13th Parliament · 1st Session
The President (Senator theHon. P. J. Lynch) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– Has the Minister for Defence read a newspaper statement, published on “Wednesday last, to the effect that it is proposed to merge the Naval, Military, and Air Boards, and, if so, is he prepared to make a statement on the subject?
– I have seen the statement. There is no such intention on the part of the Government. The whole question has been investigated, but it is not considered desirable to take the action suggested.
The following papers were pre- sen ted : -
Northern Territory Acceptance Act and Northern Territory (Administration) Act - Ordinance No. 16 of 1932 - Dingo Destruction (No. 2).
Judiciary Act- -Rule of Court - Dated 17th August,. 1932.
-HUGHE S asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The right honorable the Prime Minister has supplied the following answers: -
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice -
– The Minister for the Interior has supplied the following answers : - 1, 2, and 3. The place of examinations for census clerks is under consideration, but no decision has yet been reached.
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice -
– The right honorable the Prime Minister has supplied the following answers : -
asked the Leader of the Government in. the Senate, upon notice -
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.The subject raised by the honorable senator is one of policy. “It is not the practice to deal with matters of policy in answer to questions.
Sen a tor McL ACHL AN. - Inform a ti on is being obtained, and will be furnished as soon as possible to Senator J.B. Hayes, with regard to the price of metallic: tin in London.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Customs, upon notice -
– The Minister for Trade and Customs has supplied the following answers: -
Debate resumedfrom the 1st September (vide page 78), on motion by Senator Sir George Pearce -
That determinations No.6 and 13 of 1932 made by the Public Service Arbitrator under the Arbitration (Public Service) Act 1920- 1929 be disapproved.
– Yesterday I obtained leave to continue my remarks because I was desirous of having further information as to the reasons actuating the Government in moving-for the disapproval of these determinations of the Public Service Arbitrator. I informed the Senate that I had read certain newspaper statements of the Government’s intention, but, at the time, did not pay much attention to them as I did not believe that the Government would do what is now proposed. I find that the Public Service ‘Arbitrator made a very complete inquiry into all the circumstances at the instance of the employees, and for the information of the Senate I should like to place on record some of his comments. This is what he said -
For many years the general policy of the main Arbitration Court has been the maintenance of the living wage. Its general attitude is expressed in the following quotations: - “ In regard to individual industries or employers, under no circumstances will the court fix a wage for adult unskilled workers less than the basic wage.” “ Unless great multitudes of people are to be irretrievably injured’ in themselves and their families; unless society is to be perpetually in industrial unrest, it is necessary to keep this living wage as a thing sacrosanct, beyond the reach of bargaining.”
It was suggested during the hearing that approval of the application made by the organizations would force the Public Service Board to seriously consider the dismissal from the Public Service of the young men concerned in this application.
Such action may be necessary in some measure to adjust the staff to a sound basis. That is, however, a responsibility of administration in which I do not interfere. The analysis made of the staffing position in the Postmaster-General’s Department, however, indicates that that department, as a whole, is not overmanned.
That. I remind the Senate,, is the opinion of the Arbitrator after a careful investigation of the position.
– Yes,but he does not deny that these men are doing boys’ work.
– The Arbitrator goes on to say -
In all the circumstances the surmise is ventured that dismissal from the Service is not the inevitable alternative to the retention of the principle of payment of the basic wage to male adults.
Unless disapproved by the Parliament this determination shall come into operation on the expiration of 30 days.
As far as I can gather, the Arbitrator was convinced, on the evidence placed before him, that the demand of the employees was fully justified. He had all the opportunities that are given to a judge to ascertain the true position, and had complete knowledge of all the circumstances when he made his determinations, so there is nothing to warrant the action now being taken by the Government. It is one of the principal functions of his office to sift and appraise evidence. He has spent a lifetime at it, and knows it from the beginning to the end of the alphabet. He gave his decision after the gravest consideration, and in the light of the knowledge gained from the evidence submitted to him with respect to the disabilities under which the Government was labouring. He would not take the responsibility of interfering in any way with the basic wage, but threw that responsibility on the Government. Therefore the Government, and not the Arbitrator, must bear whatever odium attaches to any reduction that is made. The Public Service embraces a large body of intelligent persons, whose circumstances are different from those of persons engaged in many other walks of life. Those who work in public departments, particularly the department under review, have to pay considerable regard to their personal appearance, and on that account are possibly put to greater expense in clothing themselves, than are workers in many other occupations.
In their case, therefore, the basic wage cannot be regarded as at all excessive. The “ cuts “ that have been made within the last year or two have been so drastic that it is almost a criminal act to bring about further impoverishment. The financial position of the Government does not, in my opinion, warrant the action suggested by the motion, and I, as leader of the Labour party in the Senate, offer the strongest opposition to it. It will be regarded in a serious light, not only by those who will be affected directly by it, but also by the general public. It will show the lengths to which the Government is prepared to go to bring about a reduction in the rates of pay of the working classes. The Government is the spearhead of the influences that axe at work throughout this country in the direction of a reduction of wages generally, and a lowering of the standard of living.
– And in breaking down the principles of arbitration.
– Arbitration has stood the test for just on thirty years, and has brought about industrially a state of affairs that was undreamt o£ prior to the enactment of that class of legislation. Although it has not kept the industrial machine running as smoothly as possibly was expected, it certainly has resulted in a vast improvement compared with the conditions that obtained formerly.
– The utterances of the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Barnes) leave the impression that he, and perhaps those who are associated with him, have determined not to recognize the extraordinary position that is occupied by Australia to-day. The honorable gentleman asserted that the public had begun to realize that the present Government was out to break down the whole of that industrial machinery that means so much to the people of Australia. He advocated the maintenance of the basic wage, and the continuance of the arbitration system as it has existed for years.
I support the motion of the Leader of the Senate, but not because I desire to inflict hardship upon any section of tha Public Service. I appreciate the fact tha* they deserve as much consideration as any other section of the community, and I would be the last to do anything that might impose hardship or be in any way unfair. But we have to realize that even this proposal of the Government, if accepted by the Senate, will be only a palliative. The people are beginning to realize that there must be a substantial reduction in the cost of government, both Federal and State, in the near future, and that all our energies ‘should be directed towards evolving a scheme that will effect a considerable, and not merely a slight, reduction. I honestly believe that a scheme can be evolved whereby the reduction could be brought about gradually within a reasonable period of years, and thus relieve in some degree the intolerable burden that is placed upon the people by excessive taxation. The Public Service Board has reported that hundreds of officers who were appointed as boy messengers have reached the age of 21 years, and that no positions suitable for adults are available for them. Surely that admission, of itself, is conclusive proof that the board, and possibly the governments of the day, have failed to look ahead when making appointments to the Service! The board admits that the number of such officers is increasing, and ihat during the next five years probably only 1,500 of the 2,900 lads who will “.reach the age of 21 years will be given employment suitable for adults. Surely :it is time that we insisted upon the Government, in conjunction with the Public Service Board, evolving a scheme that; spread over a reasonable period of years, will avoid a repetition of this state of affairs.
– The explanation is, that these youths were appointed three or four years ago, when the volume of business was much greater than it is now. Had it not fallen away so considerably, they would have been absorbed.
– Exactly. That has been the experience in many other classes of business. We now have to cut our garment according to our cloth, not only in private undertakings, but also in the Public Service.
– Is a loin cloth the honorable senator’s definition of “ garment “ ?
– It is all very well foi- honorable senators to adopt a cynical attitude. No matter what their attitude may be, it is unquestionable that there has arisen in Australia a strong body of opinion that will compel every public man to recognize the facts and to ease as far as possible, the burden that is being borne by the people. Altogether new conditions will be met for many years to come. Let us, therefore, get ready to meet them in a reasonable way. The suggestion of the Leader of the Senate is eminently fair. He does not wish to see any of these young men. thrown out of employment. His proposal is merely a palliative that will not inflict undue hardship on any one. It is, that where adult occupation is not available for those who have reached the age of 21 years, they shall be retained in the Service at a lower rate than that paid to adults, on the ground that they are not following an occupation that is suitable for adults. That is in line with the policy that is being followed by outside concerns, of retaining the whole of their staffs at a decreased wage, instead of throwing many of them on the unemployed market. I sincerely hope that the Senate will unanimously endorse the views expressed by the right honorable gentleman, and s’upport the motion.
– I am not astonished at the attitude that is being adopted by the Government, nor do I blame the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) for having introduced this motion. He belongs to that section of the people whose policy it is to sabotage every principle Of the working class. Considering his long association with arbitration, he must have spoken with his tongue in his cheek. When the present Government went before the people at the last election, it told the electors, including the public servants, that if it were returned to power there would be no interference with the principles of arbitration. I have in my hand a copy of a Sydney newspaper, which contains an advertisement signed by H. Ellis, of 14 O’Connell-street, Sydney, where the “ bigwigs “ of the United Australia party and Country party have their, head-quarters. It contains a number of election promises. Among other things, it says “Vote for the United Australia party candidates and protect your wages anil conditions.” It also advised the electors to “Vote for the Senate three: Cox, Greene, and Hardy.” In the forefront of their policy, the leaders of the United Australia party and the Country party placed the slogan “Back to prosperity, and back to work.” The Leader of. the Government in the Senate (Senator Pearce) said that the Public Service Board had pointed out that within the next five years about 2,900 lads would .reach the age of 21 and that adult positions could not be found for about 1,500 of that number. That means that when 1,500 of these young men reac.t the age of 21 they will be thrown on the scrap heap. Senator Payne, who is, of course, entitled to his own opinion, said that the Government has io cut its garment according to its cloth; but it would appear that the Government, and those supporting it in this instance, wish men to get down to the coolie level. He further stated that there is a strong feeling among a large section of the Australian people that the cost of government must De reduced. That may be so, but there is also a strong public opinion, which will soon be expressed in no indefinite manner, that effect must be given to the policy enunciated by the Government and its supporters only a few months ago. Quite recently the Tariff Board, a duly constituted authority, made certain recommendations to this Government with respect to the duties to be imposed on pearl buttons, and the Government has accepted the recommendations of that board. If it accepts the recommendation of that authority, why does it not give effect to the determinations of the Public Service Arbitrator? The present Public Service Arbitrator, Mr. Westhoven, who was not appointed by the Bruce-Page Government or by the Scullin Government, is a qualified officer experienced in the working of the Public Service, and quite capable of carrying out the important duties which he has to perform.
