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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr MAKIN (Hindmarsh) .- I express grave doubt as to the wisdom of this measure. Before its introduction we should have had a definite arrangement between the various States and the Commonwealth. As it is, the Bill is premature, and ill-timed. The Treasurer is optimistic as to the result of the negotiations with the various Treasurers of the States,1 but his hopes will not be borne out in actual fact, because we already have knowledge of the adverse comments made, and the attitude adopted by certain States on the proposals submitted by the 'Commonwealth Government. Even if the agreement had been ratified and confirmed by the various State Parliaments, I should still challenge the wisdom of this Bill, because the Commonwealth Government should conserve its powers rather than surrender them to the States as is proposed in this measure. The arrangement is for one taxation return to be furnished to the State collecting authority.' The Commonwealth has a much more effective scheme of coordination, and greater facilities for the collection of income tax than have the States, and it should retain its powers as an assessor and collecting authority rather than delegate them to 'the States. It is logical to expect that greater efficiency would result if the Commonwealth were 1 the sole collecting authority throughout Australia. The effect of the proposed agreement- it has not yet been confirmed - between the Treasurer and the State Governments will be to do. serious injustice to many of the most capable and efficient officers in the' Commonwealth Public Service. Some of the men have devoted themselves to taxation problems for many years, and have become specialists in that class of work, and a large number of other men and women are highly proficient in clerical duties. The compulsory retirement of these officers must cause a feeling of insecurity Amongst others in Commonwealth Departments. That uncertainty as to the future has been felt in the Commonwealth Service for a number of years, and, as a result of that and the scanty opportunities for advancement, some of the most efficient officers that the Commonwealth has had in its employ have left the Service to enter other walks of life that seemed to open up wider fields of opportunity. The efficiency of the Commonwealth Service has suffered in consequence. The present proposal to retrench in the Taxation Department, following upon the many compulsory retirements in the Defence Department, will accentuate the 'existing feeling of insecurity. I have often heard it said that the smaller remuneration of the Public Service compared with that obtaining in similar employment outside was more than compensated for by the security of tenure attached to a Government position. I was at one time employed by the State of South Australia, and one of the arguments advanced whenever we sought higher wages and improved working conditions was that we should be prepared to accept a lower rate of pay than was received by men outside the Service because we had permanency of employment. This Bill demonstrates that, in the Government Service, whether of the Commonwealth or the States, there is no more security than in private employment. The Government is proposing to do a serious injustice to men and women who have been loyal and efficient officers, and I doubt whether it will be prepared to do all that it should to absorb in other Departments those displaced from the taxation branch. The Government preaches a policy of economy, but it practises false economy at the expense of the wage-earner, and it will retrench public servants in the belief that it is giving effect to that principle of economy which it has constantly enunciated. But the Commonwealth cannot afford at this time to lose the services of the many efficient officers who are employed in the Taxation Department. On the 1st June of this year there were in that Department 1,619 permanent officers, comprising 622 in the General Division, 651 fifth class clerks, 238 fourth class clerks, 54 third class clerks, 54 second class clerks, and 464 temporary officers - of whom the majority are, I understand, returned soldiers - comprising 153 fifth class clerks, and 311 in the General Division. If only 50 per cent, of these officers be dismissed they will have considerable difficulty in obtaining congenial employment that will give adequate scope to their valuable experience and knowledge. Not only should the Commonwealth endeavour to retain all officers for whom positions can be found in the Federal Service, but the States should be called upon to do their part in absorbing in their Service as many as possible of the displaced men. I do not suppose there is one member of the House who would feel pleased at the prospect of an early dismissal from his parliamentary position and the loss of the emoluments attaching to it. I know that when we are periodically called upon to submit our services to the review of those to whom we are responsible, many honorable members have an uncomfortable fear that they may not secure readmission to this Chamber, with the opportunity it offers for rendering service to the people, and enjoying certain privileges. Should we not, therefore, feel sympathy with those officers who are to be retrenched, and endeavour to get for those who have rendered loyal service the same consideration as we expect for ourselves? We would consider the electors ungrateful if, without good and sufficient cause, they terminated our long and faithful service, and it surely will be equally ungrateful on the part of the Commonwealth Government to throw out of employment men who have served it well in the past. I hope that the Government will realize that the proposed retrenchment of these officials is ill-timed, and will defer the operation of the provisions of this Bill until we have definite knowledge of the intentions of the various States regarding the proposals which the Commonwealth Government has submitted to them. I again protest against the way in which the Government has been prepared to surrender to the States the powers of the Commonwealth in re:gard to the collection of income tax. It has not actually surrendered the power of taxation, but its action suggests disquieting possibilities for the future if it should continue in power. These gentlemen are great " State righters ", and I am afraid that they are prepared to surrender taxation powers to which this Commonwealth has a perfect right. I am very jealous of those powers. I hope that ultimately the Commonwealth Government will be the supreme authority in- Australia, and will be able to delegate certain powers to provincial councils or State Governments over which it will retain complete authority. The actions of the present Commonwealth Government, however. do not lead us to think that that day is near at hand. We are told that £200,000 is to be spent in compensating the officers who Will be affected by the retrenchments consequent upon the adoption of this scheme. The men who will be retired have specialized in taxation work, and may find it very difficult to obtain suitable employment outside. We are also told that the adoption of this scheme will save the Commonwealth £264,000 a year. In that circumstance, surely we can afford to be a little more generous to those who are being compulsorily retired. We should . not subject them to embarrassment and difficulty while they are seeking congenial employment. We can afford to spend a little more money to adequately compensate them. To achieve that object, a number of amendments to this Bill will be moved in Committee. Honorable members on this side of the Chamber intend to do all they possibly can to obtain for these retrenched employees a liberal compensation. Further, we shall seek to insure that officers who are transferred to the ' State services shall receive as much salary as at present, and also the child endowment and cost of living allowances, which are granted in the Commonwealth service. We hope considerably to improve the measure. There is certainly much room for improvement. When a Labour Government comes into power later, it will endeavour to rectify the mistakes that are now being made. It will take steps to make the Commonwealth Government the tax-collecting authority in respect of all taxes in "which it is interested, and will seek a proper scheme of co-ordination which Will effect a true economy. We should have the highest form of efficiency, and the best possible organization. The immediate efforts of this party, however, will be to insure to those who have well and faithfully served the Commonwealth, a generous compensation in the case of their retrenchment, and, in the case of their transfer to the State service, a proper protection of their interests.

Mr Coleman - I call attention to the state of the' House. [Quorum formed.]

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