would not be wiser to bring in an amendment of the Public Service Act to deal with that matter, which seems to be the origin of the whole of this Bill, and let the House, on hearing the merits of the claims, once for all decide upon them by passing or rejecting that Bill, instead of having a Bill of this sort brought in.
– I would consider a suggestion that these claims should be submitted to the Court, . and that whatever decision was arrived at should be laid on the table of the House. It would then be the property of the House, and the House could discuss it.
– There is nothing to refer to the Court now as a matter of law, the case of Cousins against .the Commonwealth having decided that the officers’ salaries could have been altered by Parliament. If that is so, of course, the wind is knocked out of the officers’ sails, so far as the law is concerned. I regret that, apparently to get over the difficulty raised by the importunity of these officers, there has been introduced an amendment of the Public Service Act to hand over to the Court of Arbitration the power to refix the wages or salaries of any class of officers. Is this expedient? I do not think there is a Government in the world that allows the salaries of its servants to be handed over to any lay tribunal.
– No other Governments but Australian Governments allow an outside tody to deal with the wages of anybody else’s servants.
– No doubt; but Parliaments and Governments always very jealously guard their right to say what is fair between themselves and their employes.
– That is not taken away by the Bill.
– Then what is the object of the Bill? Is it merely that, where a hundred, or less than a hundred, casual hands may have been employed, say, last week, on casual work, which may extend over five or six days or five or six weeks, - and they are discontented with, the wages paid to them, .they may immediately precipitate a dispute by lodging a claim before the Court of Arbitration, and involve the whole of the casual hands of the Commonwealth in it?
– If the honorable member’s contention was right, they would not be employes when they came .before the Court, and their claim would be set aside.
– They may be engaged for only five or six days, although the work might go on for twelve months or two years. In the case of casual hands, there is no contract, and they may be dismissed at short notice.
– Does the honorable member suggest that this Bill does not cover both permanent and temporary hands?
– It covers both. It covers about 32,000 employes, temporary or permanent, under the Public Service Act, and it also covers casual hands. “ Casuals “ are engaged from day to day or week to week. It is a much wider term here than it is in the Arbitration Act, and covers any sort of day labourer. Is it expedient, then, if there is discontent among, say, seventy out of a hundred casual hands employed on any work for the Commonwealth, that they should be empowered to precipitate a dispute and have a common rule made applicable to all the casual hands throughout Australia ?
– Not exactly to all, but to all those who are employed in doing that class of work.
– The Bill does not sayso ; it is very wide in its terms, as will be seen by clauses 2 and 3. The ordinary labourers are men with whom I have the greatest sympathy. They are deserving of all consideration, because they have to give an immense amount of their reserve force very often for comparatively low wages ; but, unfortunately, they are a class who are still very great in numbers, and all those employed by the Commonwealth throughout Australia might become involved. When we have started our railways, they might number 15,000 or 20,000. Is it expedient that sixty or seventy men should have the power to involve all those persons in a dispute? As a matter of common sense, it is better that their right to wages should be determined by, say, the Minister of Home Affairs or the Minister of External Affairs, whichever has control of the construction of the- railways. Can the President of the Arbitration’ Court decide right off as to what ought to be a common rule applicable to all those men throughout Australia? It may be said that he will make a rule with modifications restricted to a part of them, but he does not do that now. So far as the common rule can be made, the tendency of the Court is to make it as wide . as the power. There was an attempt to make a common rule in the bootmakers’ case. The matter was referred to the High Court, and it was decided that it could not be done.
– That constitutional bar will not obtain here.
– I am merely dealing with the question of expediency. It seems to me that there are no constitutional bars in this case, because, as we are dealing with our own Public Service, we can do just as we like. Is it expedient to transfer from the direct control of Parliament, or of the Minister, or of the Public Service Commissioner, or of any administrative Department or branch of it which we choose to establish or have established, the power to decide what are fair rates of pay as regards employment, to the President of the Court of Arbitration, and not merely to him, but to any stipendiary magistrate of a State, who, under this Bill, will be able to make an award applicable to the employes of the Commonwealth Public Service? Under clause 7 the President of the Court, who, of course, cannot compass all these disputes throughout the length and breadth of Australia, can delegate to a Judge of a State Court, or a police stipendiary, or special magistrate, the power to make an investigation, or even a determination. Under the existing Arbitration Act a reference may be made, but there the State tribunal reports to the President, and the President makes the award. All that he can do is to ask for the guidance of a special tribunal - I think the Supreme Court of a State - as to what ought to be the local conditions applicable to particular employes in connexion with a dispute extending through the length and breadth of Australia.
– There is an appeal from the decision of the subsidiary tribunal.
– It is undesirable- to do by methods of circumlocution what can be done directly. Why should we give a hundred employes out of some thousands the right to begin a dispute, and then authorize the police magistrate of a State, perhaps, to make an award in connexion with it ? That award’ having been made, it can. be upset, and it is conditioned by the provision that it shall not come into force until laid before Parliament. Should it involve any modification, as it must in nine-tenths, of the cases, of the conditions of permanent employment it will not take effect until the Attorney-General has considered it, and directed the attention of Parliament to it.
– That does not apply in regard to casual or temporary employes.
– It applies to temporary employes within the meaning of the Public Service Act.
– Not as to rates of pay.
– The casual employes may be dealt with finally by a police magistrate unless there is an appeal to the President of the Arbitration Court. Notwithstanding our jealousy of State intrusion in the Commonwealth sphere, we are handing over powers that we can exercise directly or through our officials to members of the most ordinary of the legal tribunals of the States, subject to an appeal from their decision to the President of the Arbitration Court.
– Hitherto the objection has been that every case has to go before one man, but when we propose to create a number of tribunals, fault is found with, that.
– There is a great difference between one tribunal composed of several Judges and a score cf tribunals each consisting of One person. Even in this matter the Bill is not consistent, because in regard to officers coming under the PublicService Act, the attention of Parliament must be drawn to the fact that the award” creates an interference, whereas in regard to casual hands there is only the appeal re the President of the Arbitration Court. I do not know why we should adopt this method of settling disputes between those administering the Commonwealth Public Service and their officers. I have not muchto say about the Bill in detail, but I point out that clause 15 provides that if Parliament passes a resolution disapprovingof a-n award, that award shall not come intooperation. If such a resolution were rescinded twelve months later, would theaward then come into operation ? Does thepassing of a resolution by Parliament merelysuspend an award?
– What is the law in regard to regulations?
– According to the Acts Interpretation Act 1904 -
If either House of the Parliament passes a resolution of which notice has been given at any time within fifteen sitting days after such regulations have been laid before such House disallowing any regulation, such regulation shall thereupon cease to have effect.
In other words, the regulation has been in force, and the resolution puts an end to it.
– I agree with the honorable member that there should be finality, but it would be dangerous to let awards take effect immediately, if they were contrary to the Act.
– The clause is necessary for the Bill, but the Bill is a bad one, because it attemptsto accomplish by circumlocution what could be accomplished directly.
– Can Parliament deal directly with disputes in the Public Service?
– There is nothing to prevent us from dealing directly with the discontent underlying the introduction of this measure.
– The honorable member does not suggest that Parliament should say how much the officers of one class and another should be paid ?
– I do not use the word “ directly “ in that sense. The Public Service Act provides for classification and rates of salary within certain grades, promotions, and other matters, the details of adminstration being left to the Commissioner. I use the word “ directly “ in the sense that it is open to us to consider the existing machinery for the control of the service, and, if necessary, to amend and improve it.
– There should be some appeal from the decisions of the Public Service Commissioner, who is only human.
– Does the AttorneyGeneral think that the police magistrate of a State can deal with the questions which arise more reasonably and fairly than the Commissioner ?
– I have no predilections for a police magistrate, but I had in mind the case of men engaged on railway construction Works who might have a dispute. They might be situated 200 miles or more from any centre where adjudge sat. “
– The Government is driven to. this machinery by the bad policy which it has adopted. It throws, perhaps, on the police magistrate of a State, the power to determine the conditions and rates of pay of Commonwealth employes, without a knowledge of Commonwealth responsibilities, in one case subject only to an appeal to the President of the Arbitration Court, and, in another, subject to the approval of Parliament. Moreover, the safeguards provided in the Act of 1904-10 do not apply in connexion with disputes provided for in the Bill, because the Bill is not to be incorporated in that Act.
– Will not the honorable member acknowledge that there is a considerable amount of dissatisfaction in connexion with the decisions of the Public Service Commissioner?
– There will alwavs be that.
– Is the service to have no redress ?
– It is for Parliament to give redress, and it is the duty of Ministers to inquire into alleged causes of discontent. The chief cause of discontent now existing is the claim advanced in connexion with accrued rights under the Constitution which the High Court has not recognised as falling under section 84, but to deal with it it is not necessary to upset our administration. While I would treat with the greatest respect all legitimate claims by the Public Service, I think that it would obtain fairer and more reasonable conditions from an amendment of the Public Service Act, or the discussion of a motion giving honorable members an opportunity to consider any case. That would be better than this revolutionary interference with the Act.