– I do not think the remarks of the honorable senator concerning the Public Service Arbitrator have any bearing on the subject under discussion, but I may tell him, in case he has been misinformed, that Mr. Westhoven was appointed by the Scullin Government.
– I accept the correction of the right honorable the Leader of the Government. The policy of this Government of sacking men and reducing wages has been embarked upon with a definite purpose. If the Government establishes the principle of paying less than the basic wage that policy will be adopted by those engaged in private^ enterprise. It is well known that Grace Brothers in Sydney employ male and female juniors until they reach the age when they are entitled to receive the basic wage and then dismiss them and employ other juniors. The Minister who submitted this motion said that -
In the next ‘ five years about 2,000 lads would reach adult age, and that probably only 1,500 of them could be absorbed in adult positions, and the retention of the adult juniors in positions which ordinarily would be filled by boys, would mean an expenditure during’ the five years of £750,000, and £1,100,000 before the situation became normal.
It would appear from the remarks of the right honorable gentleman, that in order to return to prosperity these unfortunate persons who are not in a position to fight for themselves have to be sacked. The Government may get away with it for a while, but this policy cannot be continued indefinitely.
– There is no suggestion of sacking any one.
– I have quoted the words of the Minister.
– We have moved the disallowance of these determinations of the Public Service Arbitrator in order to obviate discharging them.
– The Minister definitely stated that positions could not be found for over 1,000 employees. The sole intention of the Government is to keep some public servants employed at less than the basic wage. The Minister went on to say that this sum would be saved by dismissing adults and employing boys. Did not the Minister say that?
– I did not. I said that if this course was not adopted some would have to be dismissed.
– I do not suggest that the Minister is speaking an untruth. I have quoted from a report of his speech, and I am now placing his words on record in Hansard. He went on to say -
These sums could be saved by dismissing the adults and replacing them by boys. The Government has accepted the alternative of retaining the adults, but paying those who were unmarried the maximum rate payable to juniors aged 20 . . . This action resulted in the Public Service Arbitrator granting an application by the Public Service organizations concerned which had the effect of restoring the adult basic wage to the employees concerned. In his determination the Arbitrator had pointed out that in the Financial Emergency Act of 1931 the Commonwealth Parliament had specifically re-affirmed the principle that the Arbitrator would not take the responsibility of altering the principle that no adult employee should be reduced below the basic wage, but Parliament if it thought fit to do so, would disallow the determination.
Although the Public Service Arbitrator has heard evidence from the representatives of the employees concerned, including the postal workers, whose organization has spent a large sum on legal opinion, and a decision has been given, Parliament has now the right to disallow the determinations of the Arbitrator. We have frequently been told that this Government is working for the rehabilitation of the- Commonwealth, and that “ prosperity is round the corner “, but how can we return to prosperity under a policy of reducing wages and sacking men? Employers and employees admit that a basic wage should be fixed in order to secure stability in industry. Personally, I have no time for a basic wage. I regard it as so much dope for the working class, and maintain that there can be no salvation for workers employed in the Public Service or those employed in our factories, mines, and fields under our present industrial system. Honorable senators on this side of the chamber realize its defects. An alteration must eventually be made, but meanwhile we intend to put this Government on the grid iron, and make it honour the promises which it made on the hustings. This step is being taken to enable those engaged in private enterprise, and who find the sinews of war for this Government at election time, to pay less than a living wage. Honorable senators should realize that a largenumber of public servants who are affected by the determinations of the Public Service Arbitrator reside in Canberra, and, consequently, do not have a vote at federal elections. The time is not far distant when another appeal will be made to the people; it will be much sooner than some anticipate. The Leader of the Country part in another place (Dr. Earle Page) is reported in the Sydney Morning Harold, which is not published in Goulburn-street, to have said that the Government is not adopting the right attitude with respect to unemployment. The Public Service Arbitrator is supposed to see that fair play prevails in the relations between the Government and its employees. The Government does not believe in rule by regulation. In the last Parliament the then Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) moved from time to time that regulations made under the Waterside Workers Act by the Scullin Government be disallowed. To-day he, and those associated with him, seek to disallow regulations made by the Public Service Arbitrator. We on this side shall vote against the Government’s attempt to upset the findings of the Public Service Arbitrator.
– I have had what some may regard as a misfortune, in that I have been trained in a political school which -has taught me not to use language to conceal my thoughts. When the right honorable the Leader of the Government (Senator Pearce) introduced this matter yesterday I could not help being struck by the fortitude with which he and the party with which he is associated seemed able to bear the misfortunes of other people. We ob this side recognize that in these matters we are powerless to prevent the Government from wreaking its will and vengeance on the workers of the Commonwealth ; the most that we can do is to register in this chamber, and before the country, our failure to appreciate the conduct of the Government in matters affecting the wages and the standards of comfort of the common people.
I was immensely interested in the address delivered by Senator Payne. Although some of us have not spent our lives in the delightful island of Tasmania, we are not, however, altogether ignorant of the political and industrial history of that State. It may be, indeed, that some of us, from a distance, have remembered what the honorable senator, who has been close at hand, has apparently forgotten - that in earlier days, when Tasmania had no arbitration tribunals to fix the wages and conditions of those who did the work of the community, it earned the reputation of being the lowest wage State in the Commonwealth. So impecunious has Tasmania become, so unable have individual units of the community there been to balance their own private budgets, that the State has been equally unable to balance its budget, and has only saved itself from financial ruin by continued appeals to the Commonwealth Parliament for help.
– That statement comes well from a Queensland senator, who should know that Tasmania has been bled white by federation.
– Before I have been long in this chamber the honorable senator will learn that interjections only serve to spur me on to more unkindly utterances, and that his safe procedure will be to allow me to continue on the even tenor of my way.
– If the honorable senator sticks to facts, I shall do so.
– I was interested in Senator Payne’s suggestion that we on this side fail to realize the extraordinary position of Australia to-day. In saying that, he does not flatter our understanding of existing conditions. I do not propose to lose sight of what to me is a basic fact - that this depression has been deliberately caused by certain persons, with a definite object in view, and that in. no way can the responsibility for itbe laid at the door of the party in opposition in this Parliament. In no part of the world, save Queensland, where the Labour party had been in office for a long time, was the party to which I belong in power, so that the responsibility for the depression cannot be attributed to our policy. What becomes then, of all the talk we have heard here during recent days and all the comments in the press and elsewhere? Indeed, of what effect will be all that flood of talk which I doubt not will be released in connexion with the decisions registered at . the Ottawa Conference and which we are told will bring untold prosperity to Australia? If these extraordinary conditions prevail, and because of them, we on this side are expected to cease our opposition to the policy of the Government, then it is obvious that honorable senators opposite do not believe that prosperity is “just around the corner.” We accept no responsibility for the conditions which now prevail; they are not of our creation.
An adroit attempt to “yard” the Opposition by means of a specious device has been made by the Government and its supporters. When this debate has concluded we shall probably be told throughthe press that we are callous in that we have no compassion for the 1,500, or fewer, youths and young women who, it is said, will, if this regulation is not disallowed, be thrown on the Industrial scrapheap. I shall not, nor will the party with which I am associated, accept any responsibility for what happens. We refuse, to admit that the genius of the people of Australia is incapable of finding a way out of the present difficulty other than by the wholesale sacking of our young men and young women. The Government must accept the responsibility for its fatal policy.
I was intensely amused also at the suggestion of Senator Payne that some way must be found for reducing the cost of government. The honorable senator was most adroit in his remarks. First he made a strong point, by way of suggestion, that sacking people is not the only way out of the difficulty; and then he suggested that another way would soon force itself on the Government of the country.
– I did not refer to the sacking of people at all.
– I am not concerned with what the honorable senator now says ho thought he said, but with what he did say.
– I know what I said.
– If the honorable senator had had the courage of his alleged convictions he would have pointed out in what direction the cost of government could be reduced. As a member of the Upper House of Queensland I had the great privilege and distinction of being one of a party which decided, a decade ago, that the time had arrived when the cost of government in the Commonwealth should be reduced, and because we, in that northern State, were honest in our convictions, we wiped out the Legislative Council for all time. I may be unfortunate in having to agree with Senator Payne, but I do agree with him that the cost of government must be reduced .as an alternative to reducing wages. I go further and say that we should not criticize a government, or an individual, unless we are prepared to show what we would do if in a similar position.
– The honorable senator would not do anything.
– Unlike ‘the party to which the honorable senator belongs, we on this side are not out to “ do “ anybody. We believe that the cost of government should be reduced, and to that end I, at all events, advocate the abolition of State Parliaments. If Senator Payne seeks a way out of our difficulties other than by sacking men and women he can find it by giving us what we were promised when I as a young man battled for federation - the abolition of State Parliaments. We were told then that under federation we would have one national Parliament, one flag, one destiny. There were numerous other “ gold brick “ promises. Senator Payne voiced the policy of his party when, in homely language, he said that the time had come when we must submit to the bitter and difficult task of cutting our coat according to our cloth. I am not an authority on fashions; I am not particularly concerned as to the sort of coat I must wear ; but I shall continue to protest in this chamber, and from every platform upon which I stand, against the policy of this Government, which is to rob me of my coat, of whatever cut, as well as of the rest of the garments which civilized society requires me to wear, and leave me without any clothes at all. It has been urged that we on this side cannot contemplate with equanimity the sacking of these people. I point out that the policy of the present Government has resulted in the sacking of the fathers of these young men and young women. Throughout the Commonwealth to-day it is the married man who is being thrown on to the industrial scrap heap with all ruthlessness, and every form of political malevolence to which utterance can be given in another place. The policy of the present Government has resulted, first of all, in the sacking of tens of thousands of our people, with a consequent destruction of their home life, and, greatest tragedy of all, the destruction of the morale of the young men of the community. We, on this side, do not agree with such a policy. We are in no way responsible for it. Given the opportunity, we would have solved the problem of the parent, and in that way have prevented the problem of the young man or young woman from arising. It is the accepted responsibility of the Government, it is its job, to find a way out of the difficulty other than the sacking of these young men and young women. In December last, members of the Government flooded this country with statements to the effect that, if they were returned to power, the Public Service would be given a. fair deal, that there would be no more cuts; in short, that prosperity was “ just around the corner “. They won that election, and it is now their responsibility to make good their promises. Yet within a few days of the meeting of this Senate, they come down with a proposal of this character, which shows their utter impotence, and plainly tell us that the only way out is to sack people. Honorable senators are asked to endorse their action, although we know full well that it is only a subterfuge - only a part of their plan for destroying the wage standard of those in the Public Service and in every other walk of life.
