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Wednesday, 8 September 1920

Mr MAXWELL (FAWKNER, VICTORIA) - The honorable member not only discussed the motive of the Government in introducing the Bill, but he descanted at large on the attitude that had been adopted by various honorable members on this side towards the Bill of 1911.

Mr Ryan - I first showed that the Bill is bad, and then I showed the source of contamination.

Mr MAXWELL - The honorable member did not discuss the Bill on its merits. The: greater portion of his speech was occupied in attributing to the Government motives of >& most sinister character, and in pointing out the inconsistency of honorable members who were supporting this Bill, but had opposed the Bill of 1911. The attitude which honorable members on this side of the House adopted with regard to that measure is of no concern to me, nor am I interested in ascertaining what motives induced the Government to introduce this Bill. I take the Bill as submitted to the House, and the only question that I have to consider i6 whether it is a good or a bad one.

Mr Ryan - It provides for arbitration only in name.

Mr MAXWELL - That may be the view of the honorable member, who also gave as a reason why the Bill should be voted out, that it was contrary to the wish of the Public Service of Australia. He declared that they did not want it. To be logical he should say that if it is shown to be the desire of the Service that a special Arbitrator should be appointed, as provided for in this Bill, rather than that they should continue to have their claims dealt with by the Conciliation and Arbitration Court, he will support the Bill,

Mr Ryan - That is not the way T put it. 'This is said to be a good thing for the public servants. My answer is that they are the best judges of that, and that we should let them decide the question for us.

Mr MAXWELL - That may be, and I may say, in passing, that I do not think the reply made by the Minister to the point made by the honorable member was at all relevant. Nothing could be said against a Government which, contemplating a measure of this kind, went to ite public servants and said, " A dispute arises between us, and we are proposing to settle that dispute in a certain way. Does this meet with your approval?" I should see no objection to such a course if it were necessary, but I do not know that it is. This Bill, as the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Marks) said, has been before Parliament for some time. Public servants are naturally keenly interested in a measure that vitally affects their interests and welfare, and, as a rule, are not slow to express themselves with regard to it. I must necessarily have a very large number of Commonwealth public servants in my constituency, but I have not received from any one of them a telegram, or a letter on the subject, or a request for an interview with me in regard to it.

Sir Robert Best - That is my experience, and I also have a vast number of Commonwealth public servants in my constituency.

Mr West - Perhaps they are too nervous to approach the honorable member. They do not hesitate to approach us if they have a grievance.

Mr MAXWELL - I do not think my honorable friend would say that any of my constituents would fear to approach me concerning any matter that affected his interests.

Mr Ryan - Did not the honorable member, like the rest of us, receive a circular on this subject?

Mr MAXWELL - I did not say that I had not received a circular, but I have not received a letter or a telegram from any of my constituents with regard to this subject. Not one of my constituents has approached me with reference to it.

Mr Ryan - Did not the organization approach the honorable member by means of a circular?

Mr MAXWELL - I received a copy of the circular to which the honorable member refers ; but in respect to a matter of this kind, vitally affecting, as it does, the interests of public servants, I should have expected that section of my constituents to approach me - and to express a desire to discuss it with me.

Mr Ryan - On a question like this we need to think in continents, not in constituencies.

Mr MAXWELL - Quite so. This Bill, T understand, affects something like 20,000 public servants, but the mere fact that I have not been personally approached by any public servant in my constituency at least shows that it is not a matter of very keen interest to them. 1 should say that it is an open question, so far as public servants are concerned, whether they should continue to have their claims dealt with by the Conciliation and Arbitration Court or go before the Arbitrator, for which this -Bill provides.

Mr Tudor - I understand that they are practically unanimously of the opinion that they should remain within the jurisdiction of the Court as at present.

Mr MAXWELL - As to that, the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Blundell), who has had to leave, has handed to me two telegrams, which throw an interesting light on the situation. The first of these, which comes from the secretary of the Clerical Division of the Service in South Australia, reads as follows : -

Members prepared accept special Arbitrator provided safeguarded in manner requested in circular letter addressed members of Parliament by High Council Commonwealth organization. Award should be retrospective date lodging plaint or Judges' decision.

There we have a specific expression of opinion on the subject from a gentleman who represents a very large number of Commonwealth public servants. The second telegram is from the secretary of the Telegraph Operators in South Australia -

We not opposed Service Arbitration Bill now before House.