.- I congratulate the Government on the introduction of the Bill. We have been told that there are 20,000 permanent employs in the Public Service, and many temporary hands. The honorable member for Angas seems to think that Parliament should consider and deal with the grievances of all who are dissatisfied with the findingsof the Public Service Commissioner, but I am of opinion that we were returned to devote the time which should be given to the consideration of public affairs to the discussion of details of Public Service administration. We have provided for arbitration for the settlement of disputes, and should have enough faith in our legislation to apply to disputes with our own servants the principles that we apply to disputes between private employers and employe’s. If we are to accept the argument of the honorable member for Angas that we, as a Parliament, should deal individually with our employes, I think that the same argument should logically be applied to the position of the private employer. If it is wise that the Parliament should deal directly with its employes, discuss their grievances with them, and endeavour to adjust them, then I think there is enough humanity in the private employer to induce us to say to him, ‘” The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act is a failure, and we ask you to deal directly with your own employes and endeavour to adjust their grievances.” I do not hesitate to say, however, that the decisions given by the Federal Court have had a beneficial influence on the prosperity of the Commonwealth. Every award made by Mr. Justice Higgins and Mr. Justice O’Connor has been respected. There has been no rebellion against awards of the Federal Court. W;e are all pleased that it is so, for it is not our desire that there should be any industrial upheaval. We are pleased to know that so far as the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Act has worked smoothly, and since it has done so we should be prepared to place our public servants under the jurisdiction of the Court, believing that they will get justice from it. If a mistake should be made, then under this Bill the Parliament will stand between the Court and the Public Service. A direct safeguard is actually provided. If the Court in a period of depression directed a reduction of wages in respect of certain branches of the Public Service it would be for the Parliament to say whether or not such a reduction should be made. Why should we make our public servants a special class, and place them upon a pedestal far above all other taxpayers in the community? If it is good for the mechanic, the shearer, the station hand, the seaman, the boot operator, and, in short, all other organized labour to come within the scope of the Federal Arbitration Court it is only right that public servants, who are in steady work, and receiving regular salaries, should be prepared to go to the Court to maintain, if necessary, their rights.
– Would the honorable member allow this Parliament to review a decision of this Court in respect of public servants?
– The Bill itself provides for that.
– Only where a decision of the Court .goes beyond the existing law.
– Quite so. I have not a word to say against Mr. McLachlan, the Public Service Commissioner ; no man in his position could be above reproach. It is a very easy matter to find fault with a man occupying such an office. He has to classify the Public Service, to grade offices, fix salaries, and so forth, and at present there is no appeal from his decisions. Wherever we go we are met by public servants who wish to bring before us the grievances under which they consider they labour, and who seek our intervention with a view of obtaining redress. There is no appeal from the Public Service Commissioner except to members of Parliament. Under this Bill, however, a decision given by the Public Service Commissioner concerning any question of wages may be reviewed by the Court. Public servants, instead of having to interview individual members of Parliament - instead of having to suiter any less of manhood - will be able to lay their grievances before the Court, and to obtain justice from it. We must all admit that the Public Service Commissioner has made mistakes, and he has made them because he has not had direct evidence to guide him. He has not had before him the men concerned, and has not been able to examine them. He has to obtain statements from various responsible officers, and, although he does the best he can with the material at hand, he must, in son-p cases, make mistakes. If, however, a mistake is made by the Court, it will not lie due to lack of information. The Court will have power to take the evidence, to hear witnesses examined and cross-examined, and te inquire in detail into the work being performed by the various employe’. Under this system, no injustice should be possible. This is one of the best measures that the Government have formulated this session. It is designed to prevent a great deal of discontent in the Public Service, and I am sure that if our public servants place their case before the Court they will loyally abide by its decisions, just as men following other occupations have done.
– Does not the honorable member think that they will continue to interview members of Parliament?
– I do; but if public servants complained to me after the Court had thoroughly considered their case, and had made an award, I should say to them, “ You are in the same position as are other men in the community who have obtained an award of the Court. The Court has made an award in your case, and you must give it a fair trial.” If there is anything wrong in an award, they will have the right to seek a variation of it. The honorable member for Angas has pointed out that the conditions of public servants are different from those of other sections of the community. I admit that they are, and that we, as a Parliament, should stand up to our responsibilities. I know that the fear on the part of many public servants is that, under this proposal, they may lose someof their privileges; but it is not the intention of this Government to take away any of their privileges. Recently, a strike ofpublic servants was threatened in South Australia, and another in New South Wales; and weh ave a right to look ahead and to see that we cannot fairly be held responsible should a strike actually occur, The Postmaster- General presides over a Department employing thousands of men. and his time is taken up with a. thousandandone questions, so that he cannot be expected to make a minute inquiry into all the details of employment in his branch of the service. He has naturally to rely on the word of his responsible officers. The trouble is, however, that those officers might be prejudiced, and that when a body of men waited onthe Minister he might, so to speak, “ get his back up,” and say, “ I have made up my mind. I am guided by my responsible officers, and can do no more.” The result might be a. strike of public servants. But if the Minister is guided by the evidence given before the Court and the award made by it, there can be less likelihood of mistakes than there is under existing circumstances. I believe we are all anxious to make the Public Service an ideal one - to pay the best possible wages, and give the best possible conditions. But, while that is so, we have to remember that the public outside have to maintain the revenue of the country, and that we have to see justice done to the community generally, as well as to our own employes. I know of no fairer method by which this can be secured than the proposal to empower the Conciliation and Arbitration Court to consider all these questions, and give an impartial judgment on the matters submitted to it. The Court should be able to say, for instance, what, for three or four years, should be the wages of a letter-carrier. In arriving at a determination it would consider the duties of a letter-carrier. It would take into consideration the fact that he had to attend at an early hour in the morning, assist in sorting letters, and then deliver them ; that he would have an hour or two off in the middle of the day, and then return to duty, and be employed for a certain number of hours. It would consider, further, whether he had to carry heavy loads, whether he had to be constantly climbing upstairs, or whether his duties required him to be out in all sorts of weather.
– And the weight of his bag.
– Yes, even the weight of his bag would be taken into consideration. The Court would have regard to all these matters, and its decisions should have a steadying influence. A wage would be fixed in respect of the man whohad to deliver letters on foot, and another in respect of the man who delivered letters on horseback. And so with the telegraph operators. Each case would be dealt with separately, and I believe that this system must lead to our obtaining a more satisfied service. It is no argument to say that this is the first attempt made by any Government to bring Commonwealth servants under the Court. From time to time we have made changes, because we believed that they were desired by the country, and would be for the benefit of the people. If the country believes in the principle of arbitration, then we should have no hesitation in bringing our own employes under the Act.
– In giving them the same medicine as employes in other walks of life take.
– Yes. Every fair award both of the Federal Court and the Arbitration Court of New South Wales has been respected.
– Do the majority of the public servants favour this proposal ?
– I do not care whether they do or do not. We must not forget that we are here to represent, not only the public servants, but the community as a whole. While we want to provide for fair wages, and reasonable conditions and privileges for our public servants, we must not put them on a pedestal so high that they cannot be approached by those in other walks of life. The workers outside the Public Service have also to earn their wages, and in justice to them, as well as to the men in the service, we are anxious to secure a fair deal all round. I hail this measure with pleasure, because I believe it marks a step ‘111 the right direction. I know of men in the Public Service who are very anxious to have an opportunity to place their case before the Court, because at present they have not the right of appeal and I believe the ultimate effect of this Bill will be to bring about far more contentment in the Public Service than at present prevails.
– -I have heard the Attorney-General make some excellent speeches in introducing Bills relating to conciliation and arbitration, 1 but his speech to-day seemed to lack the old ring.
– Because he is in bad health.
– Yes, but the reason no doubt was that, although this Bill purports to be an extension of the principle of arbitration, he was not able to marshal any substantial arguments in support of it. There is no public demand, or any demand even within the service, for a Bill of this kind. I admit that in times past and, in fact, within recent years, there have been numerous complaints of grievances and inequalities; but most of these have been ventilated and made the subject of the evidence before the Postal Commission, and the bulk really touch legislation rather than the administration of the existing law. If this Bill be passed, the bulk of these grievances will remain unredressed or undealt with unless there is an amendment of the Public Service Act. It has been said that this is a Bill for the extension of the principal of arbitration. The honorable member for South Sydney has told us that the public approve of this principle as applied to disputes between private employers and employes, and that, therefore, it may fairly be applied to controversies between the Commonwealth Government and its employes. That argument, however, altogether ignores the fundamental principle of the Public Service Act, which is that the Public Service Commissioner shall be the arbitrator for the determination of the rights and privileges, as well as the duties, of the public servants. The Public Service Commissioner is appointed by law as an arbitrator to deal with and settle matters as between the Executive Government, on the one hand, and the departmental officers on the other. He is there also for the purpose of abolishing what was formerly denounced as political patronage; and thus he relieves Ministers of the Crown and members of the unpleasant responsibility of interfering or taking sides in Public Service disputes. As I say, the Public Service Commissioner is really an arbitrator.
– He is an administrator !
– He is an arbitrator, and he has been invested with powers and functions of a very important and farreaching character. He is appointed on the assumption that he has special qualifications as a judge, and that he has an inside knowledge of the working of the various Departments.
– Is he not a party to any dispute ?
– Certainly .not. Parliament, or the Minister, is the real employer ; and Parliament has, by legislation, appointed the Commissioner as an independent judge to classify the work of the officers and assign the value of that work.
– The Public Service Commissioner does not take evidence.
– The Public Service Commissioner, before he classified the work of the Commonwealth, travelled throughout the length and breadth of the country and inquired into the inner working of all the branches and sub-branches, and every officer had access to him and the opportunity to give evidence.
– Is not the dispute over the Public Service Commissioner’s classifications ?
– No; the Public Service Commissioner has been placed in the position of a free and independent arbitrator. It might as well be proposed to grant another appeal from the present Arbitration Court. There must be finality somewhere; we cannot have an endless series of appeals from an endless series of Courts. The Commonwealth Commissioner, practically, deals with appeals from the decisions of superior officers and the heads of Departments. If an officer does not receive justice from his immediate superior, he may appeal to the permanent head, and from die permanent head to the Commissioner, whose position is the head of a series of legal determinations and safeguards for the protection of the officers, as well as for the efficiency of the service. In the Public Service Act we have the principle of arbitration, and numerous sections show that the Commissioner at the head of the Public Service organization, is, so to speak, a judge intrusted with the duty and responsibility of doing justice. He is the trusted officer of Parliament and of the Government - he would not remain there if he were not, It is not a fact that arbitration has been ignored in the Act, or that it is necessary to introduce a measure of this kind. The evidence given before the Postal Commission shows that the bulk of the grievances relates to the necessity for the alteration of the law as to classification, promotion, transfer, discipline, and so forth.