I cannot help contrasting the mental attitude of the Government to the technique of this question with its attitude towards other matters. For instance, authorities have been set up, it does not matter whether by this Government or a preceding government, clothed ‘with all the power which can be conferred upon such bodies by Parliament. One of these is the Tariff Board. We find on the part of the Government a tendency to a slavish adherence to the recommendations of that body - the blind eye is turned to the justice or wisdom of the particular matter at issue - and a slavish adherence to the wishes of that particular authority ensues. But in a matter concerning the lives, fortunes, and happiness of thousands of young men and women, not the eye which is blind, but the other is used, and the wishes of a tribunal clothed with judicial and administrative functions equal to those of the Tariff Board are ignored, and honorable senators are advised, in the most dilettante manner imaginable, to override the determinations of that properly’ constituted authority.
As I said in my opening remarks, we, on this side, realize that all. we can do is to register our protest. And so long as I am in this chamber, my protest will be registered to the full extent of my capacity, and at every opportunity, against what I regard as the unnecessary and fatal policy of this Government in continually reducing wages, in continually forcing tens of thousands of our best citizens on to the industrial scrapheap, and in its continued attempt to reduce the standard of human comfort in this Australian community.
– One may perhaps be permitted to congratulate Senator Collings on the vigour and eloquence with which he has put his point of view in his opening speech in the Senate. In saying that, however, I do not commit myself in any way to agreement with the views which he has expressed, and which I propose to examine in greater detail. It has always seemed strange to me that the Queensland Labour Government, to which the honorable senator referred, having held a referendum as to whether or not the Legislative Council of the State should be abolished, and, having got a reply from the people that it should not be, should have proceeded immediately to abolish that chamber. To me it has always seemed a strange instance of the application of democracy to such a problem.
– The honorable senator has been misinformed.
– Then I have been misinformed on many different occasions. One might suspect that there was, on the part of that Queensland Government, quite as keen a desire to get rid of the Legislative Council as there was to reduce the cost of parliamentary government. Again, on the general question of the dismissal of employees and unemployment in general, the honorable senator spoke as if the present Government had been responsible for wholesale “ sackings “ ever since it came into office. The actual position is that since the present Commonwealth Government has been in power, employment in South Australia, at all events, has greatly improved over what was the position last year.
– Is that not due to sheep and not to “ Lyons “ ?
– I do not know of the sheep referred to by the honorable senator. If his reference is to the price of wool, I do not think that the increase in the price of wool has resulted in any great increase of employment. The outstanding exception in regard to the improvement’ in the employment figures since last year is New South Wales. From the time Mr. Lang came into power in that State, unemployment increased steadily month after month. It would appear, therefore, that something may be said from both sides of this question of wholesale sacking by the Government resulting in wholesale unemployment; but it does not appear to me that there is any need to work up any heat upon the subject under consideration to-day. The problem is a fairly simple one, but honorable senators of the Opposition have not stated the case fairly. Under the law of the Commonwealth, it is necessary for the Commonwealth Government to pay its officers a certain minimum wage when they attain the age of 21 years, although, at the time, they may be doing boys’ work. It is obvious that, at the present juncture, it is not proper that officers reaching the age of 21 should be paid a man’s wages for boys’ work. The problem is whether these young men should be put off in order that boys may he engagedto do boys’ work, or retained and paid a boys’ wage for doing that work.
But there is a much bigger issue at stake - the employment of the future generation. We owe certain duties to the growing youth, as well as to those who have come to the age of 21. One of the most distressing things at the present time is that there is no opening for boys who are leaving school and gradually growing up.
– Is that not an indictment of the system the honorable senator favours ?
– No, it is an indictment of the artificial system which is being enforced on this country. I, for one, and I feel sure members of Parliament generally, will endeavour to take into consideration the unfortunate position of the younger fellows- who do not get their chance in the world from the outset of their careers. We all agree that, as far as possible, a primary form of education should be given to our children. Does it not follow that, as far as possible, the . youth who is going out into the world should not be debarred from his chance of succeeding by one who is already in a position? There is, however, a feeling among honorable senators, to which I subscribe, that present employees of the Commonwealth should not, in this time of extreme difficulty, be thrown out, if we can possibly avoid it, because of the fact that, although they have reached the age of 21 years, they are still doing a boy’s work. We think it far better that these young men should have a chance of some employment to carry them through the difficult time immediately ahead rather than that they should be dismissed. If this determination is disallowed, and they decide that they will not accept government employment od the terms offered, they will still have the option of retiring. The Government adopts the policy, with which I am in agreement, that a3 these employees have reached 21 years of age, although it cannot properly afford to pay them a man’s wage, it does not want to force them out of the Service, whether they want it or not. Putting the case in its worst light, the Government’s proposal is to give these young men the option of remaining in the Commonwealth Service on the terms offered, if they so desire it.
– I preface my remarks by tendering my congratulations to my old friend and esteemed colleague, Senator Collings, who, in his maiden effort in this chamber, has displayed a clarity of thought and vigour of enunciation which will make him a distinct, acquisition to this branch of the legislature. I trust that the honorable senator will long remain with us to give us the benefit of those attributes which he has displayed in no unmistakable manner this morning
Turning to the motion, I want to impress honorable senators with the vital principles linked up with it. The attitude adopted by some honorable senators during the course of the debate indicates that they are not fully seised of the responsibilities that rest upon this Parliament when it .is asked to follow the lead set up by the Government through its leader in this chamber. First we must consider what is the power of Parliament, and also the principles which should guide it in the exercise of its authority. Power is conferred upon Parliament in the Arbitration (Public Service) Act of 1920. Sub-section 4 of section 22 reads -
If, before the determination is laid before the Parliament, the Attorney-General advises the Prime Minister that in his opinion the determination is not in accord with any law or regulation of the Commonwealth referred to in the opinion, the Prime Minister shall cause the opinion to be laid, together with the determination, before both Houses of the Parliament.
That was done, but the right honorable the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) yesterday gave us no indication of the principal acts of this Parliament with which, the determinations are in conflict. The right honorable gentleman deliberately left the Senate ill informed on this vital issue. Sub-section 5 of the same section roads -
If, in the ease of a determination accompanied by such a statement of the Arbitrator, or opinion of the Attorney-General, as is above referred to, either House of the Parliament, within 30 days after the determination with the statement or opinion has been laid before both Houses, passes a resolution disapproving the determination, the determination shall not come into operation.
That provision gives this Parliament power to do what the Government now seeks to have done. But I would point out that sub-section 6 has some bearing on the point. It reads -
Except as provided in the last preceding sub-section, but subject to the Constitution, the determination shall, from the expiration of those 30 days or such later period as is specified in the determination, have full force and effect notwithstanding the provisions of any law or regulation of the Commonwealth.
The last quoted sub-section gives us a lead ; it helps us to decide whether or not we should disapprove of the determinations of the Arbitrator. It seems to me that the power of disallowance is vested in Parliament so that it may, in certain circumstances, exercise its correctional jurisdiction, especially with regard to determinations that may involve sweeping and far-reaching changes in the longestablished principles affirmed by this Parliament. The Leader of the Senate did not indicate in what respect the determinations now before the Senate offend against any of the rights of Parliament, nor did he explain in what respect they violate any accepted principle, approved by Parliament, in the administration of the Public Service. He gave us no lead to the proper exercise of this correctional jurisdiction.
What is the actual position ? Certain former junior employees in various branches of the Public Service have passed through their apprenticeship stages, but, because .of the depression and the falling off in business, when they attain their majority, and when, accordins to the accepted principles n-nita* which the Public Service has been conducted for the last 30 years, they are entitled to the receipt of the adult basic wage, the Public Service Board finds difficulty in absorbing them in adult positions. So a suggestion is made, first, that they may be appointed to certain positions at the adult basic wage but Will be denied the annual increments to which, in other circumstances, they would be entitled as Public Service employees. This proposal was accepted, reluctantly we are told, by the representatives of the employees, approximately twelve months ago. Now we find the Public Service Board asking for the elimination of the basic wage standard as the price which these young employees must pay for their continued employment in the Public Service. Notwithstanding that, in many instances, they have a record of service ranging from eight to ten years, the Public Service Board seeks to inflict upon them conditions contrary to the principles laid down by this Parliament and in violation of the Arbitration Act which prohibits private employers from paying adult employees less than the basic wage. This is one of the main points to be considered by honorable senators.
Certain practical considerations also are deserving of our most careful attention. The first is that the Senate is called upon to decide between two determinations - one made by the Public Service Board, which is the employing authority of this Parliament, and the other by the Public Service Arbitrator. The board, as the agent of the Government, decided that a certain wage should be paid to specified classes of employees. Parliament, in its wisdom, has made provision whereby any employees dissatisfied with the conditions under which they are working, have the right of appeal to the Public Service Arbitrator, in much the same way as employees outside the Service have the right to appeal to the Arbitration Court. In this case the employees did appeal to the Public Service Arbitrator, who convened a conference of the organizations interested and heard all that their representatives had to say. The parties were represented as under - Amalgamated Postal Workers Union, Mr. J. V. Dwyer and Mr. J. J. Peterken ; Federated Public
Service Assistants, Mr. F. J. McCart and! Mr. D. M. McKay; Public Service Board, Mr. G. P. N. Watt. Other PublicService organizations who were interested, were invited to send representatives and the following were present: - Fourth. Division Officers Association of the Trade* and Customs Department, Mr. G. CLachel and Mr. E. C. Sullivan; other Public Service organizations affiliated, with the high council of the Public Service associations, Mr. A. V. Langker. The Arbitrator fully informed hi3 mind, on the subject at issue and after hearingevidence from the interested parties decided against the board and against the Government. Now the Senate is asked, to decide which of the determinations, shall be upheld and I contend that the history of this Parliament in relation toindustrial legislation should leave us noalternative but to decide in favour of the Public Service Arbitrator.
