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Wednesday, 8 September 1920


Mr RYAN (West Sydney) .- I understand that if we pass this clause it would prevent any organization of the Public Service from going to the Arbitration Court?


Mr Groom - If this clause is passed the Act of 1911 will cease to operate except as regards cases that are now being heard .


Mr RYAN - I understand that the honorable member for Gwydir (Mr. Cunningham:), at an earlier stage of the proceedings on this Bill, moved an amend- - ment to enable organizations in the Public Service to go to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration if they thought fit.


Mr Groom - He moved an amendment . which the Chairman decided was not relevant to the clause upon which it was moved, and he then said he would submit a substantive clause to give effect to his view later on.


Mr RYAN - I direct attention to the fact that if the Committee passes clause 11 as it stands, it will be impossible to insert a new clause such as that which the honorable member for Gwydir desires to have inserted.


Mr Groom - The clause deals with the 1911 Act, but I understand that the new clause which the honorable member for Gwydir intends to propose refers to the general Conciliation and Arbitration Act.


Mr Cunningham - No; my clause refers to the Arbitration (Public Service) Act of 1911.


Mr RYAN - That being so, I move -

That sub-clause 1 be left out.

If this amendment is agreed to it will give members of the Public Service an opportunity to go to the Arbitration Court if they so desire. For my own part, I am under no illusion as to the purpose of this measure. I think that it is really intended to take away from the public servants the right to arbitration, and proposes to substitute for a Judge of the Arbitration Court an official who will not be an Arbitrator, but a kind of Commissioner, having a limited tenure of office, and necessarily dependent upon the Government in power for the time being, and to that extent under the control of the Government. I think, therefore, that we should leave it open to organizations within the Public Service, if they so desire, to go to the existing Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, which no one can -doubt will be an independent tribunal. As I understood the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Maxwell) this afternoon, he was of opinion that the term of office proposed for the Public Service Arbitrator in this Bill is such as to render him net as independent as he ought to be. But we have passed the clause fixing the tenure of office of the Arbitrator


Mr Maxwell - That was done while honorable members were crossing the Chamber. I never noticed that the clause had been passed. It was any intention to have moved that the term of office should be ten years, instead of seven years.


Mr RYAN - I am not reflecting upon the honorable member for not having moved an amendment upon the clause fixing the tenure of office of the Arbitrator at seven years, but I am directing his attention to the fact that the term of office has been fixed, and I am soliciting his support for my present contention. We have passed a clause which gives a limited tenure of office and a limited salary to the Arbitrator, which will certainly not make him as independent as a Judge of the High Court. In the circumstances, I wish to take the next step open to me to protect the interest of the Commonwealth public servants by enabling them to go to the Arbitration Court if they wish to do so. At an earlier stage honorable members dealt with an amendment I moved with a view to ascertaining the opinion of public servants, for whose benefit, it is alleged, this measure has been introduced. Honorable members, by a majority, rejected my amendment, but I hope that they will view that which I have now moved from a different stand -\ point

We cannot judge of the intentions of the members of a Government by what they say. If honorable members read the speeches of Ministers they will find that they are not in accord with their actions. I have listened during the last six or seven weeks to speeches from honorable members opposite, in which they proclaimed to the House and the public that they believed that Parliament should lay down the principles upon which Arbitration Courts should act, but that the Commonweal ih Parliament has not the power to do that. For example, they have told us they desire that the number of hours in the working week should be fixed by Parliament, ami I point out that in this Bill Parliament can, if it pleases, lay down . the principle of a forty-four-hour working week, because we have absolute and complete power with regard to the Commonwealth Public Service, as we have in regard to Inter-State shipping and Inter-State trade. In this Bill we can lay down the principle establishing a forty-four-hour week, but no member of the Government and no supporter of the Government, so far as I can see, appears to be desirous of laying down any such principle in this Bill. We can in this Bill also lay down this principle, which, I think, ought to be affirmed by this Parliament: That in fixing what is to be a living wage for a Commonwealth public servant the Public Service Arbitrator shall be guided by what is sufficient to keep a married man, his wife, and three children in reasonable comfort. But no honorable member opposite lias suggested that that principle should be laid down. I do not know whether any of them would support such an amendment, but it is absolutely within the power of this Parliament to establish that principle in this Bill. It is of no use merely to listen to speeches from them proclaiming that the Arbitration Court cannot do certain things because this Parliament has not the power to lay down principles. We have the power to do so in this Bill. We have the power to lay down a further principle which it is very necessary should be recognised, and I hope some one will move an amendment to that effect. We have the power to lay down the principle that the Public Service Arbitrator in arriving at a decision on the question shall not prescribe any wage less than the basic wage fixed by the Basic Wage Commission now sitting, or by any duly constituted authority that may take its place. We can do that, and I ask whether we are going to do it.

