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Wednesday, 8 September 1920

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But I am dealing with the honorable member's own statement. If he has any doubt in his mind, he can put himself right by voting for the amendment.

Mr Richard Foster - I have no doubt so far as Commonwealth public servants in my electorateare concerned, and I am quite certain that they do not approve of the amendment.

Mr Gabb - There are not many in the honorable member's constituency.

Mr Richard Foster - Relatively few.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Those of us who have not many public servants in our constituencies should still be anxious to do the right thing.

Mr Richard Foster - That is what I want to do.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That brings me to the suggestion which I wish to make to the honorable member that he should vote for the amendment.

Mr Richard Foster - I shall not.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member should vote for the amendment in order that we may ascertain the will of the public servants of the Commonwealth. Having regard to the sheaf of correspondence on this subject that I, in common with other honorable members, have received, I have no doubt as to what is desired by them.

Mr Richard Foster - I have no doubt.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - A doubt was expressed yesterday by the honorable member for Parkes (Mr. Marr), who said he did not think there was any unanimity on the. part of tha Service with regard to this matter. I would remind him that on either the 12th or the 20th of last month some hundreds of Commonwealth public servants met in the Protestant Hall, Sydney, and unanimously decided that they should be left within the jurisdiction of the Conciliation and Arbitration Court. They were unanimously opposed to the proposal to appoint a special Arbitrator to deal with Public Service cases. Neither the honorable member for Wakefield, nor any one else, can turn a deaf ear to such resolutions. The circulars we have received on this subject are the outcome of action taken by the various branches of the Service. Each branch 'passed a resolution which was forwarded to its executive head, and the executive bodies have informed us by means of circulars, that there is practically a unanimous desire- on the part of the public servants of the Commonwealth that they should be allowed to remain as at present under' the jurisdiction of the Court. So much has been said with regard to the appointment of an Arbitrator that I need deal but briefly with the point. It is easy to realize why the Public Service are opposed to the proposal. In the first place, from the point of view of the public, it would involve the establishment of another Department with all its attendant paraphernalia and a great deal of additional expenditure at a time when there is much talk of economy. From the public point of view, therefore, the proposal is undesirable, and one can also readily understand why public servants do not wish to be singled, out in this way for separate treatment. They have a right to seek the redress of their grievances in open Court. Why should their cases be dealt with, as is practically proposed under this Bill, behind closed doors? I can well understand that heads of Departments do not favour public inquiries. They do not wish to go into an open Court, and the position is the same with regard to the Government. Men who are suffering what they believe to be an injustice, as many public servants are suffering to-day, have a habit of expressing themselves, and rightly so. in no uncertain way. They have also a tendency to indulge in criticisms that are not always complimentary to the heads of Departments or to the Government which is responsible for the state of affairs of which they complain. That being so, there is a desire to shut them off from an open inquiry and to give them a separate and inside hearing. Public servants naturally rebel against such a proposition .-

I wish now to refer to the very scathing report presented by Mr. McLachlan, exPublic Service Commissioner of the Commonwealth, on the Public Service administration. In my opinion that report does a very grave wrong to the public servants of Australia, who can lay claim to a record equal to that of any other body of workers in the world in respect, not only of the war period, but before and since the war.

Mr Brennan - Including that of tlie ex-Commissioner himself.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, I think that his record would suffer if such a comparison were made. I shall not, however, deal with this matter from a personal stand-point. There is much in the report which, looking at it from the point of view of the public, must be deplored. The people desire that there shall be contentment and harmony in the Service, but there is everything in the report that is calculated to make in the opposite direction. If we consider for a moment the conditions of employment in the Public Service to-day we shall see at once how unwarranted the report is. What are the conditions of living so far as public servants are concerned? Are they such as to make for harmony or to obviate industrial unrest? I venture to say that they are not. The honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) intimated last night that he intended to move an amendment that would provide for some revision of the rates of pay of Commonwealth servants so that their wages might be brought into line with the cost of living. I intend, when we go into Committee, to supplement that with a further amendment in the hope that we shall be able to do something in the direction indicated by the honorable member. I have carefully examined Mr. McLachlan's report, and have taken out all the figures bearing on the -conditions that are operating in the service. I find from it that the number of employees in the General Division of the Public Service in 1917 was 16,583. Of that total, thirteen received more than £300 per annum, and 1,891 received more than £200 per annum. Those two groups of employees total 1,904. Thus, by their subtraction from the grand total of 16,583 it is demonstrated that there are 14,479 officers in the General Division who receive less than £200 per annum. And, as everybody knows to-day, that is less than a living wage.

Mr MARKS (WENTWORTH, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The wages received by numbers of men in the Post and Telegraph Department amount to a perfect scandal.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not too expressive a term to apply to the conditions obtaining in the Public Service.