We have been told by my colleague from South Australia (Senator Duncan-Hughes) that we whoare opposing the Government in this, matter are not putting the ‘issue fairly; that the alternative to upholding the decision of the Public Service Arbitrator is. the dismissal from the Service of a considerable number of young people. I have carefully perused the determinations and I direct the attention of honorable senators to these comments by the Arbitrator, to be found on page 44 -
The retention of the minimum wage for adult males - the Service basic wage - should act as a necessary ever-present and compelling spur to the speedy promotion of adults to adult positions. In all the circumstances the surmise is ventured that dismissal from the Service is not the inevitable alternative to the retention of the principle of payment of the basic wage to male adults.
That is the considered view of the man appointed by this Parliament to investigate conditions of employment in the Public Service.
– His function is to arbitrate.
– I agree with the Minister that it is not the function of the Public Service Arbitrator to interfere with the internal management of the Public Service, but the report of the proceedings upon which he based his determinations shows that he took full cognizance of all the arguments adduced by both sides. We have been told that, following the election to office of this Government in the latter portion of last year, prosperity would return to Australia. I think every one will agree that the Government is experiencing difficulty in finding positions for all its employees, but I venture to say that a careful perusal of the determinations of the Arbitrator will not bear out the Minister’s contention that the alternative to the course now proposed is the dismissal of a considerable number of employees from the Public Service.. If any difficulty existed in 1931, surely the advent to the treasury bench of this Government of all the talents should have removed it ere this. It has had nearly twelve months in which to do so. Yet we find that its employing authority, the Public Service Board, submits to the Public Service Arbitrator a schedule in which it forecasts that there will be no improvement in the position for the next five years! If that is not a confession of ineptitude, what is it? This Senate ought to reject, not only the proposal of the Government, but also the Government itself, and put in its place a government that will recognize the basic principles established by this Parliament, that the living wage shall be sacrosanct, and that at least there shall be consistency in the exercise of the correctional jurisdiction conferred ‘by acts of Parliament. As has been pointed out this morning, where the worker is “nicerned the right of Parliament to interfere with the decision of the umpire is never questioned. I remember a former occasion, I believe that it was in 1928, when the Public Service Arbitrator of the day gave a decision favorable to a certain section of the Public Service. The leader of the Bruce-Page Government in the Senate then took steps similar to those that are now proposed, and with the aid of his brutal majority secured the disallowance of the determination. Now we are again asked to quarrel with the umpire. I remind the right honorable gentleman that that former quarrel was the prelude to another, which led to the downfall of the Government of which he was- a member.
The other tribunal set up by Parliament to which I wish to refer, is the Tariff Board. The reports of that body have a relationship to this question, because they represent, so to speak, the umpire’s decision on. the question whether or not wisdom has been displayed by the Minister for Trade and Customs and the Government of the day in their determinations on tariff questions. In that case, when it comes to a question of quarrelling with the umpire by refusing to take cognizance of its reports, the Leader of the Senate and his Government say that we must accept its determinations. If the principle of the acceptance of an umpire’s decision is right in the one case, it must be right in the other. For that and the many other important reasons that I and other honorable senators have advanced, I trust that the motion will not be entertained by this chamber.
– For many years, I have been closely associated with the organized Labour movement of Australia. In connexion with this matter, I have received a communication conveying to me the views of a large number of individuals who have taken an active part in that movement, and are closely connected with the Commonwealth Public Service. They regard it most seriously. If the Senate should decide to disapprove the determinations of the Arbitrator, the effect will be to destroy one of the most important principles of arbitration, which is to accept and abide by whatever decisions are given. In the main, the organized Labour movement has shown its readiness to accept the decisions of the Arbitration Court; although, admittedly, there have been occasional exceptions when other action has been taken because of dissatisfaction caused by a decision. I take it that the Public Service Arbitrator occupies a position that is no different from that of a judge of the Arbitration Court. Therefore, we should regard his decisions as equally binding. If the Senate, in its wisdom, decides to disapprove these determinations
– Would it not be better to say “in its folly”?
– I accept the correction. If the Senate, in its folly, decides to disapprove these determinations, it will establish a precedent that inevitably will have a reaction in private industry. Simply because we find that, at the moment, we cannot place in certain positions boys who have reached the age of 21 years, is it just or fair, that we should abrogate every principle that should govern the relationship of employer and employee, by asking that they shall accept a lower wage than is provided for by the determinations of the Arbitrator? I contend that the principle which it is sought to establish is a vicious one. The organizations with which I have been connected have, at all times, fought strenuously against penalizing juniors, on the ground that only one section is being penalized, and that is grossly unfair. I believe that, if this matter were thoroughly investigated, it would be found possible to employ these youths without destroying the principle of obedience to the Arbitrator. I take it that we are all intelligent gentlemen. But we have not had experience in the industrial world comparable with that of those who place these cases before the Arbitrator, or of the Arbitrator himself. They have had many years’ experience, and are thoroughly acquainted with the industry on whose behalf they speak. The Arbitrator has spent much time in hearing and determining these cases, and has a thorough knowledge of the position. Yet to-day the Leader of the Government is asking the Senate to run counter to the opinion and the judgment of that gentleman ! If this sort of thing is allowed, we might as well have in the position of arbitrator a. robot which would do only what the Government directed. That, however, is not desirable. The Labour party believes that both sides of a proposition should be placed before an impartial authority, and that as honorable men we should accept whatever decision is given. If the workers are expected to abide by the decisions of an arbitrator, it is only fair that governments should be similarly bound.
We have to consider much more than the effect of this action upon a few hundred persons in the Public Service. We must look further, and realize that there will be repercussions which undoubtedly will cause - and rightly so - considerable trouble and unrest in the ranks of the working class people.
I have received from the secretary of one of the organizations affected, a letter from which I shall read a few extracts. He says -
According to remarks made by the Prime Minister and other members of the Cabinet, it would appear as if the Government considers that the Public Service is over-manned at the present time, but this is not in accordance with fact. You will remember that in March last, the Government introduced a regulation providing for the payment of certain salary to officers over 21 years of age who’ were actually filling a minor position, and arising out of this regulation, one of the organizations (Australian Postal Workers Union) filed a claim with the arbitrator for the payment of the basic wage to all officers of the Service irrespective of the position that they were occupying.
This case was heard by the arbitrator in April last and he unhesitatingly granted the claim of the Postal Workers Union, and made an award for the payment of the basic wage (£182) to all officers 21 years of age and over. Notwithstanding the fact that this award has been given for over three months, the Government has not yet announced their intention as to whether they intend to honour this award or whether they intend to disallow it as soon as Parliament meets. Judging by a remark made by the Assistant Minister for Defence (Mr. Francis), when he was interviewed in Brisbane by this committee, it would appear as if the Government intends to disallow this award, as he intimated that if the Government had to pay the basic wage to all officers, even though they were not occupying adult positions, they would have to dispense with or dismiss these officers from the Service. When this regulation was made a protest was voiced in the House, and a statement made that over 000 officers were over 21 years of age, and occupying minor positions, but when the case actually came before the arbitrator and the Public Service Board had to supply the arbitrator with certain facts in regard to the Service this claim by the Government was not substantiated. For your information, I am attaching a copy of the extracts made by the arbitrator, together with certain statements lodged by the Public Service Board on behalf of the Government when dealing with this particular case.
The extracts clearly set out the position, especially as far as the PostmasterGeneral’s Department is concerned, and also clearly indicate that the statement that over 900 adult officers were occupying minor positions was not in accordance with fact. According to the statement lodged by the Public Service Board, and a copy of this is attached, there was actually a deficiency of staff in the Postmaster-General’s Department at the 31st January, 1932.
– The last paragraph of the letter reads -
When this regulation was made a protest was voiced in the House and a statement made that over DOO Officers were over 21 _years of age and occupied minor positions; but when the case came before the Arbitrator and the Public Service Board had to supply the Arbitrator with curtain facts in regard !to the Service this claim by the Government was not substantiated.
It is well that honorable senators should know that. The letter goes on -
In addition, I would point out that in September last the Public Service Board obtained «n award for the granting of “time off” in lieu of overtime on the plea that this was necessary to cope with the excess staff in the department, more particularly in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department.
This award has been in force since the 2nd September last, and there is a move on the part of the board to have this award extended, and they have even asked that the question of working the “ time off” in lieu that accumulates, shall be suspended until the 31st Decern - ber, 1935, thus proving that they have not sufficient staff to cope with the work, and that their only reason for asking for this award, or bringing in this economy measure, is on the grounds of saving the actual payment of the money to the officers concerned.
As secretary of the Postal Workers Union, I set out some time ago to obtain some definite information from our members in Queensland as to the amount of accumulated time, and I found several instances where officers were due for five or six weeks accumulated leave on this “ time off “ in lieu award.
Surely, in justice to those who have been working on holidays or working overtime, and who consented to take time off in lieu of being paid overtime rates, as the writer of this letter states, a number of these young men could be given employment at men’s wages, thus allowing those men who are entitled to time off to take it. Evidently there is a desire on the part of the department to put off the granting of this time off until December, 1935. It is looking a long way ahead, and disregards those who are at present in danger of losing their wages.
I have also the statement referred to in Mr. Aitken’s letter, which I should like to have incorporated in Hansard, with reference to Determination No. 6, and which includes certain extracts from the judgment. The final paragraph in the statement of the Arbitrator reads -
The principle of reasonable equality of treatment is fundamental in the administration of the Public Service. La the course of discussion, I pointed out to Mr. Watt the seriousness of this phase of the question, but he has not satisfactorily .explained the important differentiation in treatment which is involved.
If this motion is carried, the Government will be acting contrary to the opinion of the Arbitrator, and will depart from the principle of reasonable equality of treatment. Honorable senators on this side of- the chamber cannot stand for anything approaching the repudiation of that principle.
– Is it not a fact that all that this means is that the men doing boys’ work shall receive boys’ wages?
– I do not think so. Every arbitral authority is opposed to anything of that nature. It has been definitely laid down by arbitration authorities throughout Australia that when a youth reaches adult age he shall be paid a man’s wages. Surely the Government believes in that. Surely it believes that its employees should be paid the rates decided upon by the arbitration authority.
