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Tuesday, 7 September 1920

Mr RYAN (West Sydney) .- During the second-reading debate honorable members have had the opportunity of perusing a considerable quantity of correspondence, and some useful communications, from the different organizations included in the Commonwealth Public Service. I think every honorable member will admit, notwithstanding the comments that have been made, and the reports referred to in the House this 'afternoon, that the Commonwealth public servants are a very capable, patriotic, and obliging body of workers. Honorable members who have preceded me on the second reading of the Bill have not only dealt with its principles, but have also suggested amendments it may be desirable to move in Committee. I do not propose to labour the second aspect of the matter, because I think it has been very fully and clearly dealt with by honorable members on both sides who have preceded me, including the Leader of the Opposition (Mr.Tudor), the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton), the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Makin) . I desire to say in passing that the amendments from the Commonwealth Public Service Association are very useful, and embody suggestions which I hope the Government, if this Bill gets into Committee, will earnestly consider.

I am more concerned with the reasons for introducing the Bill. Why is it necessary to remove the Commonwealth Public Service from the jurisdiction and protection of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration? Why is this step being taken ? Why is this being done at a time when we are told that Parliament should be occupied with urgent measures affecting the public interest? Seeing that we are dealing with it at this stage of the session, the Government evidently consider that this is an urgent measure. I have not heard reasons advanced that will convince me that there is any urgency in the matter, and I am satisfied that this is a Bill which should be resisted by honorable members. We must not forget the circumstances under which the Commonwealth public servants were placed under the jurisdiction and protection of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. They were placed under the protection of that Court by the Act of 1911, and at that time very cogent reasons were given by the present Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) why that particular measure should be. passed. There are one or two portions of the Prime Minister's speech to which I would like to call attention, because they are very appropriate at the present juncture. I am referring to a speech which appears in Hansard, volume 63, page 3631-2, where the Prime Minister was speaking on the Bill, passed in 1911, and which we are now practically repealing. The Prime Minister was then Attorney-General, and he said -

The Bill rests upon the foundations of a sound principle. There is the right of appeal from the Public Service Commissioner to an impartial Tribunal; and there is the review of his decisions by the Parliament. The right to veto is one of which we ought not to try to divest ourselves. The public servants of this country have the assurance that their grievances will be investigated by an indepen- dent, impartial Tribunal, and that, subsequently, this House will, if necessary, exercise its right of supervision and veto. They are, therefore, given the assurance that the representatives of the people will see that they get fair play. The public servants need not go to this Court unless they like'. If, as we are told, they are satisfied with the Public Service Commissioner they will not go near the Court; but, if they are not, they will; and I feel sure we shall not be much older before they do go there.

This measure is urgent in many respects. It will cover 35,000 men who at present have absolutely no means of appealing from the decision of the man who employs them, which is a right denied to no other worker in Australia. No man that works for an employer in Australia is denied the right to go somewhere else over the head of the employer and ask, "Am I being treated justly? Are my rates of pay and conditions of labour those which ought to obtain?" The 35,000 public servants of the Commonwealth alone are denied that right, and are now being given it. Perhaps they do not appreciate it; but I say to them deliberately that it is a right of which, when they exercise it and experience its virtues, they will be found to be zealous champions.

Sir Granville Ryrie - That will all apply under this measure.

Mr RYAN - No. The Court is forbidden by this measure from making any award, affecting the Public Service. The Commonwealth public servants, whom the Prime Minister said would become zealous champions of the Act, are now being removed from the jurisdiction of the Court, and it behoves us, as guardians of the public interests, including the interests of that great body of public servants, to examine the reasons for this move, to understand the circumstances and why steps are being taken by the Government in this direction.

The first point I propose to examine is the circumstances that call for a change, and why a different policy is being adopted. Has the Minister who introduced the Bill or the Prime Minister placed anything before us to indicate the necessity for a change? We are told that an Arbitrator is required who has an intimate knowledge of the different laws and regulations governing the Public Service, and who will be able to thread his way through them ' and give decisions that will not conflict with "one another or with existing regulations. That has been put forward as one reason, but, if there was any difficulty- in that regard, it could be overcome by assigning Public Service matters to a particular Judge, who would make himself fully acquainted with all the details and ramifications of the Public Service. But that is not the real reason. The fact is that those who originally opposed the measure that was introduced in 1911 are responsible for the change that is taking place to-day. Those who informed public servants and- Parliament in 1911- that the public servants were satisfied with -the Commissioner are the ones who are desirous of getting back to the old state of affairs. This Bill is taking the Commonwealth Public Service back to its original state.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (WAKEFIELD, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honorable member is wrong there.

Mr RYAN - I propose to show shortly that such is the case, because the socalled Arbitrator - he may be called any euphemistic term - will really be a dictator, although the Minister said that he will hold an impartial position. This Bill takes away from the public servants the right to approach the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, and hands them over to the jurisdiction of some person who i6 not clothed with the same powers as a. Judge of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. The proposed Arbitrator may accept such evidence as he deems necessary and may not make any allowance for the expenses incurred in calling witnesses- whose evidence may be essential to enable him to come to a conclusion. That is a very drastic amendment of the law. If the Government contemplate, as I believe they do, taking away the Commonwealth public servants from the jurisdiction and protection of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, they can do so and hand them over to an Arbitrator. But the mere fact of calling him an Arbitrator does not make him one in the same sense as the Court is. We must not be led away by terms, and we have to examine the Bill to see what powers the Arbitrator is given. Who is he to be, and what salary is he to be paid?