– They nearly all relate to the rates of pay.
– That involves legislation.
– Not necessarily.
– If Parliament considers that the rate of pay for any particular class or grade is insufficient, we have the remedy in our own hands without creating a new tribunal. The hands of the Public Service Commissioner are tied only by the limits of the law ; and, if the law is unjust, it is the duty of Parliament to alter it. If the Ministry regard any laws ot regulations as unfair, it is their duty to submit proposals to Parliament -for their rectification rather than to shunt the complaints, as it were, into a side track with a dead-end, where nothing further can be done. I have said that there is no demand, within or without the service, for this legislation ; and I should like to refer to the petition presented to this House in October last, signed by over 5,000 public servants of the Commonwealth. In that petition they say that they have been informed of the contemplated alteration of the law providing for an appeal to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, and they protest against the proposed alteration. The signatures include those of representatives of the Public Service in every State, and the petition may be regarded as a representative expression of the views of the service. The petition contains the following : -
That the Prime Minister has stated that it is the intention of the Government early in next session of Parliament to amend the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902, so as to allow the officers of the Commonwealth Service to avail themselves of the provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act.
That from time immemorial Parliament has been the final Court of Appeal for servants of the Crown.
That the introduction of the Federal Arbitration Court into the administration of the service would rob Parliament of its prerogative of exercizing final jurisdiction over the servants of the Crown.
That from the statement of the Hon. the Prime Minister, it would appear that the responsibility for the welfare of the officers of the service which, devolves on Parliament is to be delegated to a tribunal outside its jurisdiction.
That investigations under the Arbitration Court would be lengthy, costly, and burdensome.
That by effective administration based upon the report of the Royal Commission on Postal Services, and subject to revision by Parliament, all grievances in the service could be thereby adjusted.
That, owing to the duties performed within the service being peculiar thereto, the general conditions in regard to such can be defined by Parliament and by a more perfect method of administration.
The signatures include those of lettercarriers, telegraphists, telegraph messengers, clerks, linesmen, line foremen, accountants, messengers, sorters, lift attendants, battery men, junior assistant engineers, telephone inspectors, mechanics. It is not signed by head officers or high officials only, so that it, apparently, represents the view of the rank and file, and all branches of the service.
– The petition is founded on a false assumption, to start with !
– I suppose the officers know their business fairly well, and they realize that the intention is to shunt their grievances into a Court, where they will end.
– They assert in the petition that the proposed legislation will take away the right of appeal, while, as a fact the right of appeal to this House is not taken away.
– It has already been pointed out that, if the officers go to the Court, and are not satisfied, they will be told by the Minister that they have exhausted their remedy, and that they had better for ever hold their peace. That will inevitably be the reply made. ‘However, I do not base my objections to the Bill so much on the grounds alleged in the petition as on higher and stronger grounds. First, there is already a method of arbitration for the determination of wages and conditions within the service. We have now a method of Public Service arbitration, which is apparently the best that Parliament has been able to devise. If it is imperfect, either as regards the constitution or the powers of the tribunal, it should be capable of being improved, and ought to be improved. If it is thought that the Public Service Commissioner should be reinforced and strengthened, or that instead of one Commissioner there .should be a board of three Commissioners, that would be one way, and a better way of dealing with the question.
– Does the honorable member favour having three Commissioners?
– I have already indicated that, to my mind, the methods of postal management and organization may be improved to some extent by establishing a board of three Commissioners.
– An independent board ?
– A board of management just as independent as are the Railways Commissioners.
– I assure the honorable member that the public servants are opposed to such a board.
– I was not aware of it. That board was actually recommended by the Postal Commission to deal with the internal management of the Postal Department, and, therefore, to deal with the employes of the Department. The development of one Commissioner into a board of three might give greater satisfaction and efficiency. My point, however, is that one Commissioneror a board of three Commissioners, constituted by the authority of Parliament and directly authorized to deal with these Public Service questions - consisting also of men with an expert and special knowledge of the Public Service - gives greater security for the rectification of grievances and the settlement of complaints consistent with the rights of the service as well as the rights of the public, than would be the case in the proposed reference to a Conciliation and Arbitration Court outside of the service.
– That is just what the Court is not. It is inside the service.
– It is not part of the Public Service.
– Mr. Justice Higgins is just as much a public servant as-
– I admit that he is a public officer and a Judge, but, at the same time, his Court has been called into existence for the purpose of settling disputes between private employers and private workers, and not to deal with the organization of the Public Service. That involves work of a special expert character, demanding the time and knowledge of special men, who should be available for continuous attention to it.
– Does the honorable member say that Mr. Justice Higgins is not fit for this job?
– I do not think he is as fit for the job as is the present Public Service Commissioner, or as a board of capable Commissioners would be. Men of that kind are specially qualified. They have the work assigned to them to deal with ; they go about from time to time, and are brought into contact with the public officers ; they are part of the network of official supervisors in the shape of inspectors and sub-inspectors; they have constant reports of the inner workings of Departments, and they know better the merits and wants of the Public Service, and any necessity that may exist for extension or elasticity within it, than can any Judge outside the Public Service.
– The public servants do not think so.
– I do not care whether they think so or not. They evidently object to being handed over to the Arbitration Court, because the petition which has been presented says, “ The duties performed within the service being peculiar thereto, the general conditions in regard to such can be defined by Parliament, and by a more perfect method of administration.” They admit that there may be a more perfect method of administration, and I say there may be, either under Ministerial supervision and direction or by an improved and strengthened Public Service Board or Commission.
– The honorable member’s suggestion is to have an independent set of Commissioners. Therefore, the honorable member’s method would mean ousting Parliament.
– Certainly not. Parliament stands as the ultimate resort in any case. It can always refuse to grant supplies. No Commission can force Parliament to grant supplies. There is no proposal on my part to supersede Parliament. Even this Bill cannot do so. I want to impress on honorable members into what a cul-de-sac, the proposed Conciliation and Arbitration Court may find itself landed in dealing with Public Service questions. First I see it is proposed to invite the public servants to band themselves into organizations. The fundamental basis of the Bill apparently is to induce them to join unions.
– That is the reason the honorable member does not like it.
– I admit that it is consistent with the fundamental principle of the original Conciliation and Arbitration Act, but at the same time it excludes the Arbitration Court from dealing with the wrongs or grievances of individual servants. An individual may have a complaint about unfair treatment, but he is not to be allowed to go to the Court unless he becomes a part oi a wide trade organization within the service. That, of course, merely goes to show the imperfection of the scheme. ‘ When the complaint or claim is formulated, it may relate to such questions as salaries, wages, rates of pay, or terms or conditions of service or employment. At the present lime, under the Public Service Act, most of those functions have been delegated to the Public Service Commissioner, so that, apparently, that provision gives the right of appeal from the Public Service Commissioner to the Court. It is proposed also to drag the Public Service Commissioner before the Court. At present he is charged with semi-judicial functions, and judicial prerogatives, and yet he is to be called upon by this Bill to appear as an advocate in an appeal before the Court. That is subjecting him to an unnecessary indignity, because it assumes that he is a partisan, whereas he is not interested in sustaining his own recommendations or determinations. These complaints or claims are not to be investigated alone before Mr. Justice Higgins, the ideal Judge, and the ideal arbitrator according to the views of some people, but he is to be authorized to refer any claim to a Judge of a Supreme Court, or a police stipendiary, or special magistrate, or other person authorized by the Governor-General to investigate and report. This Bill, therefore, practically gives a right of appeal, not to the Arbitration Court, but to the persons to whom the Court may delegate its functions. There is no provision as to the place where these references are to take place. It may be assumed from the scheme of the Bill that the central Federal Arbitration Court is now,as it were, to be broken up and disintegrated into a number of branches, or delegated authorities, in different parts of the Commonwealth. These may possibly lay down lines of policy inconsistent with one another for the settlement of disputes, and we may, therefore, have a variety of decisions relating to Public Service matters in different parts of the country, varying according to the different views or idiosyncrncies of the various persons to whom the references have been made. Therefore, we shall have nothing like uniformity, consistency, or harmony within the service. At present there are comparatively uniform rates of pay and conditions of employment in it, with certain exceptions in the tropical regions. My strongest objection to the proposed delegation is that it gives to func tionaries, whose qualifications may be unknown, jurisdiction over delicate technical questions relating to the internal administration of the Government Departments. Some of these Judges, magistrates, or other authorized persons may have no knowledge or means of obtaining knowledge of the inside workings of the various Departments.
– Yes,they have.
– They will not have that central commanding knowledge founded upon a long line of communications and a network of organizations such as is at the disposal of the Public Service Commissioner, who, although he may be sitting at the Seat of Government, has special knowledge and means for obtaining information relating to conditions of labour and employment which would not be available to those isolated functionaries in various parts of the country.
– The whole argument of your side when the last Bill was before us was that uniformity could not possibly be established throughout Australia.
– I am dealing now, not with a multiplicity of trades and organizations varying throughout the Commonwealth, but with the Public Service of the Commonwealth, which at present is integrated service. In any integrated service you must have consistency and harmony of design and execution in the carrying out of its work, and in the appointment of its awards and emoluments. An inherent weakness and infirmity of this scheme, which will help to make it break down, is the variety of officers sitting independently whom it is proposed to call into existence. One may fairly call attention to the position that may arise upon a determination by any Arbitration Court or delegated authority.
