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Wednesday, 8 September 1920

Mr RICHARD FOSTER (Wakefield) . - Yesterday I was reminded by the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) that I had previously taken a definite stand on this question, and lest there should be any misunderstanding as to what my attitude has always been I repeat the statement I have made more than once, that the Public Service of any country should be regarded as belonging to the whole community, as its corporate title indicates, and- should be absolutely loyal to the public interests, in the highest and broadest sense, on constitutional grounds. It should be the guarantee of the safety and continuity of public administration, whatever Government is in power. Duty and discipline should be its watchword.

Mr Ryan - Especially discipline.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - I emphasize that very strongly indeed, and the honorable member ought to appreciate it. Such special obligations and responsibilities on the part of public -servants demand corresponding safeguards and effective protection of their personal and collective interests. This Bill provides for that in a business-like, and satisfactory manner. I believe that the public servants, when they realize what the Bill really means, will welcome it as a splendid reform. From what I already know I believe the public servants generally are not opposed to the measure, but are rather in favour of it. I am sorry that the speech made yesterday by the Minister for. Works and. Railways (Mr. Groom) was pot made earlier: I appreciate very much his explanation of the purpose of the measure, and I think it ought to disarm a good deal of the opposition expressed by some members who evidently had not a grip of the question. The Bill proposes to remove the public servants from the Arbitration Court, but it will deprive them of none of the privileges they enjoy under existing legislation. If the provision contained in this Bill had been made years ago foi the Public Services of the Commonwealth and States, they would never have desired to have access to the Arbitration Court. If any honorable member will regard the question calmly and dispassionately in the light of past history, he will admit that in order to insure efficiency in the Public Service, its officers should not be mixed up in industrial turmoil and domestic strife,

Dr MALONEY (MELBOURNE, VICTORIA) - Surely they are human beings.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - They are, and I believe in treating them in the best possible way.

Mr Marks - The honorable member holds as big a brief for them as does any honorable member.

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - Probably a bigger brief, and a more disinterested one. We can have an efficient Public Service only if we have a contented Service.

Mr Brennan - What does the honorable member mean by disinterested ?

Mr RICHARD FOSTER - The honorable member knows what I mean. I remind the House that twenty years ago

I was desirous of initiating a reform somewhat on the lines followed by this Bill, and I believe I was the first to guide through an Australian Legislature a Bill providing for an Appeal Board for railway servants. That concession has always been keenly appreciated by the railway servants in South Australia. A Bill of the kind now before the House is not inappropriate; had it been introduced long ago, it would have been better for all concerned. I do not propose to traverse the statement made yesterday by the Minister for Works and Railways (Mr. Groom), who covered various points on which I intended to speak, but I wish to emphasize the fact that the appointment of an Arbitrator to deal exclusively With Public Service cases will put Commonwealth public servants in an infinitely better position than they are at present, so far as the hearing of their claims is concerned. It will leadto despatch, which in itself is an important consideration, and will greatly relieve the present congestion of business in the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. As the result of the passing of this Bill, from 25 per cent. to 33 per cent. of the cases which have been long awaiting the attention of the Court will be removed from its jurisdiction and so relieve the pressure. That alone would be a good reason for the introduction of this legislation. The advantage which public servants will enjoy by having what is practically a Court of their own are such as must commend this Bill to them. It is far better that there should be one Arbitrator to deal promptly with their claims, instead of the claims of a section being dealt with by one Judge, and those of another section by a second Judge, with the possibility of conflicting awards. Under this scheme one man will devote the whole of his time to the claims of the Public Service. He will be able to specialize as a judge of industrial conditions in the Service, and will be more readily available than is the Deputy President of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, who is liable to be called on at any time to join his learned brothers on the High Court Bench. This Bill needs to be read and construed in conjunction with the companion Bill, which, but for the reasons stated by the Minister, would have preceded it. Taking the two together, there is a possibility of really good work being done in the interests of the public servants of the Commonwealth, and done in a way that will not only win their approval, but secure contentment and efficiency.

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