Every unionist believes that when a person reaches his majority, he should be paid a wage determined upon by the properly constituted authority as appropriate to his class. The unions have stood solidly for this principle; they have always fought vigorously for the payment of an adult wage to a youth when he reaches his majority. Most of the persons concerned in this determination are doing men’s work. It is merely begging the question to say that they are performing boy’s work. If this matter is thoroughly investigated, it will be found that many, on reaching the age of nineteen, can perform a man’s work just as efficiently as a man some years older. By way of illustration let me refer to ray own case. As a youth I served in the engineering trade, and was apprenticed as a pattern maker. I knew my own capabilities and when I was twenty years of age, I could hold my own with older men. That was admitted by my employers since they paid me a man’s wage. It would appear that, in many instances, it is the desire of employers to take advantage of young men and boys by employing them at wages lower than those which - they should actually receive. I am sorry to find that this Government is endeavouring to lower the wage standard. The Labour party does not believe in that, and in the near future when Labour is returned to power it will undo what this Government is now bringing forward.
– This Government wishes to whittle away the arbitration system.
– It wishes in its own interests to whittle down arbitration. Surely ministerial supporters do not sincerely believe that Australia would be in a far better position than it is to-day if we were to abolish arbitration, revert to the old -system of tooth and claw, and pay only what some people term “ an economic wage?” An economic wage is that which an employee can command. If there were 40 or 50 men seeking one job, worth £5 a week, and one man offered to take it for 20s. ji week, that would be “ the economic wage.” In some instances, men have paid to get a job. Senator Duncan-Hughes believes that Australia is suffering as a result of what he terms our artificial industrial system. I gather from his remarks that he is opposed to the arbitration system, and the fixing of wages by a’ properly constituted authority. I contend that our whole political system is artificial, but it is in operation by the will of the people. This House and the other branch of the legislature are the result of the development of an artificial system.
Arbitration has grown out of the needs of the people. It has played a very prominent part in Australia’s industrial and economic life and we should be very careful indeed not to do anything to destroy it by putting back the clock. We should endeavour to make the best of the institutions which have already been developed. On one occasion, I was asked to define my political beliefs. I told the inquirer that I was a conservative, a socialist, a liberal and an anarchist. He replied that he did not. understand what I meant. I informed him that I was a conservative in so far that I desired to conserve the best in society; that I was a socialist because I realised that social organizations were necessary to the community, and that we should develop these organi zations to the best of our ability, and that I was also a liberal, because I believed that certain liberal institutions had been of great service to the people, providing means for freedom of expression - a freedom that should not be interfered with. We should try to take full advantage of the arbitration system, which, although it has its failings, has been of wonderful assistance in the preservation of industrial peace in Australia. Every Parliament in Australia should refrain from doing anything that would injure that system, or encourage the return of the days when men had to fight for their jobs, and employers could pay what rates of wages they pleased. Our whole system, I repeat, is artificial, and in making that admission, I do not think I am saying” anything derogatory to the Government. We, as thinking men, should use our best endeavours to improve it instead of seeking to degrade the industrial workers of this country. By carrying this motion, we shall be doing an injustice not only to those directly concerned, but also to hundreds of thousands of workers throughout Australia. Many of us have spent a lifetime in the working-class movement, and will do nothing to destroy a principle which has such an important bearing on the lives of our people.
If the Arbitrator has given a wrong determination, it is within the power of this Parliament to upset it. I deplore the fact that so many of the jury are at present absent from the chamber; but I suppose they will file in when the bells are rung and record their decision, unmindful of the arguments that have been submitted from this side of the chamber. I realize, of course, that there is occasion for some to be temporarily absent; possibly some are in the library furnishing their brains with information on many important matters in the interests of those whom they represent; but their absence during so important a debate as this cannot be justified, and I hope they will remain out of the chamber when the division is taken.
-Htjoh.es. - Some honorable senators from both sides are absent.
– I admit that. Many honorable senators opposite do not realize the importance of this question.
If the subject under discussion related to sheep or wool, doubtless they would be present. It was inferred by, I think, a senator representing Tasmania, that we should abolish the arbitration system, or to use a colloquialism, give employers an “ open go “. He suggested that conditions would differ considerably from what they are to-day. In reply, I would point to those countries where arbitration courts do not exist, and where we find conditions are even worse than they are in Australia. That demonstrates the futility of the line of action which the honorable senator suggests. Evidently some believe that Australia will be saved by bringing about a reduction in wages, and by giving effect to a general policy of deflation. Practically every economist realizes that the situation cannot be improved by a system of low wages, so reducing the purchasing power of the people. If it is contended that conditions will improve when wages are lowered, my answer is that, to follow that argument to its logical conclusion, Australia would be better off if no wages at all were paid.
Many erroneous ideas are held by honorable senators opposite concerning this proposal. I understand from a report which appeared in the admirable daily paper published in Canberra that the Government-propose to reduce the invalid and old-age pensions by 2s. 6d. a week, and this motion is in keeping with that policy. The Government of Australia - one of the richest countries in the world - proposes to take 2s.- 6d. a week from the aged and infirm in our community! Such a proposal is a standing disgrace. The Government’s action in this connexion is in line with its policy of pauperizing the maternity allowance. I hope that the Senate will not upset the decision of the Public Service Arbitrator, for if it does a precedent will be established which may have serious consequences. It will encourage employers throughout the country to approach the courts for a reduction of the wages paid to their employees, and the whole principle of arbitration will be upset. I hope that the motion will be defeated.
– After the long and interesting debate which has already taken place, there is very little left to be said by honorable senators on this side of the chamber;’ but a good deal remains to be said by the Government and its supporters in defence of the new principle which the Government now seeks to introduce into industry. From whatever angle this subject is viewed, it resolves itself into the question of whether or not we stand for arbitration. I am always pleased to hear views unequivocally expressed by honorable senators, whether I agree with them ot not, and, therefore, I have no complaint to make regarding Senator Duncan-Hughes, who stated clearly that, in his opinion, this artificial system should be abolished. Apparently, the honorable senator is not concerned with the principles which have been laid down by the Arbitration Court to meet varying industrial conditions; he would have us follow our own course regardless of the lighthouses which have been set up after many years of experience. This National Parliament is in duty bound to uphold the national policy. If that policy be arbitration, we must, if we respect our oath of office, be prepared to carry it out whether or not we as individuals agree with it.
The position . confronting us is that the Public Service Board, in its capacity as agent for the Government in the engagement of labour, sought to provide for the employment of certain persons on conditions which were in conflict with every known principle of arbitration, and with decisions actually made by the Arbitration Court. Against its attempt the union, standing solidly behind the policy of collective bargaining as against the system of individual bargaining, protested, and referred the dispute to the Public Service Arbitrator. Let us consider what the Public Service Arbitrator had before him when asked to make his decision. He had, first, the decision of the Public Service Board, and, secondly, the members of that board themselves. He sought to ascertain what principles had guided the board in fixing the rates of wages it did. Having heard the views of the board, he, in the exercise of his statutory duties, decided that the discretion vested in the Public Service Board had been exercised in accordance with wrong principles. The Public Service Arbitrator was aware that the basic wage for the Federal Public Service discriminates between employment within and without the Public Service - that because of the child endowment system -l lower basic wage has been fixed for the Public Service than for similar work outside. Knowing these things, he still found that the Public Service Board had prescribed a wage which was lower than the basic wage. If the Government really believed in arbitration, there was only one proper course for it to bake: that regulation from the Public Service .Board should have been sent back and the Government should have conducted an inquiry into the ‘competency of the men who fixed the rates of pay set out in it. No one on the other side of the chamber has ‘yet said anything to show that the wages prescribed by the Public Service Board can be justified under any known principle of arbitration.
The position would be entirely different were the Government to admit that, although it told the electors that it would not reduce pensions or the maternity allowance, or interfere with arbitration, it had found it impossible to fool the public any longer by declarations relating to the Ottawa Conference, and was now compelled to go back on its tracks. I could understand a Government doing that; but I cannot understand that a Government, having sought a mandate from the people to continue the system of arbitration, should, almost as its first act, slash at pensions and the maternity allowance and seek to destroy arbitration. . Senator DuncanHughes explained the Government’s action as an attempt to retain men and women in employment. I ask him what would be the position of a private employer were he to do what the Government now seeks to do. Would not the machinery provided by this Parliament be set in motion and a prosecution launched against him?
I ask the Government whether it does, or does not, believe in arbitration; whether it is prepared to face the political consequences of a clear pronouncement of its views on the subject of arbitration? I ask the Minister representing the Attorney-General whether it is not competent for the
Attorney-General to try to bring about in private industry what the Government now seeks to do in governmental circles? So determined were we that the principle of arbitration should not be whittled away, and that disputes between employer and employee should be settled by a judicial tribunal entirely free from political prejudices, that we went so far as to insert, in the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act a provision empowering the Federal AttorneyGeneral to intervene in any dispute in any matter affecting the public interest. If, as was suggested by Senator DuncanHughes, boys are growing into manhood and the obstacles in the way of their employment are certain anomalous provisions of the arbitration system, the honest course for the Attorney-General to adopt is to come out into the open, face the electors and say that the Government is of the opinion that the principle of paying an adult a full adult wage when the “ boss “ says he is only doing a boy’s work, is iniquitous, that the “boss” should say whether the work is that of a man or a boy, and that the worker should be paid accordingly. If that were done this issue would be fought on a battle ground which would give no party any cause for complaint. But what is the position now? I have no desire to be disrespectful to the Senate; but I have to admit that under the party system which operates here this matter will be decided by what is practically a House of robots. The honorable senators appear to be shocked, but it is useless for them to hold up their hands in holy horror. The cold fact is that if any man were to come into the Senate with an open mind and declare himself to be in favor of arbitration, he could not support the disallowance of this regulation, because the conditions set out by the Public Service Board are absolutely opposed to the principles of arbitration. On the other hand, the principles which guided the Public Service Arbitrator are consistent with arbitration. Honorable senators who accept something which is inconsistent with arbitration in preference to something which is consistent with the policy are either dishonest or do not believe in arbitration.
– Most of them do not believe in arbitration.
– They all profess to believe in it. The honorable senator who has interjected is honest in his conviction that the system is no good. He at least is consistent, but I cannot say whether honorable senators generally are honest or dishonest in their judgment on this matter. I can only judge them by their actions. When a man says that he, believes in arbitration, and at the same time expresses his intention to vote for the disallowance of this regulation, I feel that I am entitled to doubt his honesty. 1 am convinced that a majority of honorable senators in this chamber do not believe in arbitration; but they have had one experience of going to the country on the issue, and they do not want to repeat it.