It is probable than many of the complaints of the public servants are due to the state of the law, and for that reason the Commissioner cannot redress some of the grievances that are brought before him. The Bill indeed contemplates the possibility of awards being made contrary to the law of the Commonwealth. Such awards, however, could not have force, and in those cases, therefore, no redress would be gained from an appeal to the Court. Where grievances are due to the existing law they cannot be remedied except by the amendment of that law, to secure which an appeal must be made to the Ministry and’ to Parliament. An award contrary to the Public Service or the Appropriation Acts, or the regulations thereunder, would have no force. The Bill provides that if an award is contrary to the law of the Commonwealth, a report shall be submitted to Parliament, and either House may, within thirty days, pass a resolution disapproving of it, in which case it shall not come into operation. It is needless to provide that an award inconsistent with Commonwealth law shall not operate if vetoed by either House. Such an award would not operate in any case, and must be null and void. The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration cannot provide funds for giving effect to an award increasing wages or other expenditure. The award could not operate until there had been a Parliamentary appropriation to provide for its operation.
– The Public Service Act would be inoperative without the annual appropriation of Parliament.
– Any award conflicting with Commonwealth law must be a dead letter until Parliament repeals that law . The public servants will be no better off than they are now in appealing, to the Arbitration Court in respect to some grievance which the Commissioner cannot remedy, because his hands are tied by Parliamentary enactment. The advantages offered to the Public Service by the Bill are illusionary. The public servants would be much better off by appealing to the Ministry and to Parliament. There is no need for the Bill, and it has not been asked for by those interested. Its introduction is due to a party cry. The complaints of the public servants are fully ventilated, as shown by the evidence given before the Postal Commission ; and where they are due to the state of the law, that can be remedied only by its amendment.
– I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill, because I believe it is likely to be of advantage to the whole service, which is now reeking with discontent, especially in regard to the rank and file. The public servants will feel that they are under a juster system when they have the right to appeal to an unbiased tribunal. It has been said that the Bill has not. been asked for; but if it is not needed, why are honorable members inundated with complaints from individual officers’ and from associations? Like many other members, I have declined to receive individual complaints. I have said to individual officers. “ Form yourselves into an association, and, having considered the matter, make a complaint on behalf of the association.’1 Any complaint so made must have a good foundation. The associations will be very careful about bringing complaints before the Arbitration Court, because they will know that the hearing of them will be public, and that if they really have no grievances they will be ridiculed by the community ami even by their friends. It has been said that the Commissioner is in the position of an arbitrator, but he cannot be regarded as a fair and just arbitrator. He must give satisfaction to the Ministry. Although lie is not responsible for the running of any Department, he determines how many men shall be employed in it. It is not possible for him to travel all over the Commonwealth, hearing complaints and rectifying grievances. Consequently, he has to depend on the reports of inspectors, who interview and are guided by the heads of Departments. If one of die rank and file makes a complaint, he becomes a marked man. He is not discharged, but he presently finds himself transferred somewhere. In Tasmania he is sent to the purgatory of the service in that State - the west coast. The acid is applied in such a way that he cannot prove that he has cause of complaint, and in reply to any remonstrance he would be told, “ You have been given promotion, and are getting extra pay.” The Bill will have the effect of forming ‘the service into associations which will bring real grievances before the Court. It was recently my privilege to attend a conference which discussed public servants’ grievances. One very real grievance is that a regulation has recently been made enabling lettercarriers to be promoted to letter-sorting. As the maximum pay of a letter-carrier is ^156, and the minimum of a letter-sorter £144; _ die carrier who is promoted may be receiving more than men who have been sorting for years.
– That is not a matter with which the Arbitration Court could deal.
– The . Arbitration Court will deal with all just grievances. The honorable member for South Sydney has had great experience in connexion with arbitration. I base my argument on the statement made by ‘ that, honorable member. As one illustration of the way in which’ - men were misled, when they were asked, to sign ..the petition which has been presented to the House by the honorable member for Bendigo, I would draw attention to the reference in it to the great cost of going before the Court. As a matter of fact, the cost, if any, will be very slight. The Bill provides that no costs shall be allowed in respect of any proceeding, and that neither side shall be represented by counsel or solicitor. Then, again, it is urged that we have no precedent for this action. As a matter of fact, the railway employes of New South Wales are under the State Arbitration Court, and, so far as I have been able to ascertain, the system there is working satisfactorily. No doubt they dispose of their grievances by means of conciliatory Boards, rendering it quite unnecessary to go to the Court itself. A further statement in the petition is that this measure will take away from public servants the right of appeal to Parliament. It will do nothing of the sort ; so that in this respect also men who signed the petition were misled. It is interesting to note that the petition is signed by only 5,000 public servants, although there are some 20,000 permanent and casual men in the Commonwealth service. All these will have the privilege of going before the Court, and of bringing their grievances before it at very little cost, whilst they will still retain the right of appeal to this Legislature. Had those who signed the petition known that that would be the position I do not think that they would have attached their names to it. What chance had the average man in the Public Service of knowing what the Bill contained, seeing that, as a matter of fact, even members of Parliament other than Ministers were not aware of its provisions until it was introduced? We have in our service some genuine captains of labour who are excellent administrators. That has been demonstrated in Victoria by the administration of one of the heads of Departments, and if we had a few more like him public servants would not be likely to avail themselves of the opportunity of appealing to the Federal Court to the extent that they will do if certain gentlemen continue to remain in power in the several Departments. Those who will most feel the effects of the application of this principle to the Commonwealth service will be the men who have not been administering their Departments to the advantage either of the service or themselves. I remember a time when a man in the Public Service dared not make a complaint, and when justice was denied many public officers. With the advent of Federation, however, and as the Department to which I refer expanded, greater facilities were afforded the men for bringing their grievances under the notice of the departmental head. I understand that the old Board of Appeal system has been done away with, but a case once came under my notice in which an officer who had committed some breach of the regulations had his appeal dealt with by a Board composed of responsible officers under the head of the Department from whose decision he was appealing. Was it likely that those officers would go against the decision of the head ofthe Department? Was it not reasonable to assume that they would follow the line of least resistance, and agree with the determination of their chief? The passing of this Bill will introduce a system far superior to that now in existence. It will bring about a better state of affairs than now prevails, because the men will know that if they have a grievance they will be able to submit it to a Court which will take full evidence, and give a decision based upon that evidence. I am confident that members of Parliament, after this Bill conies into operation, will not be troubled as they are now by public servants anxious to submit grievances to them, with a view of their bringing influence to bear in a certain direction, in order that justice may be done them.
– I listened very attentively to the speech made by the Attorney-General in moving that this Bill be read a second time, but did not hear him give one good reason for its introduction. Honorable members of the Labour party have said that the Bill will ‘do an act of justice to the public servants of the Commonwealth; but so far as I can gather our public servants do not want such a measure.
-Then they need not avail themselves of it; they will not be compelled to do so.
– The honorable member said that this Bill would do an act of justice to our public servants; but I find that not only have they not asked for it, but that they are distinctly opposed to it. Only one reason can be assigned for its introduction. The unfortunate trouble which arose in connexion with the post and telegraph service no doubt led to the framing of this measure, which is designed simply to enable the Minister to shirk his responsibility. Unwilling to meet the case fairly., and to say whether the men are right or wrong, he attempts to get out of the responsibility resting upon him as Ministerial head of his Department by saying, “ I shall transfer to a Justice of the High Court the responsibility which properly devolves upon me.” Complaint has been made of the power vested in the Public Service Commissioner, and I am one of those who have taken the view that the system now obtaining under Commissioner control is far from perfect. It is practically impossible for any one man to make himself thoroughly familiar with the workings of a. service extending from the Gulf of Carpentaria to the southernmost parts of Tasmania on the one side and from Perth to Sydney on the other. Even allowing that he is influenced by the best of intentions, we have to remember that his decisions depend upon information that filters to him through what has a tendency, I am afraid, to become a small Conservative inner circle immediately surrounding the Commissioner. Such a state of affairs is inevitable under the existing system ; but we are now going to create a still more powerful autocrat. A man who will not have the slightest knowledge of the conditions of the services will sit in judgment on the service, and his decisions will depend on the evidence submitted to him, which must be biased on both sides. No Judge, unless he were an angel from Heaven, could enter into a consideration of the legitimate grievances of public servants as fairly and fully as can the Minister at the head of the Department concerned, and who is responsible all the time to Parliament.
– How could a Minister hear and deal with all individual grievances ?
– A Minister has a much better chance of doing so than the President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court will have. Honorable members opposite have said that Commonwealth public servants, if dissatisfied with an award of the Court, will be able to appeal to the Parliament. The Bill does not provide for anything of the kind. The decision of the Court in all cases will be absolutely final, unless the award made fails to come within the four corners of the existing law. To illustrate the position, let us take the case of the Sydney telegraphists. If the Court decided to-morrow that the time worked by those men should be extended in common with that of men in various industries to eight hours a day, there could be no appeal from that award to this Parliament. The award could be upset only by the passing of another Act of Parliament. There is absolutely no appeal from an award of the Court so long as that award is within the existing law.
– I have already explained that Parliament will have’ a right of veto in every case where an award means an alteration of the law.
– Quite so; but honorable members opposite have said that an aggrieved body of public servants will have a right of final appeal to this Parliament - that if they are dissatisfied with an award they will be able to come to this Parliament-
– Through their representatives.
– In every case no money can pass without being reviewed by this Parliament.
– Of course not. This Parliament must be the final arbiter in all such cases.
– That is all we have claimed.
– No ; honorable members opposite have said that public servants dissatisfied with an award of the Court will be able to appeal to Parliament.
– Every citizen can do that.
– But it was not in the sense suggested by the honorable member that this statement was made.
– That was what I had in mind.