There are two or three other words in the message suggesting that the honorable member to whom it was addressed should telephone a Mr. Wilson, who probably had more information on the subject. In any case, the view I take of such communications is that they indicate that this is not a burning question amongst public servants. .

Mr Ryan - It will become a far more burning question after they have had the proof of the pudding in the gating of it..

Mr MAXWELL - That may be; but I would point out that the Bill as it stands gives the Arbitrator very large powers, and provides for a remuneration sufficient to command the services of a man possessing very high qualifications. If the right man be appointed, I should say that there is every prospect of the procedure for which this Bill provides being entirely satisfactory.

There are two principles in the Bill which I should like to see amended. It is proposed, in the first place, that the Arbitrator shall have a tenure of seven years. That, in my opinion, is not sufficient. For such a position we need to secure a man who, in addition to other qualifications, will be absolutely fearless and independent. To give him a tenure of only seven years will make against that.

Mr Ryan - Is not that the very point that our party has been stressing - that the Tribunal will not be independent?

Mr MAXWELL - It can be made independent.

Mr Ryan - But it will not be independent under the Bill as it stands.

Mr MAXWELL - I am pointing out that I should like this principle to be so altered that the special Arbitrator would be given security of tenure equal to that of a High Court Judge. Assuming that a. man is appointed for a term of only seven years, then, no matter how independent he may be, if, towards the end of his tenure of office, any one of his decisions seems to bear rather in favour of the view of the political party that is coming into power, or has just come into power, he will be credited with bias. It will be said that he has given that decision in order to curry favour with those with whom will rest his re-appointment.

Mr Ryan - He might even be unconsciously biased.

Mr MAXWELL - Exactly. My second point is that, in order that this Tribunal may be made as effective as possible, the Arbitrator should have the assistance of two skilled assessors. My suggestion is not that two assessors should be appointed to sit continuously with him, but that assessors should be appointed in respect of each dispute that comes before him. There should be one to represent the Department and one to represent the employees concerned. The answer given by the Minister to that suggestion was that the Arbitrator would have the power at any time to call in the assistance of assessors. The difficulty as to that is that a Judge does not always know that his mind is not properly informed and, consequently, does not always know when to ask for assessors. For instance, during the progress of the hearing of a claim, the Arbitrator might be labouring under a certain misapprehension due to lack of knowledge of the technicalities of the question with which he was dealing. If he sat alone he might come to a determination without having had that misapprehension removed from his mind, whereas, if he was sitting with two skilled assessors well informed in regard to the matter in dispute, that misapprehension, in the discussion of the points that would affect the Arbitrator's determination, would be discovered and corrected.

Mr West - Could not all this be done under the existing law ?

Mr MAXWELL - I believe that it could be done. I do not feel very strongly in regard to this matter. If the Government had said, " We intend to allow Commonwealth public servants to remain within the jurisdiction of the Court and to increase the number of Judges so that the arrears of work may be overtaken," I should not have objected. I should think, however, that this will prove the more acceptable scheme to public servants, always provided that the proper man is appointed to the office of Arbitrator. In my judgment, the first appointment to this position will either make or mar the whole procedure for which the Bill provides. If the right man be appointed, then, having regard to the wide powers conferred upon the Arbitrator - to the fact that he will have special knowledge and will not be trammelled by any consideration other than a distinct desire to do justice as between the Commonwealth and its employees - it will be found that the Public Service is more than satisfied.

Mr Ryan - Would the honorable member be in favour of giving public servants the option of going either to the Court as at present, or to the Arbitrator, as provided for in this Bill?

Mr MAXWELL - The objection to that is that under such a procedure we might have conflicting or contradictory awards. One of the features which commends this measure to my judgment is that there will be something like uniformity of awards.

Mr Ryan - That could be achieved by assigning all Public Service matters to one Judge.

Mr MAXWELL - It could be; but, if that were done, the honorable member will agree that the objection could still be urged that public servants were being treated differently from all other applicants for arbitration. And that is a criticism which we want to avoid. I intend to vote for the second reading. As I have already indicated, I do not feel very strongly upon the matter; but, if the proper man be appointed, I feel sure that the principle will work well. It is quite irrelevant for honorable members to discuss at this stage, and in connexion with this measure, the low rates of wages paid to public servants. My view of the way in which the Commonwealth should treat its servants is that we ought to be scrupulously careful in regard to appointments to the Service. We should go for the best men ; we should insist upon efficiency; and we should see that our employees are treated just a little better, if anything, than those of private employers. If we were to hold those objectives in constant view, there would not be such unrest as exists to-day in the Public Service.

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