I mention these three principles in order to call the attention of the Committee and of workers generally throughout the Commonwealth to the fact that we have the power in this Bill to lay them down, and we have an excellent opportunity in this way to test the sincerity of members of this Committee and discover whether they really stand for these things, or merely mouth that they stand for certain principles, and when the opportunity is given them will not put their professions into effect.


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Does the honorable members seriously suggest that this Parliament should bind itself to an award that has not yet been reported?


Mr RYAN - Does the right honorable gentleman by that interjection suggest that the Government do not intend to be bound by the report of the Basic Wage Commission ?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - I do not suggest anything of the kind. I am asking the honorable gentleman whether he seriously proposes that this Parliament should bind itself to all that any outside Commission now making an inquiry may suggest? That is his proposal.


Mr RYAN - That is not asking any more than that we should be bound by future awards of our existing Courts of Conciliation and Arbitration. We provide in our Acts of Parliament that awards made in the future shall be binding; and why, therefore, can we not lay it down in this Bill that we shall be bound by the report of the Basic Wage Commission as to what a basic wage shall be?


Sir JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Treasurer) - Because the thing is entirely different.


Mr RYAN - It is not entirely different. I now have from the Treasurer the suggestion that the Basic Wage Commission has no business in it, and I never thought it had so far as the Government are concerned. As soon as it is suggested that this Parliament shall enact that no Commonwealth public servant shall receive less than the amount prescribed by the Basic Wage Commission the right honorable gentleman asks me, " Do you seriously suggest that Parliament should bind itself to what theBasic Wage Commission will decide?" I certainly do. I go further, and I suggest that Parliament should so instruct this so-called Public Service Arbitrator that he should be bound by the report of the Basic Wage Commission.


Sir Robert Best - Has the honorable member ever known an Act of Parliament to refer to some body or corporation which has no legal existence?


Mr RYAN - Then we can give it legal existence.


Sir Robert Best - Has the honorable member ever known such a reference in an Act of Parliament?


Mr RYAN - The Basic Wage Commission has a legal existence.


Sir Robert Best - I beg the honorable member's pardon, it has not. It has no statutory existence.


Mr RYAN - Then Iwould immediately give it a statutory existence. I would not be stopped by a quibble of that sort. It is suggested by the honorable member for Kooyong (Sir Robert Best) that the Basic Wage Commission, which is carrying on an inquiry at an expenditure of many thousands of pounds, has no legal authority.


Sir Robert Best - I did not say that. I said that it has no statutory existence.


Mr RYAN - Then let us give it legal authority, and do away with all the humbug that is going on in this House. We appoint a Basic Wage Commission, and we are not going to be bound by its findings. The noise I hear from honorable members opposite is indicative of the fact that I am treading on their corns. I am taking the opportunity to test the sincerity of their protestations. I hope that before this Bill goes through Committee the opportunity will be taken to test the feeling of honorable members with regard to laying down all the principles I have referred to. We believe in a basic wage or we do not. I know many Commonwealth public servants in the State of Queensland, for example, who are drawing far less wages than men similarly employed by the Queensland Government or by private employers in that State. What is trueof Queensland in that regard is true of the other States also. I hope that an opportunity will be given to lay down the principle that this Public Service Arbitrator is not to be permitted to fix a wage for public servants lower than the basic wag?, and, further, that there shall be no differentiation in wages between a married man and a single man. We can make provision for that in this Bill. We stand for equal pay for equal work by married or single, orwe do not and we should let the public know where we stand.I believe it has been suggested that the basic wage should be fixed for a man and his wife, for a man, his wife, and one child, for a man, his wife, and two children, or a man, his wife, and three children.


Mr Bamford - The honorable memberis not proposing that the Basic Wage Commission should be a permanent body ?


Mr RYAN - No, I am not proposing that, but I am suggesting that we should lay down the principle in this Bill, which we can do, that the Public Service Arbitrator, in arriving at what shall be a living wage for Commonwealth public servants, over whom we have absolute jurisdiction - and we can give a lead to every one else in this connexion - shall be guided by what is a fair thing to keep a married man, his wife, and three children.


Mr Maxwell - Why three?


Mr RYAN - I am suggesting a basis. If I had 'ray way I would go further and vest in him power to give a bonus in respect of every child over three. That is a principle which I think might be established: but in the meantime I have submitted an amendment with the object of allowing Commonwealth public servants to go to the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration if they desire to do so. I hope that honorable members will support that amendment, and any further amendments which honorable members may see fit to move on the lines T have indicated, in order to lay down the other principles to which I have referred.







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