– Then the honorable member was stating a fact so obvious as not to be worth mentioning.
– Whatever the Public Service Commissioner can do now in the way of increasing salaries the Court will be able to do without Parliamentary interference, and no more than that.
– And in the way of reducing salaries?
– Yes. Any increase that the Commissioner can make the Court will be able to make ; but it will be able to do no more than that.
Sitting suspended from1to2.30p.m..
– I was pointing out that some honorable members are sup- porting this Bill on the ground that if the employes are not satisfied they may appeal to this Parliament. The Bill distinctly provides, however, that so long as an award is within the four corners of the law, there is no appeal to this Parliament, except that general appeal which is the right of every citizen. It must be distinctly understood that the award of the Arbitration Court is absolutely final, unless it is ultra vires.
– The honorable member does not desire a provision enabling an appeal from the Court to the Parliament ?
– I do not.
– It would not be possible.
– It would not; but, as I say, honorable members are supporting the Bill on the ground that the employes, if not satisfied with an award, may appeal to Parliament.
– In the same way as they may appeal now?
– Quite so; and no other appeal is necessary. This Parliament must always be the Court of final appeal, not only for every civil servant, but for every citizen of the Commonwealth.
– But not in the settlement of details.
– The Ministerial head of a Department must be more competent to deal with details than the Judge of an Arbitration Court, who will only act on the evidence placed before him, and who cannot be expected to be an expert in the working of the details of every branch.
– The Judge has the evidence.
– That evidence will be presented from abiased source on one side or the other.
– And on the evidence from both sides the Judge will come to a conclusion.
– It is too much to expect a Judge of an Arbitration Court to have sufficient expert knowledge to deal with all the grievances presented in the case of a service so varied. It is the opinion of the Attorney-General that an award must stand until it is upset by amending legislation. An appeal can be lodged only on the application of the Attorney-General, when he is of opinion that the Judge’s award is not in accord with the legislation passed.
– There can be an appeal against an award which decreases wages, but not against an award which increases wages.
– Does the honorable member mean that an increase of wages is within the Act, but a decrease of wages is not?
– Yes; that has been decided.
– That is not the opinion of the Attorney-General. This House must always be the court of final appeal, because we have the power to reject the Estimates which provide for an increase. There is nothing to compel a Minister to provide for any increase on the Estimates; and, if he should not do so, does the honorable member for Cook suggest that the public servants may proceed against the Government?
– They can proceed for a breach of the award.
– If such a step were taken, this Bill would not remain law for more than twenty-four hours after the meeting of Parliament.
– What the honorable member means is that this Bill does not take away the prerogative of Parliament.
– Quite so.
– The petitioners’ objection is that the Bill does take away the prerogative.
– The power of Parliament to pass or reject Estimates cannot be taken away; but the Bill distinctly provides that an award must stand so long as it does not go beyond existing legislation.
– Parliament has already deliberately surrendered its right in that respect.
– In my opinion, Parliament has already surrendered too much of its powers. Who has asked for this Bill ? In all the cases that have come under my notice, meetings of employes in every branch of the service have protested against the Bill.
– I have attended a meeting of public servants who were in favour of the Bill.
– An application for registration was made two years ago, and was opposed by the Attorney-General.
– I say that in every case that has come under my notice the newspapers report protests by the public servants against the Bill.
– The public servants have not seen the Bill.
– Of course not; but we have before us one of the most numerously-signed petitions I have ever known, protesting against a measure of the kind. There are, we are told, about 16,000 permanent officers and 4,000 temporary officers in the Commonwealth service, and this petition is signed by 5,000. I have not seen any petition of public servants in favour of being brought under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.
– This Bill does not bring the public servants under the Conciliation, and Arbitration Act, but under a separate Statute.
– That is only playing with words, because this Bill is instituting an Arbitration Court for the public servants. Undoubtedly the whole trouble has arisen in connexion with the postal and telegraph officials, who made requests to the Minister, and gave evidence before the Royal Commission. In my opinion, the Government have not the pluck to either decline or accede to these requests; and they have introduced this Bill in order to relieve themselves of responsibility. The Bill is nothing but a cowardly attempt-
– Order ! The honorable member must withdraw that word.
– Perhaps it is not parliamentary, and I withdraw it. But there is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Government to shirk the responsibility of administering the Public Service. Continuous complaints are made by honorable members opposite that an autocrat has been created in the Public Service Commissioner, who has taken from Parliament the right to decide these very matters. Yet it is now sought to create a much stronger and quite irresponsible autocrat, who, on evidence given, will have to decide the pay, the hours, and other conditions of a huge service, the conditions in the various branches of which are as varying as the climatethroughout Australia. It is a mistake for Parliament to surrender its power and responsibility ; and such a step, instead of creating satisfaction, will arouse much greater antagonism in the Public Service. The Bill will only add to the long list of failures in legislation passed without due consideration, and intended merely as a temporary expedient to enable the Government to evade the responsibility cast upon them by the report of the Royal Commission.It is for the Government and the Parliament to say whether the recommendations made by that Commission should be carried out or not ; and I trust that this Bill will not be accepted by the House.
.- I am somewhat surprised at the light and airy way in which a Bill of this character is received by the House. It seems to me that we are endeavouring to do something by a new process of law that we should find it very difficult to do under the old Statute. The question before us is whether the Public Service should be brought under the jurisdiction of an Arbitration Court; and I may be pardoned for expressing a doubt whether we have power under the Constitution to do so - whether “ industrial affairs “ embraces the Public Service. In spite of opinions expressed to the contrary, 1 do not think that the f ramers of the Constitution ever contemplated that the section would apply to the Public Service. The arguments that have been put forward from time to time by different members as to the possibility of doing this are somewhat incomplete. If we have the constitutional power to place the Public Service under the Federal Arbitration Court surely the rational thing to do would be immediately to remove from existing Statutes the provisions which must clash with this measure. I undertake to say that there has never been in any country in the world a condition like that which has been created in the Commonwealth Public Service. I hold no brief for the public servants, but I do hold a brief for the public and for members of this House who think they are going to escape, by means of this Bill, something which it will really intensify tenfold. I must speak as my conscience dictates, and when the time comes that I cannot do so I shall know what to do. I tell the Government frankly that in trying to escape from one difficulty they are creating a greater. This is not, and never has been, a party question. It is rather a great public question. The Public Service is founded upon the Public Service Act, which gives to the Public Service Commissioner certain powers that are not merely regulative, but administrative, and that, even though this Bill is carried, will still stand. The Public Service Act directs that the Public Service Commissioner shall appoint inspectors to inspect each and every Department, examine, as far as practicable, the officers thereof, ascertain their duties and the value of their services, hear and inquire into all matters or things respecting or relating to the working of the Departments, and furnish, in writing, to the Commissioner a full report of every such inspection, examination, or inquiry, including recommendations for the consideration and determination of the Commissioner himself. He therefore holds the position of an arbitrator. He is supposed to act as a check between the chief officer of each Department and the Treasurer. Again, the chief officers, formerly called the permanent heads, are charged with the duty of reporting upon the efficiency and capacity and the value of the work of every servant under them. Each chief officer, therefore, is charged with the responsibility through his own officers - not the officers of the Public Service Commissioner - of ascertaining and assessing the value of the services of every officer under him. Then the Public Service Commissioner comes in as the arbitrator as to whether that assessment has been correctly made or not, and up to now, at any rate, the Public Service Commissioner has been the man upon whom Parliament has relied to guard the interests of the Government and of the service. Today, therefore, we have the chief officer valuing the services of every man under him, and we have the Public Service Inspectors, who are supposed to be capable, and who are alleged by themselves and their chief to be capable, also assessing the value of the work. Now, still another tribunal is being created by the Postal Department, which is advertising for two officers, one to take charge of the clerical and professional branches and the other to take charge of the general division. They are to be appointed to the Central Office. Any one who has taken notice of the conflict between the Central Office and the Public Service Commissioner all through the years of Federation must know what has resulted from Central Office control. The other day, I asked the Minister what the duties of these two new officers were to be, and received the usual evasive reply. The Department has been characteristic lately for not giving the replies which straight questions demand. It evades and equivocates in a way that is not creditable to any Department that should deal straightforwardly with members of this House. If the two new officers are to be of any use to the service, and not simply to encumber the Central Office further, they will have to travel throughout Australia, because the divisions with which they will deal extend throughout Australia. Any man who has to see that there is no malingering, that the work is properly done, and the service in each branch efficient, must travel from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. If those officers are to do that, it should be so stated ; if not, I fail to see what is to be gained by interposing them at the very time when the Government are bringing in some other machinery. So far, then, I have shown that the Public Service is subject, as it were, to the decisions of three tribunals.
– Are those two officers in the. Central Office or in the Public Service Commissioner’s Office?
– From what the PostmasterGeneral tells me, they are to be appointed to the Central Office. That is an anomaly I cannot understand, because I am also told that they are to be there in order to report to the Minister anything they deem wise with regard to the administration of the different divisions I have mentioned. The chief officer in each State ought to know the value of the work of those under him, and if he does not he is not fit for his position.
– To what part of the Bill is the honorable member referring?
