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Tuesday, 7 September 1920

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- I do not suggest that the weakness of the case of the Minister (Mr. Groom) arises from any incapacity in himself. He has, I think, an abundance of power to make a good case if a good case can be made in support of the Bill. When I heard the interjections of the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) - one of which was that this Bill will be of " distinct advantage " to the Public Service, and the other that it would be a " positive boon " to the Public Service - T marvelled how an ordinary member of Parliament, outside the Service, could appreciate the advantages of the Bill in a way that, apparently, not a single member of the Service itself can.

Mr Richard Foster - I spoke" of the two Bills combined.

Mr BRENNAN - That reminds me of the very curious and, to my mind, very regrettable fact that we have been tinkering with the whole question of arbitration by a number of Bills and subsidiary Bills when we might; in a comprehensive manner, have dealt with the whole question in one Bill. Not only have we introduced, if I may say so in. passing, unnecessary Bills, but, having already a useful measure on the Statute Book, which is serv-' ing its purpose in creating harmonious relations in the Service, we are actually now spending our time in repealing that measure, and substituting one which gives very little promise, indeed, of successful operation. The Minister says that the differences between the Bill and the ex isting Act are so slight that they are hardly worth argument. Yet nobody could fight more strenuously for the Bill than does the honorable gentleman. It is a sinister circumstance that he is getting the whole-souled support of all those persons who, in the past, have opposed the extension of arbitration, and have always tried to exclude the principle of arbitration from the Public Service. Are those gentlemen all silent who supported honorable members on this side in passing the Public Service (Arbitration) Bill, and now sit on the Nationalist side ? Where have they gone 1 I do not see one in the chamber.-

Mr West - Where is the Prime Minister ?

Mr BRENNAN - The Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) has not appeared in this House to-day, I think, while this Bill is under consideration. That right honorable gentleman fought so well and so strenuously for, the Act for which this Bill is a substitute, that he has the grace not to appear while the measure is under consideration. Then there are the Honorable member for Denison (Mr. Laird Smith), now a Minister of the Crown, and other honorable members opposite who stood by the original Bill, and made an Act of it. To-night they have not a word to say either in palliation of their own conduct, or in excuse of the present Bill.

The whole point of the Bill in my view is the desire of the Government to set up an officer as an Arbitrator who is neither more nor less than a member of the Public Service.

Mr Richard Foster - You are not justified in saying that.

Mr BRENNAN - He, technically, may not be a member of the Public Service, but clearly he is, in the view of the Government, to occupy a position analogous to, if not precisely the same, as that occupied by the late Public Service Commissioner. He is to be a new Commissioner with a new title, and an Act of Parliament all to himself - neither more nor less than a substitute for the Public Service Commissioner. All I can say is that I sincerely hope he will be a less autocratic, and less self-satisfied Commissioner than the gentleman who issued this report in such strong condemnation of men as good as himself in the Public Service.

The Minister said that one of the reasons for the introduction of the Bill is the congestion in the Arbitration Court; but that congestion appears to have troubled the Government very little during the months and years which went by immediately prior to the present session. It is. curious that the Government find it necessary to introduce this Bill when, as a fact, we have just passed an Industrial Peace Bill, and other industrial legislation, giving power to appoint Deputy Judges with the very object of getting over this congestion. I hope and believe that, if the Government are in earnest and sincere in regard to the appointment of Deputy Judges, the work will be coped with as occasion demands. The Minister also tells us that it is owing to the fact that different Judges have dealt with the claims of the members of the Public Service that inconsistencies have arisen. In my view it is greatly preferable that we should administer a system of arbitration which is uniform and just, rather than that we should set up a bureaucrat for the purpose of nominally acting as Arbitrator, but really acting as the Government nominee to discipline the Public Service. If there is one chapter in Victorian history which is anathema to the working classes of Australia - and when I speak of the "working classes" I include all who work - it is that chapter in which Mr. Irvine, as he then was, made the Public Service a class apart in connexion with the railway strike. I am well aware that it has been one of the penalties of the honorable gentleman who did that to have it more than once referred to in terms of condemnation in this House; but I refer to it again this evening for the purpose of pointing out the unpleasant analogy; namely, that the Government now propose to segregate the Public Service in a very objectionable manner - by giving them access to a special Court now to be created, and cutting them off from the superior tribunals open to ordinary citizens. And it has to be remembered that this is to be an inferior tribunal, because it is to be presided over by an officer with a limited tenure - of seven years, certainly, but still limited - as compared with that of a Judge of the High Court. The party on this side of the House very naturally object to such a proposal, and point out, as I point out, that we cannot deal with members of the Public Service and their claim, whether for better wages or better conditions, except, in the light of the general standard of living in all parts of the Commonwealth, and, perhaps, outside the Commonwealth. The public servants are only part of the whole; if the question of the cost of living arises, it affects those outside the Service on the same principle as it affects those inside the Service, and it is just as necessary that an Arbitrator for the Public Service should be capable of taking a judicious and judicial "survey of the whole of the industrial arena, as it is that he should be expert in the administration, in a particular way, of the Public Service.