– They were defeated on the motion picture taxation issue.
– That is no excuse.
– The timberworkers union was not in favour of arbitration. It would not accept an arbitration award.
– When a man does not believe in something and has to try to convince some one else that he does believe in it, be finds some excuse to justify his action. What the timber-workers did is foreign to the position I am taking up, but whether they were- right or wrong honorable senators are in exactly the same position except that they are more fortunate. They will not accept an arbitration award, but they still collect their salaries whilst on strike.
– Will the honorable senator say whether the timberworkers were right or wrong?
– I am not prepared to do so, but they rebelled against an arbitration award, and they were not fortunate enough to have the full guarantee of the members of the Government party that they would be assisted in a motion for the disallowance of the award. Even if they were wrong, we should be equally wrong in rebelling against a determination of the Public Service Arbitrator. Does the honorable senator suggest that he can conscientiously vote for this motion and still believe in arbitration ?
– I suggest nothing, but the honorable senator says that we do not believe in arbitration, and that his supporters believe in it.
– I made no mention of our supporters. At the present time I am not on the offensive.I am defending something arrived at by the workers of this country, and openly advocated by the members of the present Government who declared that they would not interfere with arbitration. Yet here they are doing . so in connexion with the Public Service. It is nonsense to talk about men doing boys’ work. Any one would imagine that the wage sought to be proscribed was paid to a man for doing work which a lad in knickerbockers could do. It is nothing of the sort. It is for work done by young men who have reached manhood, but may not be performed under the arbitration system by those who are not technically men. Prior to Senator O’Halloran reading the Public Service Arbitrator’s determination, how many honorable senator’s had read it? If Senator Payne had read it he would not have spoken as he did. Mr. Westhoven was Deputy-Director of Posts and Telegraphs in Melbourne, and one of the most trusted and competent men in the Commonwealth Service. It is true that he was appointed by the Scullin Government, but with the full approval of the present Prime Minister who had intimate association with him when Postmaster-General in the Scullin Government, I venture to say that the Prime Minister would tell Senator Pearce that he regards Mr. Westhoven as being one of the most competent men in the service of the Commonwealth.
– The honorable senator can take that as admitted by nearly every one I think.
– I have now my eminent and learned colleague in agreement with my statement that Mr. Westhoven is a competent officer to judge this matter. He did not misapply one principle of arbitration but simply corrected something that had been done in error by the Public Service Board.
– Did that take the form of a regulation?
– Had that regulation the force of law?
– Yes, but may I go a little further?
– The honorable senator will need to do so.
– Although the regulation had the force of law, the Arbitrator still had .jurisdiction to deal with it. Under section 20 of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act the mere making of regulations does not deprive the Public Service Arbitrator of his jurisdiction, but immediately he makes a decision any case covered by the regulation becomes subject to review by Parliament. Section 22 provides -
With very great respect, I put it to Senator Brennan that the correct view of the law is that this Parliament sits as a body of review if the Arbitrator in the exercise of his jurisdiction has given a decision contrary to a regulation. Clearly, we should not act capriciously. We have to take into consideration the regulation made by the board and the determination of the Arbitrator. If we believe in arbitration, and find that the discretion of the board has been exercised in error, and contrary to every known principle of arbitration, and that the Arbitrator has merely corrected that error, and applied the principles of arbitration prescribing for one section of the Public Service a wage system consistent with the principles affecting the fixation of wages in every industry throughout the Commonwealth, we should not, in our review, do anything but uphold the decision of the Arbitrator.
– As one of the “ robots “ on this side of the chamber, I should like to speak on this subject. I have had an opportunity to ascertain the proper pronunciation of the word, and am not likely to be misunderstood, as another honorable senator was, as having referred to a chamber of “ rodents “.
– That remark applies with great distinction to the side of the chamber on which the honorable senator is sitting.
– Out of courtesy to the new senator who spoke for the first time in this chamber this morning, I content myself with congratulating him upon the eloquence with which he expounded platitudes, but leave it at that. He threatened, in so far as the Standing Orders would allow him, that if Senator Payne indulged in interjections he might probably get the worst of it. I remind the honorable senator that other senators also can make similar threats.
I desire, first of all, to reply to some of the observations made by Senator Daly; because, wrong though I believe them to be, they, at least, have the merit of definiteness about them. One knows the ground on which the honorable senator stands, and can meet it. The honorable senator ‘Said that, it was time this side declared whether it stood or did not stand for arbitration. When that question does arise, I shall make my views plain; in the meantime the real question is whether we stand or do not stand for upholding the law in its entirety. The honorable senator quoted from section 22 of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act, but he commenced at sub-section 4. Had he commenced at the beginning of the section I venture to say, with great respect, that he would not have fallen into the errors into which he did fall. The section reads -
– Surely that must be read in conjunction with the sub-sections to which I referred.
– If my learned friend desires it I shall proceed further. Under this section the Arbitrator is expressly recognized as not necessarily being a legal authority, and where he thinks it proper to do so,he may make a determination, which, in his opinion, is not, or may not be in accordance with the law or any regulation of the Commonwealth relating to salaries.
– What does that mean?
– It means that if he is doubtful he may proceed to make an award. What steps are next taken to see that an award which is against the law shall not come into force? If the Arbitrator makes an award which, in his opinion, is not or may not he in accord with a law or regulation, he is required to - send to the Prime Minister and to the AttorneyGeneral, with the certified copy of the determination, a statement of the laws or regulations of the Commonwealth with which, in his opinion, it is not, or may not be, in accord.
The next stage is for the AttorneyGeneral to advise whether or not the determination in question is in accord with a law or regulation of the Commonwealth.
– Not necessarily.
– If the AttorneyGeneral advises that it is not in accord with a law of the Commonwealth, the decision rests with either House . of the Parliament to disallow it.
– Of course; but Parliament has the right to allow or disallow a regulation whether it is within the law or not.
– In literal terms. We have a discretion to allow to remain in force a regulation which may be against a law of the Commonwealth; but, if the Attorney-General advises that it is not in accord with a law of the Commonwealth, either House may, and in my view should, disallow it.
– According to the honorable senator’s line of reasoning, no award could stand. They are all the outcome of appeals against decisions of the Public Service Board.
– But not necessarily against a regulation.
– What is the honorable senator’s interpretation of the word “may” in sub-section 2? If the honorable senator’s contention is right, we are all a lot of robots.
– The AttorneyGeneral, after discussion, may , be convinced that, after all,”a determination is not against the law. That is the sole question at issue here. The Public Service Arbitrator, when giving the reasons for his determinations, appears; to say the least, to have realized that they might not be within the law, because, after giving his reasons for the course taken,, he says that Parliament, if it thinks fit to depart from the principle laid down, will disallow the determination. In the final operative section of his determination, he states -
Unless disapproved by the Parliament, this, determination shall come into operation on the expiration of thirty days . .
Thus it would appear that at least it was contemplated by the Public Service Arbitrator that the decision might not be within the law, and he threw on the law advisers of the Parliament the responsibility of deciding the matter.
– What law of the Commonwealth is allegedly infringed by these determinations?
– A regulation of the Public Service Board which, according to the honorable senator’s colleague, Senator Daly, is in force and, being in force, has all the force of law. That is the position as I followed the case opened yesterday by the Leader of the Senate.
– I think if the honorable senator were asked to give a considered opinion, it would be somewhat different from the view he is now expressing..
– I have looked carefully at the section. I do not profess to have given it particular attention before this question came up; but the point at issue seems tobe contained within section 22 of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act of 1920, and it would appear that the Arbitrator himself, recognizing the possibility that he might be wrong, threw upon Parliament the responsibility of taking whatever action might be necessary.
Apart from the strictly legal aspect, suppose that we take the stand adopted by Senator Daly - that there is a discretionary power in this matter - what, then, would be the position? We could, of course, indulge in all the platitudes which, unfortunately, are employed in a debate of this nature, and suggest that the action now being taken by the Government is for the purpose of wreaking vengeance on the workers, and that the depression through which we are passing was caused deliberately by certain sections of the community for their own special purpose. But we have the assurance of those who are best able to judge that the effect of allowing this determination to remain will be that the persons concerned will lose their employment. Senator Collings, a recent acquisition to this chamber from Queensland, said this morning that it was the duty of the Government to provide for a contingency, such as has arisen in the Public Service, without dismissing any employees. My reply to him is that the Government has sought to find a way, and that the proposal now before the Senate is intended to minimize the hardship which dismissal from the Service would involve to the employees concerned.
– That is the excuse given.
– I know, of course, that in the opinion of honorable senators opposite virtue resides only with those whose political views are in accord with their own; that anything done by the Government and its supporters is for the purpose of “ wreaking vengeance “ on the workers; to bring about depression or reduce wages!
– That, at all events, will be the effect of the Government’s action in this matter.
– May I suggest to the honorable senator, at this early stage of his career in the Senate, that unless he approaches the consideration of these questions from the point of view that honorable senators on this side, although holding views different from his own, are quite as anxious as he is to see the general advancement of the people of Australia, and that in all we do we are not actuated by malice towards those who are styled the workers - I claim to be just as much a worker as any of his friends are - it will never be possible for him to contribute to the debates in this chamber anything worth while ?
– I was dealing with the effect of the Government’s policy and showed how disastrous it would be.
– The honorable senator must not talk to me; let him address the Chair, and I will do the same.
- Senator Col: lings informed us that it was his habit to speak for himself, and that was the opinion we formed of him very early in his speech. I never desire to say anything that is unpleasant to anybody.
– Well, do not patronize me.
– I have not been a member of the Senate for long, but I have never been accused of patronizing or annoying anybody.
– The honorable senator does not annoy me ; he amuses me.
– One of the notes I made when Senator Collings was speaking, was that he said he was “ intensely amused,” but I never saw a man look less amused than he did.
Now, may I proceed with some observations concerning the remarks made by my esteemed friend, Senator Dunn ? His views, as I recall, differed somewhat from those of Senator O’Halloran, because Senator Dunn described the basic wage as merely so much “ dope,” while Senator O’Halloran urged that it was something sacrosanct. In all my experience in the field of literature, at all events, I never knew that the word “ dope “ was synonymous with the word “ sacrosanct.” However, I must allow Senator O’Halloran and Senator Dunn to settle the matter between themselves. The inference I deduce is that one school of thought will describe a certain principle as “ dope “ and another will regard it as “ sacrosanct.” All this comes from trying to provide, through Parliament, a panacea for all the ills of life, instead of allowing the people to provide it for themselves.
