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Tuesday, 7 September 1920

Mr MAKIN (Hindmarsh) .- I have never been able to understand, or see any justification for, Governments making laws in respect of private employers and employees, and being unwilling at the same time to include themselves and their employees within the scope of the same set of laws. It is an inconsistency. There are laws' made for compulsory observance by private individuals, but the Government which has made those laws is unprepared to apply them to itself and to those whom it employs. Concerning the question whether any proof is forthcoming that the main body of our public servants do not desire to be withdrawn from the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, I hold in my hand a document which represents the indorsement of that view by 30,000 public servants. Not only has the subject-matter of this document come before the executives of the various associations concerned, but it has been considered and ap-proved also by the branches themselves. This memorandum was drawn up after due consideration, and, as. I have said, has received branch, as well as executive, indorsement. It will be well for the Government, and honorable members generally, to heed the requests of this considerable body of public officials who desire to secure and retain no more than their just dues. '

Mr GABB (ANGAS, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What is the date of that document ?

Mr MAKIN - It is dated the 27th July, 1920.

Mr MARR - That date is only five days later than the day on which the Bill was introduced in this Legislature.

Mr MAKIN - I have consulted with leading officials of the Public Service Association, and I have been assured that this memorandum has received the indorsement of 'branches as well as of the executive.

Sir Robert Best - What is the tenor of the memorandum?

Mr MAKIN - That the public servants do not desire to be withdrawn from the provisions of the Arbitration Act.

Sir Robert Best - Are they being withdrawn? This measure is practically the same as the Act.

Mr MAKIN - That is not so, for in this Bill the .Government proposes to take to itself more direct control over the Arbitrator than it has ever had, or pro- ' posed to hold, over a Judge of the Arbitration Court. The Bill provides machinery for the re-appointment of the Arbitrator after a given number of years. It is only natural that, in such circumstances, the Arbitrator would be influenced to some extent by the consideration of his re-appointment. It is desirable that members of the Public Service should be placed in exactly the same position as ordinary " outside " employees who may desire to approach the Arbitration Court - a Tribunal which is absolutely impartial, is subject to no influence by the Government, and does not think, and would not think, of attempting to win favour with the Government by the nature of its judgments.

Mr Atkinson - Under this Bill the Arbitrator will be in a very strong position. He would not -need to study the views of the Government.

Mr MAKIN - As the Bill' is now framed the Arbitrator may be regarded actually as a public servant. It is provided, for example, that he shall receive all the advantages accruing to an ordinary public servant in the matter of length of service. The position of a Judge of .the Arbitration Court is one of independence. He can be influenced in no way by the Government of the day. Can the same be said of the Arbitrator to be appointed under the Bill? In such circumstances it is obvious that before ever the members of the Public Service enter this new Arbitration Court, now to be imposed upon them, they may have their minds prejudiced. It is not desirable that we should set up a medium of arbitration in respect of which those who are to be compelled to approach it for the settlement of their claims will be prejudiced against their Judge. I emphasize that the public servants desire to remain where they are, within the scope of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act. They desire to retain the right to approach that tribunal just as freely and exactly in the same manner as ordinary private employees. Their circumstances, in the matters of wages, hours, and working conditions generally, are' substantially the same as those of private employees. It would be unjust, therefore, to differentiate, by setting up a separate Tribunal for each.

There are several provisions of the Bill which require amendment. The Arbitrator is to be given power to determine for himself what evidence he shall accept and what he shall reject. That implies that public servants may not be given opportunities which fairly should be theirs for preparing their case and demonstrating the justice of their claims. To a large extent they may be circumscribed by the views of the adjudicator concerning that which he may deem to be admissible evidence.

Sir Robert Best - There is nothing in the Bill to justify that statement.

Mr MAKIN - I invite the honorable member to study sub-clause 5 of clause 12, which definitely sets forth- the powers of the Arbitrator respecting admission , of evidence. If the Arbitrator should possess a prejudice against members of a certain branch of the Public Service he could be guilty of a grave injustice by ruling out evidence which they desired to place before him, so, at the same time, prevent-"' ing the public from becoming acquainted with what they considered their just claims. The Bill proposes to give the Arbitrator power to make a common rule in the matter of overtime and with respect to other factors governing working conditions in the Service. Let us suppose that the Letter Carriers' Association is applying to the Arbitrator for an award in respect of working- hours. Without calling evidence from other branches of the Service the Arbitrator might make a "common rule so that the hours scheduled for the letter-carriers would apply to the whole of the Service. If power is to be given for the making of a common rule, the Bill should contain machinery to provide for the whole of the Service expressing itself in the matter of the basis of the proposed common rule. Thus only could injustice be prevented. Another point is that no costs are proposed to be allowed in respect of cases coming before the Arbitrator.. It is to be presumed that evidence tendered on behalf of a Department will not come under that prohibition, but that witnesses for a Department will be paid out of Government funds. That is to say. public money is to be spent on behalf of one side only. In connexion with a Tribunal instituted in South Australia for the adjustment of wages and conditions applying to employees in the Railway Service, the wages, and all the expenses of witnesses for both sides, were paid by the Government. When the body which is defending a case is drawing from the .public funds, it is only just that those who are prosecuting the claim should also- have extended to them the privileges given by the Government of South Australia in similar circumstances. Sub-clause 3 of clause 20 provides that before awards shall be deemed to be authorized, they must lie on the table of Parliament for fourteen days, and if Parliament is in recess at the time a determination is arrived at, the award must be placed on the table when it re-assembles. Thus many months may elapse before an award becomes operative, and in the meantime the public servants are deprived -of any benefits it bestows. In Committee I shall move an amendment to secure to public servants the benefits of an award from the date of its determination.

Mr Groom - It has already been pointed out that awards can be made retrospective. In one case an award was given iii October, 1919, but was made retrospective to 1st August, 1919.

Mr MAKIN - But this sub-clause seems to be very definite, and does not convey the impression that awards may be made retrospective. When the Minister is dealing with this particular provision I hope that he will make a statement as to how long public servants will be required to wait for their money, from the time an award is given until Parliament meets.

Mr Groom - That is another matter. All awards must await the decision of Parliament. That is already the position in regard to retrospective awards.

Mr MAKIN - It is quite patent that a claim for increased wages is based on an increase in the COSt of living and the economic conditions prevailing at the time. If public servants are not to receive the advantage of an award until months afterwards, it is quite natural to assume that they will fall into' arrears financially. Every person likes to know exactly where he stands. When honorable members of this House felt the necessity for an increase in their allowance it did not take them very long to determine whether they were to receive it.

Mr West - Leave that subject alone.

Mr MAKIN - I was one who supported the increase, and tender no apology for so improving the condition of public life, which was done with the hope of improving the standards of efficiency and morale in our institutions of government; but I say candidly and emphatically that what we were prepared to do unto ourselves, so we should be prepared to do unto others. I would, as it were, apply the Golden Rule to political life. We ought to be just as eager to do justice to our servants as we are to do justice to. ourselves. It is my desire that the conditions of life governing the work of legislating for this country should be a standard to be enjoyed by the Public Service and the community generally. However, I shall reserve any further remarks until we reach the Committee stage. I content myself by voicing my protest against the Bill, because it seeks to deprive the public servants of the Commonwealth of their right to share in the forms of arbitration provided for those outside the Service, and have their claims heard by neutral tribunals free from any prejudicial influences and subject to no interference, which will hold the scales of justice evenly, and determine all claims before them on the evidence produced regardless of any pressure that might be attempted to be brought to bear on them, and doing only that which is right, and in keeping with the principles of justice.

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