The Bill is very drastic, and deals in unmeasured terms with the Act of 1913. The Commissioner, referring to that Act. on page 19 of his report, said -

From a careful and unbiased study of the whole position I am convinced that the continuance of this Act upon the statute-book is likely to be fraught with the most serious and disastrous consequences to the future Public Service management as regards discipline and efficiency, while the cost to the country will be such as to inflict an unjustifiable and grievous burden upon the taxpaying community.

Is this the reason for the introduction of the Bill? Is it because Mr. McLachlan reports in this way that the Bill is introduced? Is it to take away the protection that was given to public servants by the Act of 1911 ? Mr. McLachlan on the following page of his report goes on to say -

This all points to the necessity for arbitral functions as regards the Public Service being removed from the Commonwealth Arbitration Court and vested in an authority with undoubted knowledge of the organization and management of the departmental Service - an authority capable of dealing with and determining the claims both of Departments and the employees of those Departments.

Further on he reports -

In this connexion provision would be necessary for submission to the Parliament of any determination arising from the exercise of arbitral functions by the Public Service Commissioner which the Government found itself unable to accept for reasons of policy or otherwise.

We do find in this measure provision for submitting similar cases to Parliament, so that this report in some respects has been worked upon by the Government in the framing of the Bill. I think I am justified in coming to the conclusion, which, after all, is only a common-sense one, that it is because of this report that the Government are taking this action with regard to the public servants of the Commonwealth.

This is a much bigger amendment of the Public Service (Arbitration) Act than it would appear to be at first sight. The public servants of the Commonwealth will find when this measure is in operation - I hope that I am mistaken - that the Tribunal for which it provides is a very different proposition from the existing Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. It is significant that when the Bill of 1911 was before the House certain honorable members now on the Ministerial side voted against its third reading. The honorable member (Mr. Atkinson) who has just resumed his seat was one of them. He was always opposed to the principle, and I do not wonder at his speech to-night in favour of this Bill. The honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) also voted against the third reading of that Bill.

Mr Richard Foster - Of course I did. I have always been opposed to the principle, and will vote again in the same direction .

Mr RYAN - It is just as well that we should call attention to these facts.. It will be found that those who are moving behind this Bill, and who are anxious that it should be passed, have always been opposed to Commonwealth servants having the right to go to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Court.

Mr Atkinson - And a good many of the Labour party were also opposed to the Bill of 1911.

Mr RYAN - No.

Mr Atkinson - They spoke against it..

Mr RYAN - No; I have before me the record of the division on the motion for the third reading of that Bill, and all the members of the Labour party voted for it.

Mr Atkinson - I was certainly against it.

Mr RYAN - The honorable member did not mention that fact when he was speaking a few minutes ago. The honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best), who interjected a little while ago that this was an entirely different measure, also voted against the Bill of 1911, as well as the present Treasurer(Sir Joseph Cook), the Minister for Trade and Customs (Mr. Greene), the Leader of the Country party (Mr. McWilliams), and the Assistant Minister for Defence (Sir Granville Ryrie).

Sir Robert Best - Of what is the honorable member complaining? There were others who voted against the third reading.

Mr RYAN - I am merely giving the names of those now supporting this Bill who were opposed to the original measure of 1911. I do not wonder that they are anxious to continue the attitude which was then taken up by, not only them, but the Commissioner who made the report to which I have been referring. They were always opposed to Commonwealth servants having the right of other workers to go to the Court.

Mr Atkinson - Does not the honorable member think that he would make his case stronger by showing that public servants are going to be prejudiced by this Bill?

Mr RYAN -I shall put my case as I think fit. In examining this Bill it is just as well that we should have all the facts. . When trying to establish a crime, one has always to look for a motive for it.

Mr Maxwell - Butthe first thing is to establish the crime.

Mr RYAN - That having been done, nothing more remains to be established.

Mr Maxwell - But the honorable member has not established the fact that a crime has been committed by some one.

Mr RYAN - I am taking up a certain position with regard to this measure. I assert that the House will deal unfairly by the public servants of the Commonwealth if it removes them from the juris- diction and protection of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. I am showing that this Bill is different from that which was passed in 1911. I am showing the circumstances in which the change is being made. This proposal is brought forward after a most damning report against the Act of 1911, and the most active supporters of this Bill to-day are those who voted against that measure.

We have been told this afternoon that some honorable members of the Ministerial party really do not know whether or not the Commonwealth Public Service wants this Bill. They are inclined to think that, perhaps after all, they do not want it. The honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Atkinson) says that he does not think that they will be very seriously prejudiced by it. ' Why should we take the risk of prejudicing them at all?

Now that the measure has been discussed, we should give the public servants of the Commonwealth an opportunity of expressing their views upon it, 'and so ascertain whether or not they wish to be taken from the jurisdiction and protection of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. Some of our honorable friends opposite said they would never be a party to tearing down any stone in the temple of Labour. We were told by them that no stone in the temple would be torn down. This is one of the stones in the temple of Labour, and before it is torn down we should at least let those who are most affected have an opportunity to express their views upon the proposal of the Government. With that object I move as an amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Bill -

That the following words be inserted after the word "now": - "withdrawn for the purpose of affording an opportunity to the members of the Public Service of indicating whether they desire to be removed from the jurisdiction and protection of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration as proposed by the Bill."

I shall not delay the House longer; I content myself by moving this amendment, which, I think, is entirely reasonable. It is certainly one that ought to be carried if the House has a proper sense of the justice that is due to the great body of the public servants of the Commonwealth.

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