But I am digressing. I take my stand upon my view of the law itself as it appears to me. If that should happen to be wrong, I take the view that the Government has put forward this proposal in the interests of the greater number, whatever may be the opinion of honorable senators opposite. If, because of our support of the motion, we are regarded as “ robots,” I care not, but I am quite prepared to believe that honorable senators on this side are actuated by the best of motives. We regret that hardship should fall on any number of employees, however small, but we believe that the course now proposed is for the benefit of the greater number.
Senator RAE (New South Wales) 3.12 J. - I have no intention of repeating the arguments which have been so ably advanced by honorable senators on this side of the chamber, but I think one should, perhaps, congratulate the Government, on its masterly statesmanship, for after being in office for the better part of a year, it is bringing this country to a state of prosperity by compelling men to work for boys’ wages !
I well remember, during the last election campaign, seeing the country placarded with advertisements telling the people that if the party now in office were returned to power its government would find employment and bring this country back again to prosperity. Its policy may be summed up in the statement that it is attempting to starve the people into prosperity, and that, I suggest, is a novel way of reaching its objective. All the arguments employed by honorable senators on this side have been to the effect that we believe in arbitration. But may I say that some members on this side may have a different idea of the value of that principle? It has been distinctly laid down by previous speakers that the disallowance of these determinations will not end the trouble; that there will be repercussions all over the country because private employers will be encouraged to adopt similar methods and seek to employ men at boys’ rates of pay. I have never professed a veryardent belief in arbitration. Some honorable senators supporting the Governv ment seem to be opposed to the system, and they appear to believe, perhaps with some good reason, that the present period of world depression will mean the abolition of arbitration, and that they will be able to obtain labour even more cheaply than at present. I am convinced that if we had not adopted arbitration, the organized workers, by strikes and direct action, would have forced from their employers better conditions than they now enjoy as a result of the working of the arbitration system.
That view is fortified by the fact that at present our arbitration courts are nothing but machines for “ the reduction of wages and a lowering of working conditions. Arbitration has proved a failure, inasmuch as when most needed it has been least effective in the interests of the wage-earner. That, however, does not absolve us from a realization of the fact that for a generation at least the system has been regarded as a crutch on which the workers should lean. The present Government also uses it as a crutch whenever it suits it to say to the workers “ You favoured the constitution of such a tribunal, now you must abide by its decisions or be liable to all the penalties of the law.” Is it right that it should be used as a crutch when it suits the Government so to use it, and as a shillelagh to bash the workers when it does not? That is the way in which it is now being used. We may assume that the capacity and the integrity of the Public Service Arbitrator is admitted by the Government - which otherwise would have taken steps to have him removed from his position - and by the members of the Public Service. Senator Brennan says that, a decision which Senator Daly described as a wrongful one, is in his opinion lawful; that consequently the determination may be contrary to the lawful decisions of the Public Service Board ; and that on those grounds the AttorneyGeneral has the right to bring before this chamber the question whether it should be endorsed or disallowed.
– The decision of the board may be lawful but still erroneous.
– Senator Daly has pointed out that, while the decision of the board may not infringe any law, it may be entirely opposed to the principles that are supposed to guide arbitration tribunals, and that consequently any appeal from the board to the Arbitrator would be one in which judicial functions had to be exercised. The Arbitrator had before him representatives of the board, and representatives of the organizations affected, who appealed against the decision of that body. Having learned all the facts, he came to a determination, and it was only because the law compelled him to submit a certificate to the Attorney-General that the matter came before this chamber.
Whatever else may be disputed by our friends opposite, one thing at least cannot be adequately met, and that is the statement by Senator Brown that many of those whose votes will decide the matter in this chamber have been absent from the discussion, and, therefore, know nothing of the arguments that have been adduced. That justifies the assertion that honorable senators opposite are merely voting machines in the determination of questions of vital importance.
Senator Brennan attempted to belittle the arguments advanced from this side, by asserting that contrary views were enunciated as to the value of arbitration. Our attitude towards arbitration does not touch the point at issue, which is, whether a government that professes to believe in arbitration is or is not prepared to give effect to it. That is of supreme importance. If we are to have arbitration, surely the Government should be bound by the stand that it has always taken up, that the workers cannot appeal to and enjoy the advantages conferred by arbitration tribunals and yet disregard their findings if they prove unpalatable. If that applies to the workers, it should apply more strongly to the Government itself. In matters of public policy particularly, the Government should set the best possible example to the whole community. If it makes and breaks laws to suit what it considers are its momentary necessities, it cannot condemn the workers for acting likewise. I believe that arbitration has taken the militancy out of the workers. When my friend, Senator Dunn, referred to the basic wage as “ dope “, I understood him to mean that he considered it a delusion to rely on the supposed sanctity of a basic wage, because in certain circumstances that wage was blown to atoms and consequently the workers were resting on a broken reed.
I protest against this proposal of the Government, apart from its throwing overboard of its professed belief in arbitration. The colossal achievement to its credit is, that it has prevented young men from starving by keeping them in employment at boys’ rates of wages.
– What about, the thousands of youths who cannot get a job?
– The number who are in that unfortunate position has not been visibly diminished by any action of this-. Government.
– It is a. tragedy at the present time.
– And it is being accentuated by the most tragic Government from whose administration Australia has ever suffered. Its only specificfor all the ills that are troubling us isto throw more persons on the labourmarket, by a reduction of wages and pensions, and by actions that have impoverished the people. The prosperity which nine months ago was said to be just around the corner, has not advanced one inch. We know that in these mattersthere is a mechanical majority which observes the way in which the Leader of the Government proposes to vote, and in every case, votes with him. All that we can do is to register an emphatic protest against the attempts of the Government to find any excuse for reducing wage standards. If 900 or 1,000 youths are to be kept off the dole by the payment of dole wages for their services, it is a sorry outlook for this country. I firmly and sincerely believe, not that we have any specific for the immediate restoration of prosperity, but that we are proceeding along right lines in denouncing those who can find no means of promoting prosperity other than retrenchment, and the confiscation of the already meagre incomes of the poor.
I am prepared to endorse the wisdom of George Bernard Shaw’s statement that this planet is probably the mad house of the universe. Since the present Government has been in office, I have been quite sure of it. No man of any public reputation in the British Empire, the United States of America, or on the continent of Europe, would say other than that prosperity cannot he restored, or the general wellbeing of the community lifted to a higher level, by reducing wages. Yet the sole policy of this Government is to take from those who are least able to defend themselves. Senator Brennan said that we were inclined to regard honorable senators opposite as being animated by the most malignant or malevolent motives, and that we charged them with deliberately attempting to debase the living standards of the wage-earners. We make that accusation, not against honorable senators as individuals, but against the policy which they obstinately, stupidly, and blindly pursue. Despite realities and the lessons of experience, they are still prepared to work in two directions in order to entrench themselves, and to maintain the financial position of those for whom they specifically cater - the wealthy classes of this community. On the one hand, they strike a blow at democracy by repressing individual freedom and the freedom of organization which hitherto existed, so that discontent will have no opportunity of expressing itself without rendering the offender liable to pains and penalties, and on the other hand, they reduce wages, pensions, and social services generally in order that the workers shall suffer the full effects of their past bad statesmanship. The wealthier section of the community must get their profits, dividends, and interest at all costs, while the workers are to suffer, and, if they dare to complain, or if their organizations voice their complaints for them, they will be repressed by legislation which would be a disgrace to the middle ages, and quite contrary to what one should expect in this supposedly enlightened century.
– I shall not detain the Senate very long in discussing this motion, because from the short experiences I enjoyed on former occasions some years ago, when I had the honour of a seat here, at times when the ministerial party was even stronger than it is to-day, I know the futility of much speaking. That so few of the honorable senators opposite have spoken is evidence of the fact that they do not like their job.
– They have no case.
– Exactly. They know what this will eventually mean to them, and so they keep silent about it. If, in three years’ time, I were contesting an election, I would be glad to be able to bring up against the Government the action that is now being proposed in this motion ; but I have no wish that this should come about, because the workers would inevitably suffer. We had experience in Queensland of an attack on the public servants of that State, when all the public servants and 40 per cent, of the other workers were hounded out of the Arbitration Court of a State that was supposed to favour arbitration. The party which opposed the action taken at that time, despite the way in which the electorates were gerrymandered, won by a majority of 30,000 or 40,000 at the subsequent election this year. As an ex-public servant myself, I intend to follow very closely all measures likely to affect the interests of Commonwealth or State public servants. I know that public servants as a class are not over well treated or highly paid, and that they are in a position where they can be butchered, as, in a sense, they are being butchered to-day. Governments should be model employers, but in this and other instances, we have evidence that the present Commonwealth Government is anything but that. Indeed, it is practically giving a lead to private employers, so that they may do their worst for the workers of this country. The worst it can do is to destroy the purchasing power of the masses. What happened when the Bruce-Page Government tried to abolish arbitration? That Government and its supporters were rejected by the electors. I am a member of what is regarded as a conservative union - the Australian Journalists Association. That organization does not usually support Labour; but it was opposed to the action of the Bruce-Page Government, and helped in that most decisive defeat.
On the general question, I should like to say that Australia as a nation has adopted arbitration as ‘ a principle, and that being so, I do not know that we should, as Senator Rae suggests, revert to the strike and the use of brute force. But, although the principle. of arbitration has been accepted by this country, this Government is attempting to whittle away the arbitration law, and in such circumstances there is a good deal to be said in favour of the defensive method of the strike. The British worker, as is shown in Sydney Webb’s Industrial Democracy, is opposed to the power of arbitration being placed in the hands of judges who receive from £2,000 to £4,000 a year. The British workers say that they cannot think that a man receiving from £40 to £00 a week can give a fair deal to a nian receiving from £4 to £5 a week. They, therefore, believe in round table conferences. Australia is pledged to arbitration, but this Government is supporting those who advocate direct action. I am an arbitrationist. I do not think that we should revert to methods such as were adopted by a certain Premier of Western Australia, who was obliged to give up his premiership as the result of a strike. That gentleman had his lesson, and others have had similar experiences. The labour party was born into public life as the result of strikes caused by the poverty and misery which prevailed in the ‘‘nineties, and of which I was a witness. But we should now endeavour by every means at our disposal to dispense with the strike weapon, and stick by the arbitration system as a means of settling industrial disputes.