– I am outlining the present position of the service, in order to show exactly what will happen when the Bill is passed. We shall have, first, the chief officers assessing the value of the services, the Public Service Commissioner arbitrating on that valuation in the second place, and then two new officers of the Central Office arbitrating on the conclusions of the Public Service Commissioner and the chief officers for the enlightenment of the Central Office, the Central Office being able to take action on their reports, irrespective of the Public Service Commissioner. Any proposal of that kind must come into conflict with the powers given to the Public Service Commissioner under the Act. So far, then, we have three tribunals, and now this Bill is brought in to superimpose a fourth. Under it, the Court will arbitrate on the merits or demerits of the decisions of the three tribunals already in existence in the Department. I could understand an Arbitration Court having power to review wages and conditions even in a Public Service, provided they had been fixed by one authority. As it is, we have a number of authorities who may differ materially, as they have done in the past, and who, when their evidence comes before the Arbitration Court, will undoubtedly make confusion worse confounded than it is to-day. The effect of this Bill will be to quadruplicate the tribunals which decide the positions of the civil servants. I very much doubt whether any Arbitration Court can deal efficiently with the ramifications of the Public Service, and I certainly doubt whether it can deal with them more efficiently than can the men who are managing the Department, so long as those men are efficient. I am told that this proposal can be justified because the railway service, which is managed by Commissioners, has been brought under the Arbitration Court in New South Wales. There is a fundamental difference between the railway service and the general Public Service. The Railways Commissioners are given definite powers with regard to wages. They have their staff committees who assess the value of the services of their employes, and the Commissioners are a board of appeal. There you have the management focussed in one tribunal, without conflicting assessors. The position of the Commonwealth service is fundamentally different. If we had placed our Public Service under a board similar to the Railways Commissioners, and without the intervention of the Public Service Commissioner, an analogy might have been drawn. I came to this House just after the Parliament of New South Wales, at the end of a long series of disastrous strikes, had passed an Arbitration Act, but I candidly confess now that the views which I expressed in my enthusiasm for the measure have been changed by experience. Regarding the application of arbitration to public servants, let me read what has been said by a gentleman who has attended professionally in the Arbitration Court of New South Wales for years, and now occupies the position of Secretary for Lands for the State. Some time ago, when Minister of Public Instruction, he was asked by the school teachers under him whether there was any departmental objection to the formation of a trade union consisting of teachers. His reply was -
Under the regulation now in force teachers are entitled to do what they like in their own time. They can form any associations which they consider necessary for the protection of their own interests. Whether these associations should be registered as trades unions is a matter purely for those concerned to determine.
When asked if teachers would be placed in the schedule of the Industrial Arbitration Act, he replied-
No, there are limits to industrial regulation, and this is one of them. The teaching staff employed by the State numbers nearly 6,000. Various classifications and grades make regulation ofthe staff a very complex problem, and the administration must be entirely free from external influences. I am strongly of opinion that the professional and clerical divisions of the Public Service should not be covered by industrial legislation, as Parliament can always be directly appealed to on all big questions relating to salary and systems of promotion. It is admitted on all Hands that the salaries, particularly of the rank and file of the teaching service are, in many instances, inadequate.
Those are the opinions of a public man sympathetic with arbitration, who is doing his best to make it effective. Those who know anything of the Public Service are aware that in the same office there may be men doing apparently the same work whose qualifications and merits are quite different, one being required to use his brains and the other being practically a mere automaton. It would be difficult for any one not conversant with Public Service conditions to deal with questions affecting employment. The work would be much better done by a Board of experts.
– Is noi the service now run by an expert?
-A man who spends eight years in building up a system, and then, when he finds it criticised adversely, knocks it down, cannot be regarded as a capable architect and builder. The Public Service Commissioner, after declaring repeatedly that certain things were right, has, later on, admitted that they were wrong. Devolution is the order of the day all over the world. In Great Britain the postal service is controlled now by surveyors, of whom there are five in England, three in Scotland, and two in Ireland, each having his own district, and being responsible for the working of it without reference to the central office in London.
– The honorable member is going beyond the question.
– I am showing that what is happening elsewhere is different from what is proposed here.
– That is permissible, but the honorable member may not go into details.
– I sometimes think that it will be impossible to speak here. While other countries are decentralizing, we are centralizing. The Bill is a move towards centralization. What will happen under it no one can say, but, undoubtedly, if advantage is taken of its provisions, there will be so much conflict with the rules of the Public Service Commissioner and his inspectors that Parliament will have to seriously amend the law. We are centralizing our postal administration, although Sir Robert Scott and others have said that centralization is not calculated to serve the best interests of the Department.
– Do the public servants wish for this change?
– I am not in a position to say, but I understand that a petition signed by 4,000 of them has been presented to the House, praying that the service may not be brought under the arbitration law, and I have been told that, had not the petition been hurriedly got up, a great many more names would have been attached to it. As to the right of the Public Service Commissioner to be represented before the Court, I take it that he will not have the right to employ legal or expert assistance, but merely to appoint some one to take his place should he be unable to attend in person. Paragraph c of clause 6 allows the Court to fix maximum penalties, not exceeding £ro, for any breach or non-observance of an award. In another part of the Bill it is provided that every award made by the Court under this Act must be laid on, the table of both Houses of Parliament, and that either House may, by resolution, refuse to indorse an award. In the case of private employers, both the employer and the employe’ can be fined for breach of an award of the Court, but under this Bill, whilst the employe will be liable to a penalty of £10 for non-observance of an award, no penalty can be enforced against the other side for breach of an award. The position is illogical.
– I invite the honorable member to read clause 8.
– Under that clause the Public Service Commissioner and the permanent heads and chief officers, in common with all Commonwealth servants, are required to comply with the provisions of an award or order of the Court. But if Parliament vetoes an award, of what use will such a provision be? My contention is that the Parliament of the Commonwealth in this connexion occupies the position of an employer, and that the law that requires private employers, as well as employes, to obey an award of the Court will not apply to the Parliament as the employers of the public servants of the Commonwealth under this measure. It is a one-sided proposal that declares that em ployes must comply with an award of the Court, but leaves it free to the Parliament, which stands in the position of the employer, to refuse to comply with an award.
– That is absolutely incorrect.
– I think I can see as far into this matter as can the AttorneyGeneral. I repeat that either House of Parliament may veto an award, or, in other words, set it aside, whereas an employ^ will be liable to a fine of £10 for breach of an order of the Court. Herein we see the difficulty of applying to the Public Service the principle of arbitration. No employer can be brought before the Court in this case, save the officials who are acting under an Act of Parliament for which this Legislature is responsible. There is, therefore, grave reason for doubt whether this Bill will bring about the improvement that we desire. According to Mr, Justice Heydon, the Court may make an award decreasing a payment, but an award granting a payment in excess of that provided by Act of Parliament must go before the Parliament ; so that if this Parliament considered in any case that the extra payment for which an award provided should not be made, it would refuse to vote the necessary funds. Under paragraph e, of clause 6, power is given to the Court to make an award a common rule of the Public Service. This provision has apparently been taken from the Conciliation and Arbitration Act without any thought of its applicability to the case with which this measure is designed to deal. I could understand a common rule being declared in regard to all men engaged in bricklaying, stonecutting, or in carrying out any mechanical work, but one has only to enter any branch office of the Public Service in the Union - the accountancy, correspondence, miscellaneous, or any other branch of the service - to realize how impossible it would be to make a common rule applying to all officers of any division of the service throughout Australia. The Chief Clerk of the Post and Telegraph Department in New South Wales, for instance, has an enormous volume of work to deal with, and is frequently called upon to relieve the Deputy Postmaster-General. He is, therefore, entitled to a high rate of remuneration, but are we gtV.ng to say that there should be a common rule declaring that the Chief Clerk of the Department in every State should receive the same salary.
– We could have a. common rule declaring what the minimum should be.
– Under £t common rule, only a minimum could be struck. Here, again, we come into conflict with the existing authorities. If a minimum were fixed with regard to the value of the lowest paid, then the whole fabric of the Public Service classification would go by the board. The principle of the common rule is inapplicable to this case. It could hardly be applied to any one section of the service throughout Australia, although it might be applied to a branch of the service in any one State. Then, again, how would it be possible for the President of the Court to do what Mr. Justice Higgins did when he desired to obtain an insight into the work of the shearers ? How would it be possible for him to personally inspect the operations and work of all the officers of the service? Another provision to which I desire to draw attention is that the Court shall have power to remit claims or matters for reference to a Judge of a State Court, or a police stipendiary, or special magistrate of the Commonwealth, or of a State, for investigation and report. It is in this respect that we see the fallacy of the statement made by my honorable friend the Attorney-General that we are going to appoint an expert who will be able to form an expert judgment on all these matters.
– I did not say that.
– Then I misunderstood the honorable member. I take it that the Government will appoint an expert Registrar, and that under this clause the Registrar may refer any case to any one of these several authorities. But will they be experts ? I take it that the reason for this provision is that the Registrar will be located at the Seat of Government, and that it is proposed that any one of these persons may be appointed to investigate a claim in order to suit his convenience. What sort of a hybrid Court shall we have under this proposal ? We certainly shall not have a Court presided over by a Judge who is specially qualified to dissect evidence and to form a judgment upon the evidence submitted to him. We have no guarantee that any one of these persons will be as able to discharge the functions of an arbitrator as are Mr. Justice Higgins and other learned Justices, who have made this work a specialty. In this provision we see a danger of the Court being neither efficient nor effective for the work it will have to do.
Under sub-clause 2 of clause 7 it is provided that -
Where the Court .has referred a claim or matter under, this section, for investigation and report, the Court may on the report, with or without hearing further evidence or argument or both., decide the claim and make its award.
In other words, the Court will have power to determine a claim on the report of any one of these persons without hearing any evidence. That is a dangerous power, and I am afraid that it must lead to trouble and discontent. There is another provision that, wherever an award clashes with the Public Service Act, or any other Act, or any regulation under an Act, the award cannot stand. In the name of Providence, what sort of a position is this? Much embarrassment must be caused to men who have to present their case without legal assistance. With that condition in the Arbitration Court I do not disagree; but it is difficult to understand how the public servants are to know when they are not going to come into conflict with some Commonwealth law or regulation. They may present their case to the best of their ability, only to be told that the award cannot hold; and, candidly, I cannot see how the public servants are going to get any redress under this measure. I see no reason for the introduction of the Bill under present conditions. Of course, such a measure would be all right if there were no Public Service Act, and if the management were in the hands of a board of control with staff committees. Clause 13 provides -
No award, order, or directio’n of the Court made under this Act shall be challenged, appealed against, reviewed, quashed, or called in question, or be subject to prohibition or mandamus, in any other Court on any account whatever.
