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Tuesday, 7 September 1920

Mr NICHOLLS (Macquarie) . - I second the amendment. I am opposed to the Bill; but if it is to be brought into operation I desire that it shall be so framed as to give the best possible results. There is one point concerning which I should certainly like an explanation from the Minister in charge of the Bill (Mr. Groom). When the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) was speaking I understood the Minister to interject that all awards made under this measure would be retrospective.

Mr Groom - No. I said that the Judge would have power to make a retrospective award.

Mr NICHOLLS - I wish to be clear on the point. The Minister in charge of the Bill seems to raise no objection to an award being made retrospective. If that is so, will he agree to insert in the Bill a clause providing that every award shall be retrospective?

Mr Groom - Certainly not.

Mr NICHOLLS - Then the honorable gentleman cannot give us an assurance that the Government will even assist in the granting of a retrospective award. On the contrary we are to understand that they will oppose everysuch claim. The honorable gentleman knows that in only exceptional cases - cases in which prior to the submission of the claim a dispute had taken place - has the President of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration made an award retrospective.

Mr Groom - Does the honorable member think that this Parliament should do that which the learned Judge thought it was not right to do?

Mr NICHOLLS - This Parliament should do the right thing. The great majority of our public servants have not approached the Court for five or six years, and, that being so, we should not hesitate to insert in the Bill a clause granting each and. every individual who appeals to the Court the right to secure a retrospective award. I have had a recent experience of the generosity of this Government in dealing with awards. I know of a case where a private employer is compelled to pay the basic wage laid down by the Board of Trade, whereas Government employees do not come within that decision, and the Government have made no pretence of agreeing that the award shall be made retrospective when the union concerned appeals to the Court. The position will be the same in regard to the Public Service generally.

I have been connected with Arbitration Courts for quite a number of years, and am satisfied that this Bill offers public servants no advantage which could not be secured by an appeal to the Court at the present time. There is some ulterior motive for the introduction of this Bill. . Honorable members opposite have something in their minds with regard to it. There is a desire either to get rid of a particular Judge or to give some individual an opportunity to take the position of Arbitrator.

Mr McGrath - Do you think that the position is to be given to a defeated member ?

Mr NICHOLLS - An ex-member might possibly have a knowledge of the affairs of the Commonwealth Public Service. If public servants were agreeable to the Bill, there would be no ground for complaint. The position is, however, that not one Public Service organization in operation at the present time believes that the Bill will prove to be in the interests of public servants. The Clerical Association, the Letter Carriers Association, the Postal Sorters Union, the Post and Telegraph Association, the Postmasters Association, the Federated Postal Sorters Assistants Association, the Customs (General Division) Officers Association, the Telephone Officers Association, the Postal Electricians Union, and the Postal Linesmen's Union are opposed to the measure, because they believe they will derive more satisfaction from the right to appeal to the Conciliation and Arbitration Court than they are likely to secure under it. The associations to which I have referred are associations of workers in the true sense, and their members as workers have as. much: right to' approach the Arbitration Court as a pick and shovel man has.

The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) mentioned that possibly the Bill was introduced on the recommendation of Mr. McLachlan, the ex-Public Service Commissioner, who recently reported on the Service. If honorable members analyze Mr. McLachlan' s report they will find that he has done grave injustice to many members of the Public Service. He has submitted a voluminous report condemning the Public Service in every way, asserting that there is mismanagement in every Department, that nothing is done as it ought to be done, that there is neglect, evasion of duty, impudence, and everything else to be charged against public servants, and no one has been given an opportunity to refute those slanderous statements. The case of the Government is particularly weak if the Bill really has been introduced on the strength of Mr. McLachlan 's report.

Let me deal briefly with one or two of the clauses of the Bill.

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