Mr Richard Foster - That is an expression of approval of the proposal of the Government, for the Arbitrator is to move from State to State.

Mr BRENNAN - No; it is a strong, condemnation of the policy which limits the Arbitrator to a special knowledge of the mere classification of the Public Service, instead of demanding a wide general knowledge of the whole industrial situation.

Mr Richard Foster - I do not agree with the honorable member; the Arbitrator will devote the whole of his time to his work.

Mr BRENNAN - The report of the ex-Public Service Commissioner has very properly come up for some criticism, and, again properly so, for some condemnation during this debate. It is said, of course, that he was an independent administrator. I venture to point out that he was an independent administrator whose views were well known to the Government who obtained that report from him. I invite the attention of the Minister to the fact that the Government has had this report concealed for many months, and that neither members of Parliament nor persons outside have been able to gain access to it; and, further, that the Government threw it upon the table only comparatively recently, when this present group of industrial Bills was about to be brought forward. There is keen point in the remark of the honorablemember for West.. Sydney (Mr. Ryan), who has stated that, apparently, the policyof the Government is to give effect to the report of the, Commis- sioner, whose views were well known to the Government, and - probably - to some extent inspired by the Governmentin advance. I do not mean " inspired " in the sense of a conspiracy, but in the sense that the Commissionerknew what the viewsof the Government were, andthat the Government knew whatthe views of the Commissioner were. It is said, and rightly, that it would be intolerable to have our Public Service become the victim of political influence or intrigue. But, while political influence in the Public Service isvery objectionable, a bureaucracy and an autocracy are also objectionable. They are the two extremes - the one the antithesis of the other. My view is that the existing machinery of the Arbitration Act, giving equal justice - which is all we ask - to members of the Public Service exactly as to others outside the Service, has been an automatic correction of the autocracy of the Public Service Commissioner on the one hand, while at the same time preventing undue influence upon the working of the Public Service. That was as nearly an ideal set of conditions as one could hope for; and those conditions were in existence when the repeal of the Arbitration Act, in its relation to the Public Service, was proposed, and the enactment of this new measure was proceeded with.

It has been said that by having an Arbitrator specially skilled in the working ofthe Public Service, we shall gain all the advantages to be derived from the employment of an expert. It has been emphasized that the Arbitrator will be able to focus his attention upon one particular classof work. But, as a matter of fact, every case arising before the Arbitration Court, every industry coming under review before that Court, raises points for expert . consideration. The Judge requires to make himself, in the hearing of a case, expert with respect to the particular phase of industry upon which he is to adjudicate ; and. neither more nor less so than in connexion with the special claims of the PublicService. Indeed, the Service - being a matter almost purely of administration- does not require that measure of specialized and expert knowledge which a Judge needs to bring to bear upon cases arising out of industries, manufactures, trades and callings -some of them mostintricate in character-in respect of which hehas to make his decisions. And that is why I take the view that, in connexion with the Public Service as in connexion with all matters pertaining to arbitration,the Judge should approach the discharge of. his work with a full knowledge suchas arises from association, not with one particular avocation or industry, but from a wide experience of the" industrial situation generally.

The honorable member for Macquarie (Mr. Nicholls) put in a plea for our old friend preferenceto unionists. I do not propose to say anything furtherupon that question than to remind the House, and to remind the Prime Minister and Mr. Deputy Speaker (Hon. J. M. Chanter) - if I may with propriety do so - that the honorable gentlemen themselves stood for preference to unionists in connexion with the Bill the predecessor of this, and in connexion with every Bill embracing the subject generally ; and that many of those honorable members associated with them did likewise. Does the head of the Government treat with ridicule and contempt the contention of the honorable member for Macquarie? If so, he ridicules himself. Or is this a Government which sends its Liberal members into the House to discuss those Bills, and matters generally, which are displeasing to the Labour section of the Ministry? I leave that matter just where it is. I have argued and pleaded for preference to unionists on the ground that preference was the natural corollary of organization and arbitration. I do not now propose to argue the subject again at length. Indeed, I intend to address myself no further to the second-reading than to sum up my objections to it in these words : That this Bill represents an attempt to segregate public servants . unfairly; that it will put them under the jurisdiction . of an Arbitrator, who will be little more than an officer of the Public Service, who by reason of' his tenure and position, will be practically a political representative and who cannot be expected, in the circumstances, to administer broad, even-handed justice to all members of the Service in that spirit in which the High Court Judges are prepared to administer justice, both to the members of the Public Service and to ordinary members of the community. And; in saying that of the members of the High Court Bench, I am not unmindful that those Judges cannot be accused of undue Labour sympathies.

Debate (on motion by Mr. Richard Foster) adjourned.

InCommittee(Consideration of the Deputy of the Governor-General's Message) :

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