It will be seen, therefore, that there is no appeal, except where increased pay may be given, arid then, of course, that is reviewed by Parliament. This is a most unusual state of affairs in arbitration matters. I have not had time to look into these provisions as I should wish, not being aware that the Bill was to come on for consideration to-day; but I venture to say, from my general reading and study of the subject, that there will hardly be an award which will not come into conflict with some section or regulation of the Public Service Act. We cannot create content when there is not a just method of settling differences. If we could wipe the Public Service Act out of existence, and start under entirely new conditions, it might be all right, but we are trying to fit in new conditions with old ones with which they cannot work ; in short, I think that a hotch-potch has been made of the whole business. I candidly admit that it hurts me to have to criticise this measure in this determined way. Did I know less of the subject I should probably not be found offering these comments ; but I have looked into the general question so closely - and I am sure honorable members will give me credit for putting my heart into the work - that I feel we are taking a wrong step to-day - a step which will increase rather than cure the evils complained of. As a matter of fact, the troubles of the past will appear infinitesimal when compared with the troubles of the future under a measure of this kind. The public servants are told that they must go to the Arbitration Court in all cases ; but we know that in a> clerical division, officers of the fifth-class had their maximum salary increased from £r6o to £180, thus going beyond the limit fixed by law. This increase was done by a process of long-service increments.
– But that increase had to be sanctioned in the Appropriation Act.
– Quite so; but, in spite of the law, the salary was increased from £160 to ;£i8o.
– The law did not fix any maximum at all - it fixed a minimum.
– And a maximum too.
– Not for the general division.
– I am not speaking of the general division, but of the clerical division ; and I may say that the minimum was fixed from ^40 to £60 in certain cases. The Attorney-General, therefore, did by a side wind what he could not do in a straight way; and I take it that the later increase to £200 a year will also need ratification by an Act of Parliament. Why such a measure was not introduced before this Bill I am at a loss to know. I hope the Government do not intend to delay the ratification in order that the matter may be submitted to the Arbitration Court.
– Has it not been ratified already?
– Not by law.
– Does the honorable member say that the Commissioner had no power to make the increase from ,£110 to j£«6?
– I am not speaking of that, but of the increase from £160 to £&>.*
– Does the honorable member say that the Public Service Commissioner had no power to grant that increase?
– Not without an amendment of the law.
– Does the honorable member object to what has been done?
– No, I do not.
– Then the honorable mem- - ber is in favour of the law being broken?
– I am surprised that the Attorney-General should try those little tricks with me, for he must know that they will not be successful.
– The long-service increments were legalized by the Act passed in December, 1909.
– Quite so; but ratification is also necessary of the increases recently granted. I need not detain honorable members further than to say that this Bill can only have the effect of intensifying the confusion in the Public Service. The officers will have their positions subject to review, first by the heads of Departments, then by the Public Service Commissioner and his inspectors, then by the two new officers appointed to instruct the central officers, and, I suspect, to advise Ministers over the head of the Public Service Commissioner, then by the Arbitration Court, and, finally, by Parliament. What is likely to be the lot of public servants who have to run the gauntlet of all these authorities before the award for his services can be fixed ? No similar position can be found in any other part of the world. Why should the tribunals not be confined to two - namely, a board of control, with staff committees, and then the Arbitration Court to decide in cases where the public servants are not satisfied ? Why not remove the intermediate confusing and duplicating instrumentalities, and have something tangible, logical, and effective? We should then get better results for the public, and the civil servants would know where they were. We are starting to legislate in this matter in too much of a hurry, and without stopping to reflect upon what is necessary to make our legislation effective. A step of this kind cannot fail to have an irritating effect, not only upon the Public Service, but upon the Government, upon, the members of this House, and upon the public outside. Those members who think it will get rid of political influence have never made a greater mistake in their lives. When the Arbitration Court gives an award against any section of these men, do honorable members expect that, having full citizen rights, as they ought to have, they will fail to use their right of appealing to Parliament if they feel they have been wrongfully treated? We cannot shut that door. The question then is : Are we opening it still wider and increasing the trouble, making the future harder for individual members, for the service and for the public? This Bill will be, in my judgment, no credit to the Parliament that passes it.
– I am rather afraid that my remarks on this question will not receive the same commendation from the Opposisition as have those of the honorable member for Gwydir. At the same time I recognise that the honorable member did not look for the cheers of honorable members opposite, because he spoke what he felt. I suppose I am as much interested in the welfare of the members of the Public Service as any one else in this Chamber, and, perhaps,’ more so, because I have such an extraordinary number of them in my electorate. For years the Public Service organizations, the movement to which I belong, individual members of the service, and myself, have been fighting to have the public servants placed on the same plane as every other citizen. We have said, all along, that they do not get the same justice and the same opportunities to appeal against officialdom as other citizens enjoy. There is now placed on the table a Bill, with which I admit I am not in full accord, but which, seeing that our present system is admittedly faulty, at least offers a better opportunity of achieving what we want. I believe that the Public Service Commissioner, who at present holds in the palm of his hand the wellbeing, or the undoing, of the members of the Public Service, is doing his best, but I agree with the honorable member for Gwydir that the outcome of the present system has not been as good as many of us expected. The honorable member said this Bill would bring about more political influence than the present system, but, personally, I cannot conceive of anything which would induce the men in the Public Service to endeavour to use political influence more than the present system does. All honorable members must have known many cases of dissatisfaction among the public servants. We quite understand that, because it is the right of every Britisher to growl, and to try to improve his position. After all, that is only human. The honorable member for Gwydir says that, under this Bill, the appeals of public servants will not be decided by a practical man, but it will be almost impossible to have greater grumbling under any system than we have under the present. We have now a practical man placed in the position of Public Service Commissioner, surrounded by inspectors and heads of Departments, who are supposed to inform him truly as to the relative merits of every position in the service, and of the individual who fills it. Yet many men have, undoubtedly, been overlooked and slighted, others, junior to them, and inferior to them in knowledge and experience, being promoted over their heads. Those things happen under the present system, and no redress seems to be possible. The Postal Commission suggested the appointment of a board of control. I believe that would be better than the present arrangement, because three men are more likely than one man to give justice. Our experience in the Public Service has been that it is almost impossible for one man, reared in the service, to give a proper ruling as to the relative merits of men or positions. Perhaps the reason is that, having been reared in officialdom, he is unable to apply ordinary common-sense deductions to the problems presented to him. We have in the Public Service to-day men classed by the Act as in the General Division. This applies particularly to officers in the registration branch of the Postal Department. Their work is just as much clerical as that of any one in a clerical position. In fact, it is almost professional. They handle money all day long, and have to carry on the registration branch of the postal work, yet they are kept in the General Division under the misnomer of sorters.
-That is regulated by law. The Public Service Commissioner has nothing to do with it.
– I admitted that the law was at fault. The honorable member for Gwydir said that we could not get beyond the Act, and instanced a case where Parliament had to carry a motion in order to increase the amount of money paid to certain public servants. If we had an outside tribunal to deal with these matters, it would tell Parliament frankly that we were not paying the men as much as they ought to receive, and Parliament would then, if necessary, alter the Act. What I marvel at is this : For years the Labour party has been charged by the Opposition and the press with pandering to the public servants for their votes at election time, and with having induced public servants to place us in power, in order that they might getfrom us what they could not get from other Governments in the past. Perhaps that charge is to some extent true, because there are times when politicians of all parties on the hustings endeavour by all means to get people to vote for them. Yet while these men have been clamouring to be placed on the same footing as every other citizen, there are to be found among them a large number who object to be brought under the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. I do not want to be too hard on them”; but when public servants, who have always been complaining about bad treatment, object at their meetings, or by means of petitions, to be brought under an Act which should give them all they have been asking for, it makes me feel that they are rather afraid to present their cases to the Court because they think they are now getting as much as they are worth, or as much as their positions warrant. With the permission of the House, I shall conclude my speech on another day.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Bill presented by Mr. Fisher, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the House do now adjourn.
The first business on Monday will be the Public Service Arbitration Bill - the second reading only.
– The honorable member will not take a division on it.
– I desire to’ read part of an article in this morning’s Argus, purporting to be a comment by the editor, though his signature is not attached. It is as follows : -
The attack made upon Mr. Redmond by Mr. Higgs was not only grossly unfair, but meanspirited. The men against whom he makes his assertions are sitting in the gallery, and are brought personally into the field of his invective but they are left without any power to reply. Anything that Mr. Higgs might say about a fellow-member could be at once challenged and refuted on the floor of the House, but the journalist is forced to listen while gross things are said about him, and he can do nothing. But the damaging remarks are recorded in Hansard (without denials being permitted to appear), and may be quoted at any time against the gentlemen referred to as if (through not being contradicted) they were true. Nothing can injure the honour and dignity of Parliament more than such action by a member who does not scruple to make such attacks on persons who cannot reply to him immediately. On this occasion Mr. Higgs has been recklessly inaccurate. He named Mr. G. McL. Redmond, of the Argus staff, in the gallery of the Commonwealth Parliament, as the writer of an article in Melbourne Punch. Mr. Redmond was not the author of the article of which Mr. Higgs complains, nor is Mr. Redmond a contributor to Punch. The attacks made by Mr. Higgs upon men in the press gallery are indefensible in any case, but they are doubly indefensible when they begin with misstatements. Mr. ‘Higgs’ fellow members, for the sake of Parliamentary honour and fair play, ought surely to try to restrain him from his habit of unlicensed personal attack.