This is an attempt to take a few pounds annually from a small number of Commonwealth employees. There is no justification for the Government’s action. During the last month or two the customs revenue has shown a considerable increase, as one might expect under an administration which is really freetrade in its fiscal policy, though allegedly protectionist.” In one month there has been an increase of over £800,000 in customs revenue, as compared with the corresponding month of last year. We know, too, what will happen as a result of the Imperial Economic Conference at Ottawa. The decisions reached by Mr. Bruce on behalf of the Commonwealth Government will favour British manufacturers and will be detrimental to Australia’s interests. Wool is being pulled over the eyes of the Australian people. We shall have freetrade again, with a substantial increase in customs revenue. When the decisions of the Ottawa Conference are in operation there will be no need specially to penalize postal workers or other public servants, but they and other workers will suffer because the enormous customs revenue of the Bruce-Page regime will again be received, and the workers will have to pay in this way. This Government will then be in a position similar to that of the Bruce-Page Government, which appointed a Development and Migration Commission, constituted of persons of unknown qualifications who received salaries of from £3,000 to £5,000 a year, and were appointed for seven-years terms. We will again’ have a good deal of unnecessary waste in public expenditure. There is not the slightest justification for the Government’s action in abolishing arbitration so far as its own employees are concerned, and I strongly protest against it. I shall always oppose with the utmost vigour any attempt to destroy arbitration in either the State or Federal sphere, more especially when it is made with the intention of interfering with the rights of public servants who have no chance to defend themselves and are entirely at the mercy of the Government which they serve.
[3.38]. - I have listened to the debate with considerable interest. In the first place, it appears to me that a number of honorable senators who have Deen opposing the motion submitted by the Government have not first fortified themselves by reading the Arbitration (Public -Service) Act, otherwise they would not have made the comparisons they have between that act and our ordinary arbitration laws. Senator Brown, whom I wish* to compliment on his speech, contended that employment could be found for these officers by allowing them to take the place of others who are entitled to time off in lieu of overtime. The honorable gentleman read long extracts from memoranda supplied to him by some Public Service unions; but I do not suppose he is aware that the determination under which we are able to give time off in lieu of overtime expires to-day, and that the Public Service unions, including the one which wrote to him, are opposing any extension of that award! The secretary of the union who wrote to him in that way must have done so with his tongue in his cheek.
– Are they not applying for another award?
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.They are opposing the extension of a determination under which men, instead of being paid overtime, are allowed time eff and others are employed in their stead. The Arbitrator himself has raised some doubt concerning this particular determination. Another point which Senator Brown has overlooked is that when Parliament gave public servants the right to appeal to a Public Service Arbitrator, it at the same time deliberately embodied in that law the power of Parliament to disallow any determination made by that authority. Such a right is not to be found in ordinary arbitration laws either Commonwealth or State. There is, therefore, a. vital difference between the Public Service arbitration law and the general arbitration laws of the Commonwealth and the States.
A good deal has been said about “ breaking down the living wage “. I remind honorable senators who spoke in that way that the wage fixed by the court is for the performance of adult work. Here, however, there is no adult work for these young nien who have reached the age of 21; the work available is the work of boys. In outside business circles what would happen? If there was no adult work, would not the adults, be dismissed and boys employed? Our friends opposite do not -raise their voices against such .a procedure in private employment. An employer would be perfectly within his rights, and would be observing the awards of the court, in dispensing with the services of boys when they became adults if there was not adult work for them to perforin.
An estimate in the figures I have given allows for the absorption of these young men into adult positions, and when that is done the lower rates will cease to apply. They will become eligible to receive the wage provided for adults in other determinations ; but it is the surplus that is banking up that presents the difficulty.
I listened with considerable attention to Senator Collings, because I had heard that he was regarded as being one of the orators of the Labour party. He certainly gave us a small taste of his qualities; but, with Senator Brennan, I could not help feeling amused when he spoke of us “ wreaking vengeance on the workers,” and warned Senator Payne as to his attitude to those who interjected. Having heard that warning, I was surprised, when our honorable friend, Senator Brennan, was attempting to deliver a speech, to hear such a fusilade of interjections from Senator Collings. It would appear that other honorable senators are not to interject when Senator Collings is speaking; but he, I suppose, is to be at liberty to interject ad lib.
– If I am criticized I shall exercise my liberties to the full extent.
– Judging by our brief, experience of the honorable senator, I imagine that he will.
The honorable senator also made another rather alarming statement. He said that this depression had been deliberately caused for some malign purpose. The depression came upon us in 1929. If it is alleged that it was brought about throughout the British Empire for some malign purpose, let us recall that the Government in power in the United Kingdom at that time was a Labour administration - the Ramsay MacDonald Government. Is it suggested by the honorable senator that the Ramsay MacDonald Government, for some malign purpose, deliberately brought about the depression in the Old Country? Coming to the Commonwealth itself, we find that when the depression first occurred the McCormack Labour Government was in office in Queensland. Does he suggest that the McCormack Labour Government took part in this conspiracy, or that the Hogan Labour Government in Victoria, or the Hill Labour Government in South Australia participated in it? Are these the malign influences which deliberately conspired to bring about this depression ?
– I am responsible only for what I said, not for what the right honorable gentleman understands.
Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE.When confronted with the only alternative - the dismissal of these persons and the addition of 1,000 to the ranks of the unemployed - the honorable senator said that the genius of the people of Australia would supply a remedy. I suppose that the honorable senator will not accuse me of maligning him when I suggest that he has not less than the average amount of genius possessed by the- people to whom he referred. Why, therefore, does he not provide the panacea now? That is his duty to these unfortunate people.
– I am not the Government.
– Senator. Collings referred to the Government’s alleged disregard of appointed tribunals.; he compared its attitude towards the Tariff Board with its treatment of the Arbitration Court. I remind him that there are two tribunals; that the Public Service Board, equally with the Public Service Arbitrator, constitutes a tribunal, and has certain definite duties, among them being the fixing of the wages of Government employees. The Government is not disregarding these tribunals; it is exercising its judgment as between them.
Senator O’Halloran seemed concerned about the Attorney General’s opinion on this matter. Does he contend that the power to disallow regulations can be exercised only to correct an illegal action? I submit that ‘this Parliament has retained to itself this power not merely to correct irregularities and illegal actions, but also because it must control the finances of the country. It cannot delegate that power even to the Public Service Arbitrator.
– I made no reference to illegal actions.
– Senator Daly said that the Public Service Board has proceeded to engage men in conflict with the conditions as to wages laid down by duly constituted authorities. That is not correct. The Public Service Board engaged these persons when they were boys, anticipating at the time that the work of the Post Office would continue as in 1928-29. It. found, however, that the business of that department had so declined by 1932 that boys who had been engaged under the law, and paid the statutory -wages, were surplus, and that there were no adult positions open to them. The position then arose that these lads had either to be discharged or continued in their minor positions. If they were discharged, they would have joined the ranks of the unemployed, because, at this time, it would be impossible for most of them to obtain other employment.
I emphasize that the disallowance of these regulations will affect only single men; those who are married will continue to receive the adult wage, notwithstanding that they may be doing only minor work. If the Opposition had its way, these single men would be placed on the dole, and receive not more than 12s. a week, and, perhaps, only 5s. a week,
Senator Collings also told us of the wonderful effect on employment which would result from a Labour administration. I propose to give the Senate some history. I have before me the report of the Commonwealth Statistician on unemployment, dated 13th July, 1932. It reads -
Unemployment, after having remained substantially at the same level for nearly a year, appears to have increased in the second quarter of 1932. The returns of reporting trade unions for May give the percentage of members unemployed at 30, compared with 28.3, 28.0, 28.3 at the three preceding midquarterly dates. The increase is very nearly the same in all States, except Tasmania, where the percentage has remained almost constant since May, 1931.’ . . .
The latest figures here published refer to the middle of May. In recent weeks there have been signs of improvement in all States, partly due to the beginning of special loan works for the relief of unemployment, and partly to some revival of business confidence, particularly in New South Wales.
The Statistician also gives a table setting out the percentage of membersof trade unions returned as unemployed in each State for the second quarter of 1932., from which it appears that, whereas the average for the whole of Australia was 30 per cent., the average for New South Wales, which State was controlled by a Labour Government, was 33.2 per cent. In New South Wales there was virtually only one House of Parliament, the Legislative Council having been swamped with nominees of the then Government. Under the benign Labour Government New South Wales practically put up a record for unemployment in Australia! Let us now see the benefits which a Labour Government in New South Wales conferred on the workers, judged by the wages received by them. First, let me remind the Senate that New South Wales has a higher basic wage than any other State, it being nearly £1 a week higher than that of South Australia or Tasmania. In addition, the workers in Now South Wales enjoy, the benefits of child endowment. In the Melbourne Argus of yesterday, there is a quotation from a return by the Commonwealth Statistician dealing with savings bank deposits, in which Professor Giblin, the Acting Commonwealth Statistician, states -
Savings bank deposits in Australia at 30th June, 1932, amounted to £198,000,000, representing £30.2 per head of the population.
Professor Gibiin then proceeded to dissect the savings bank deposits, and showed that the average in New South Wales was £28.2 per head of the population. It is significant that the State which had the highest basic wage had also the greatest percentage of unemployment and a lower per capita deposit in the savings bank than the average for Australia. In South Australia, in which State the. basic wage is nearly 15s. less than in New South Wales, and there is no child endowment, the average savings bank deposits are nearly £8 per head greater than in New South Wales. That result is more significant when we remember that for several, years, South Australia has suffered from disastrous droughts. I suggest that Senator Collings should meditate upon these figures before he again speaks of the benefits of Labour administration.
I feel confident that the Senate will carry this motion, in order that the people concerned may continue in their employment and he saved from the dole.
Question - That the motion he agreed to - put.
The Senate divided. (The President - Senator the Hon. P. J. Lynch.)
Majority . . 9
Question resolved in the affirmative
Bill brought up by Senator Sir George
Pearce, and read a first time,
Senate adjourned at 4.0 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 September 1932, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1932/19320902_senate_13_135/>.