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Wednesday, 8 September 1920

Mr BRENNAN (Batman) .- No good purpose is served by the Minister (Mr. Groom) using his position, innocently or intentionally, to obscure the very clear issue raised by the amendment. There has been a great deal of argument, if one may so dignify it, directed from the Government bench, and intended to prove that the Public Service, as a whole, will welcome the creation of this Tribunal, which it is alleged is being set up for their benefit; but if it is a fact that the appointment of an Arbitrator will be gratifying to the Service, they will avail themselves of this new Tribunal, and no possible harm can be done by the amendment. If, on the other hand, we find, what we believe to be the fact, that the Public Service organizations desire to continue availing themselves of the existing arbitrationTribunal, there is no reason why they should be forced to go to another Tribunal against their will and be placed beyond the jurisdiction of one in which they justly have confidence. It has been pointed out, and it is quite clear, that the Tribunal now proposed to be created is an inferior one and it has been said truly that the term for which the Arbitrator is to be appointed is a fixed one, and a comparatively brief term. The Minister replies by saying that the President of the Arbitration Court is also appointed for seven years. But whether he is President of the Arbitration Court or not he continues to possess the status, weight, and influence of a Justice of the High Court, whereas the person who is to be appointed Public Service Arbitrator may emerge from his present position in the Public Service, and, at the end of his term of seven years, will, if not re-appointed, revert to his ordinary position as a public servant or to some less conspicuous office. It is absurd to say that in discussing this amendment we are arguing for a principle that has already been decided. We are arguing upon quite a different principle. We are offering to the Government a ready means of determining whether or not this proposed Tribunal will be more agreeable to the Public Service than the Arbitration Court. If honorable members on the Ministerial side have made up their minds that, for disciplinary reasons. Commonwealth public servants should be placed in this position, all I can say is that it is a peculiar way of administering conciliation to force men to go before a Tribunalin which they have no confidence, and away from one in which they repose confidence - no honorable member on the Ministerial side can suggest that our public servants cannot justly have confidence in a Justice of the High Court as President of the Arbitration Court - and that is not a course of procedure that is likely to encourage a spirit of conciliation in the Public Service.

Mr Marr - Did the Government and the party which passed the 1911 Act consult the Public Service as to whether they desired to go to an Arbitration Court?

Mr BRENNAN - We consulted them in this sense, that we had every reason to believe then, as we have now, that the Arbitration Court would be readily availed of by the members of the Public Service, but the main principle withus then, as it is now, was that being satisfied that conciliation and arbitration were good for the citizens of this country, whether they belonged to any particular class or not, we did not hold with segregating the Public Service and making it a class apart tinder the sort of discipline described by the late Public Service Commissioner (Mr. McLachlan). We believe that the men who discharge the honorable duties attaching to the Service of the Commonwealth are possessed of a high sense of loyalty to their country and to the positions they occupy, and that they are entitled to be regarded as being on equal terms with every other citizen of the country.

Mr.FOWLER (Perth) [9.40].- I can hardly think that the honorable members for West Sydney (Mr. Ryan) and Batman (Mr. Brennan) are anything bub subtle humourists in regard to the proposition before the Committee, and I must compliment them on the way in which they have made it appear that they were perfectlyserious in putting it forward. We have already committed ourselves to the principle of appointing an Arbitrator to the Public Service in substitution for the Arbitration Court, but now these honorable members ask us, in all seriousness, to stultify ourselves and our proceedings by placing a provision in the Bill which would upset the whole arrangement the House and the Committee have already decided upon. If the members of the Public Service prefer the Arbitration Court to an Arbitrator, as I think they do, it does not justify us in opening a door that will at once make confusion worse confounded in regard to possible awards by two different Courts. A proposal that would bring about this result is absolutely preposterous. Therefore, while the Govern-' ment accept responsibility for the measure, I shall do my best to assist them in making it consistent.

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