Then follows Mr. Redmond’s repudiation - to the editor of the “ argus.”
Sir, - The statements made by Mr. Higgs in the House of Representatives this morning connecting me with the authorship of a character sketch of Mr. Agar Wynne which was published in Punch are entirely incorrect. I was not the author of the article in question, nor am I the author of any articles which appear in Punch. - Yours, &c,
It is not true that the representatives of the press in the galleries of this chamber are denied the opportunity to have their contradictions of our utterances concerning them published in Hansard, and I now give that opportunity to Mr. Redmond. Nor is it true that they are unable to defend themselves from our attacks. ‘ While we here speak to’ an audience of twentyfive or thirty persons, and our speeches are reccrded in Hansard, which has a circulation throughout Australia of some 10,000 copies, but is hardly ever read, the statements made about us by our press critics are published in millions of copies of newspapers. The Melbourne Argus and the Melbourne Age each claims to be read by 100,000 persons daily. On the other hand, if we approach the Argus, we are denied the opportunity to have our letters published. Quite recently I sent a letter to that newspaper, but it was not allowed to appear. I have not been refused access to the columns of the Herald or the Age, but on two or three occasions I have been refused access to the Argus. What chance then have we to defend ourselves, except here, and on the public platform ? I submit that, in attacking and naming certain pressmen recently, I was justified in my action, but I am prepared, if they - Mr. Sampson and Mr. Whyte - deny the truth of my statements, to give publicity to their replies in the columns of Hansard. I connected Mr. Redmond with the article in Punch because it was commonly reported about the House that he was contributing the series to which it belonged, and several members, when I asked who was writing the articles, replied, “Mr. Redmond.”
When I was Chairman of Committees in the Senate, a member of the Argus staff came to me, and asked for certain particulars about my career, which I gave. Later, there appeared three or four columns in Punch headed, “A sketch of W. G. Higgs.” I was not asked £5 for the publication of my photograph. A member of the Argus staff was writing for Punch on that occasion, and when he gave up the work, it was undertaken by another member of the same staff whom honorable members know. I was informed that he was succeeded by Mr. Redmond, but Mr. Redmond denies that he writes for Punch.
The article in the Argus places me before the public in an invidious light. In self-defence I think I am’ entitled to tell the House that yesterday afternoon, at 3 o’clock, the honorable member for Maranoa came to me and said, “ I come to you with an olive branch. I have been asked to see you, and to ask you to withdraw the statement against Mr. Redmond. If you do, I have a guarantee from two of the pressmen that you will be fully reported in the Argus in future.” I replied, “ What do they think of me ? Do they think I have descended so low as to withdraw a statement which I believe to be true? I believe Redmond did write the article.” The honorable member for Maranoa replied, “ I believe so, too;” but he put it to me that Mr. Redmond would lose his position if I did not withdraw my statement, and that his wife and family would suffer. That appealed to me, and I consulted some of my friends on this side of the House, and asked if they thought that I should withdraw the statement, putting the case before them as I have just put it. Their reply was, “ In writing those articles he did not think of our wives and families.” I had to agree that that was so. The men who slander this party have no consideration for the wives and families of those for whom we are fighting, the workers of the community. Nor have they consideration for our wives and friends, whom they slander by declaring that we have borrowed money from our opponents. Honorable members may draw their own conclusions. I tell the House that the only evidence I had that Mr. Redmond wrote the article was the common report in this House. It is my belief that there are honorable members who cangive information that will show whether or not Mr. Redmond is telling the truth when he says that he is not a contributor to Punch. Are honorable ^members prepared to do their duty by stating what they know, or do they propose to remain silent ? I have deemed it my duty to defend this party against accusations made against it of the character of that referred to in the paragraph which I quoted yesterday, and which the honorable member for Balaclava, as every one believed he would, promptly denied. I refer to the accusation that members of the Labour party in this Parliament were borrowing money from honorable members opposite. You, Mr. Speaker, know as well as I do that about the last thing that the wage earners and the Labour party outside would forgive is the borrowing of money by a Labour member from one of his political opponents. They recognise that immediately a man borrows from his opponents those opponents have him in their power. Knowing that we receive a salary of £,$00 a year, they naturally expect us not to place ourselves under any obligation to political opponents. The statement to which I took exception was a shocking one to make concerning this party. Do honorable members opposite think that it is fair that pressmen, occupying seats in the galleries, who are placed on an equality with us, and who meet us apparently as friends, should resort to such, tactics ? Is it fair that men who, as representatives of the big daily newspapers, are licensed by this House to meet us and to discuss matters with us, should use information that they gather in the lobbies as material for paragraphs in Melbourne Punch, and like newspapers, with which the general public have no idea that they are connected ?
– Punch is not read very widely.
– It is more widely read than the honorable member thinks. Posters advertising’ Punch, together with illustrations from its pages, appear on all the railway hoardings. The Argus this morning’ published a fairly accurate report of the proceedings yesterday, but, despite its boasted honour and fair play, it protected the Melbourne Punch, when I think it should have exposed what is undoubtedly «. scandal. There are honorable members who can say whether or not it is true that representatives of the Melbourne Punch have approached them with a view of inducing them to pay £5 each for the publication of their photographs, and an article relating to them. I am not going to mention names, but it is well known that certain honorable members have been so approached, and they ought to be prepared to stand up and say so. I understand that at least four or five members have paid £$ each for the publication of their photographs in Punch. I did not propose to mention any names, but the Chairman of Committees, Mr. Poynton, who is well known throughout Australia, and whose word, I am sure, we shall all readily accept, has given me permission to state that a man from Melbourne Punch office waited on him, and offered for £5 to publish his photograph in that newspaper. And this is journalism I In Melbourne. Punch today honorable members will find cartoons vilifying this party and parliamentarians generally throughout Victoria. Yet this newspaper, which pretends to be the custodian of the honour and integrity of the State, has descended, so low that it is prepared to accept money to publish photographs of individuals. These photographs appear over articles which are deemed to embody the genuine and honest thought and opinions of the writer.
– It is a form of blackmail.
– This practice means that the man who is not prepared to pay £5 will be treated by Melbourne Punch as the honorable member for Denison - Mr. Laird Smith - was treated by it in a recent issue. It means, in other words, that Melbourne Punch is prepared to descend to blackmail. If it demands ,£5 for the insertion of a photograph of a member, accompanied by an article concerning him, there is no reason why it should not adopt the tactics of another newspaper in the Commonwealth, which is said to have caused an article to be written concerning a prominent politician, and to have sent it along to him with an inquiry as to how much it was worth to keep it out. If journalists engaged in this building will only cast back their minds over the paragraphs they have written about this party, and about members of Parliament generally, they will have to admit, I think, that it is about time some member of the Parliament should .’have the courage to stand up against them. This is not the first time I have felt it my duty to stand up against the press, and I suppose it will not be the last. I do not desire, however, to pursue the matter.
– Will not the honorable member accept the denial of authorship? It is a very serious matter.
– I have read Mr. Redmond’s denial to the House, and I have told honorable members how I came to mention his nameMr. Sampson. - Does the honorable member persist in stating that Mr. Redmond is the author of the article, notwithstanding his denial ?
– I am not prepared at this stage to express an opinion. Let the editor or proprietors of Melbourne Punch call for a Select Committee to inquire into the statement. Let them produce witnesses, who will give evidence on oath, and when we have that evidence I shall be glad to give honorable members my opinion concerning this question. I should have been better able to arrive at a decision if the Argus had not caused me to be approached in a back-door sort of way by sending to me an honorable member with whom I am on very friendly terms, and getting him to try to induce me to withdraw the statement against Mr. Redmond. What was the reason for that action ? ‘ Why could they not send to any honorable member opposite a copy of the letter of denial, and ask that it be read in the House? This is a matter that requires some clearing up.
– Is it true that the newspapers have put the honorable member on the prohibited list - that his name has not to be mentioned, no matter what speech he may make in the House?
– I shall not pursue the matter further on the present occasion.
– As my name has been mentioned I may say that, last year, I was approached and told that if I desired to have a good, satisfactory article in Punch, similar to that written about Senator O’Keefe. I could have one if I paid £s ; but I said that if the Punch people wanted ,£5 out of me they would have to wait a long time. Eventually an article did appear about me, and it was simply one of the best advertisements I ever had in my electorate, because my constituents know me well enough to be certain that what was stated was not the truth. Then some one in Victoria sent a clipping from . the Argus to a friend of mine in Tasmania, and asked him what he thought of myself. That article described me as being so proud of my name Smith as to add “ Laird “ to it, and declared that I always posed in the House as a man of considerable weight. As I happen to be very thin I do not know that I carry any more weight than, did either the article in Punch or the one in the Argus, both of which were of similar import.
– Did the honorable member pay the £$?
– I had not £5 to pay for that sort of thing; I am not going to buy my way into the good graces of the newspapers; and, if they are strong enough to put me out of Parliament, good luck to them ! If I have blamed an innocent man, I shall be very sorry, for doubtless he has suffered. But, at any rate, there must be some brotherhood among pressmen, and I hope the writer of the article immediately under discussion will have the manliness to admit the fact.
.- I desire to call the attention of the Prime Minister to the fact that, in the remoter parts of Western Australia, the medical officers are refusing to examine claimants for invalid pensions on account of the low fee offered. Several telegrams dealing with this matter have reached me recently.
– From time to time complaints have been made about the fees paid to medical officers for examining applicants for invalid and old-age pensions. There is no doubt that, in Western Australia, medical fees are very high; but I think the medical profession might very well not be so particular when called upon to deal with applicants for such pensions. At any rate, I shall look into the matter.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 4.25 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 1 December 1911, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1911/19111201_reps_4_62/>.