Mr Marks - But this Bill may help to bring about an improvement.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I cannot see in what way it is going to do so. Here we are proposing to do something which is against the wishes of the great bulk of public servants. It may be said that, included in the total which I just now mentioned, there are juniors; that is to say, employees under the age of 21, and that, thus, my figures may bear unfairly. I will allow the high estimate of 50 per cent, for juniors, so that, even with that allowance, there are between 7,000 and S,000 adults in the General Division of the Public Service who are receiving less than £200 per annum. That is a fact which constitutes a scandal unequalled, I should think, in any other part of the civilized world. There has been no award granted since the period in, regard to which I have taken my figures, except in the case of the letter carriers. From time to time, however, there have been added cost of living allowances. Even taking those allowances into consideration, there are between 7,000 and 8,000 of our public servants who are receiving less than a living wage. The letter carriers received an award on the 3rd March last, when their wages were based upon the cost of living figures for the twelve months ending' 31st. December, 1919. The award operated from the 26th April, 1920, and the living wage declared thereon was £182. To-day; the living wage, based on the figures for the year ending 30th June, 1920, is £200. As a matter of fact, it is still higher now, and may be fairly said to amount to £210. I have provided these figures in order to lead up to what I propose by way of overcoming the difficulty, lt is my intention, in Committee, to move for the insertion of a new clause supplementary to the amendment of the honorable member for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan). My purpose in. providing statistical information has been to show the need for periodical revision of wages so as to keep the payment of public servants in line with the varying cost of living.

Mr Richard Foster - The honorable member's argument is all in favour of the Bill.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is the honorable member's way of looking at the matter, which, however, is entirely different from mine. There is nothing in the Bill to indicate a desire on the part of the Government to bring about periodical revisions of the basis of wages. I intend to move, at the proper stage -

That the living wage be based on the figures of the Commonwealth Statistician, relating to the purchasing power of money to be declared on 31st March, 30th June, '30th September, and 31st December in each year; such living wage to apply to all adult members of a Commonwealth Public Service organization registered under the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

At present the Commonwealth Statistician issues quarterly reports setting out the cost of living throughout Australia. If the rates of wages paid to members of the Public Service were to be based upon those quarterly statements, 90 per cent, of the unrest in the Service would be done away with.

Mr Bamford - Suppose that the cost of living were to come down ?

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not very likely. We are all hoping for it; but, unhappily, the cost of living is more likely to soar still higher; and, when it does, I desire to see that the wages paid to public servants shall be increased automatically. I feel confident that public servants would be only too pleased, if the cost of living were to come down, to agree to accept an automatic adjustment whichever way it may go. Honorable members, are fully aware that the cost of living, if it is not likely to go higher than ever, will remain, in all probability, at a high standard. My proposal, if it were agreed to, would do away with the necessity for the unions approaching the Arbitrator, so saving endless time and confusion.

I desire, in conclusion, to ask the Minister. (Mr. Groom) fdr information upon the subject of dual furlough, which is agitating the minds of many persons in the Public Service.

Mr Groom - That is a matter for an amendment of the Public Service Act generally.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - There is quite a number of persons interested in the point, and it is about time the Government announced a decision upon it. The subject has been under the attention of the Government for quite a long time. Meanwhile, great injustice is being done in respect of persons immediately concerned.

Mr Marks - I received an official refusal regarding this matter only yesterday.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am sorry to hear it. The time is overripe for the announcement of a decision. I know of the case of a man who had been twenty years in the Service. When he became entitled to six months' leave of absence his Department could not arrange for him to get away, so, through no fault of his own, he had to wait for eight or ten years. He then obtained his six months' leave; but, by the time he had returned, and had completed his next twenty years of service he had reached the retiring age and was denied his second term of leave. Thus a great injustice was done. Can the Minister indicate when finality may be reached upon this matter ? I understand that an amendment of the principal Act is to come before this Legislature before very long. I am against this piecemeal method of dealing with a specific phase of legislation. There should be one effort to revise the whole; of our Public Service laws, rather than that a series of Bills should be introduced. Cannot the Minister indicate when the main Bill is likely to be introduced?

Mr Groom - The sooner we deal with the present group of Bills the sooner we can turn our attention to the amendment of the principal Act. I cannot give a definite date, but the desire is to proceed as soon as possible.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The matter of dual furlough is so urgent, and is responsible for such injustice, that it should be settled without waiting for the introduction of a Bill to amend the principal Act.

Mr Richard Foster - It was announced some months ago that the Cabinet had come to a decision upon this matter.

Mr PARKER MOLONEY (HUME, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is so, but we have not been informed of the nature of that decision. I protest against the delay, which is merely prolonging a great injustice to a number of reputable public servants.

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