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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr SPEAKER - Order! This is a matter for the Committee stages of the Bill.

Dr EARLE PAGE - I intended, when the Bill was in Committee, to deal with these questions at length, but, in deference to the request made by the honorable' member for Bourke, I am discussing them now. I turn now to another aspect of this subject which may be of interest to honorable members, and that is the, arrangement being made with the various States as to the proportion of officers to be retrenched owing to the reduction in the amount of work. On this question clauses 5 ' and 6 of the agreement sets out - 5. (a) All permanent officers of the State employed in the Taxation Office in the State, and all Commonwealth officers transferred to tho State pursuant to this Agreement, shall be merged into, and form, one combined staff.

(   6 ) The State shall provide all office accommodation required. 6. (a) If by reason of any economy effected by this Agreement the combined staff is greater than is required for the work to be performed, and retrenchment is necessary, the number and grades of officers to be dispensed with shall, as between the officers who prior to this . Agreement were respectively State and Commonwealth officers be, as far as practicable, proportionate to the numbers of the respective staffs immediately prior to this Agreement.

Thus, if in New South Wales there are 400 permanent and probationary permanent officers of the Commonwealth, and 200 in the State Service, and if 300 are required to do the work, the reduction - will be in proportion to the numbers ' employed, that is 200 Commonwealth and--'- 100 State officers. We could not get an ' exactly similar agreement with Victoria, but we have an arrangement which works out in very much the same way. It is really this matter that has delayed the finalization of the agreement with Victoria. "

Mr Anstey - Then officers will be in the same position as if they were retired under this Bill?

Dr EARLE PAGE - Yes, if they are immediately retired by the State .they will be entitled to compensation, which will be paid by the Commonwealth. Sir William McPherson pointed out that during the last three years, in view of the possibility of an agreement being made along these lines, very few men had been appointed to the permanent staff of the Victorian Taxation Department, and on Monday last he agreed to pool the Victorian and the Commonwealth staffs employed in Victoria in proportion to the numbers employed. If any officers are retrenched, the understanding is that they shall be compensated, in the manner indicated. This arrangement, I submit, is reasonably good from the Commonwealth point of view.

Mr Anstey - Has that arrangement been made ?

Mr SPEAKER - Order ! I cannot allow this discussion to continue. This is a matter for the Committee.

Mr Anstey - I am afraid, Mr. Speaker, that these matters will not come up in Committee.

Mr SPEAKER - The principles only of a Bill may be discussed on its second reading. I shall rule th'e Minister out of order if he proceeds further with this discussion of the details of the measure.

Dr EARLE PAGE - My intention was to deal with these matters on clause 4 of the Bill.

Mr Anstey - That will suit me.

Dr EARLE PAGE - I, can assure the honorable member that the intention of the Government has been to deal in a most sympathetic and generous manner with those public servants who will be affected by the Bill. With this end in view, I have had frequent consultations with representatives of the taxation staffs and representatives of the returned soldiers employed in that Department. I have listened carefully to all they had to say, and have been able to include almost all of their requests in this measure. While the honorable member for Maribyrnong * was speaking to-night, I was called out of the Chamber to see one of the officials of the Association, who assured me that, with the exception of one point, they were perfectly satisfied with the Bill, and recognised that the Government had fought most strenuously to secure proper and considerate treatment of the staffs that would be transferred. They also recognised the generous nature of the treatment which the Government has meted out to them in connexion with the details concerning compensation.

Mr Makin - Was this man a responsible representative of the association?

Dr EARLE PAGE - Yes, he was. " Mr; Penton. - The statement is in contradiction of what appears in the circulars issued by the association.

Dr EARLE PAGE - I have had no difficulty with the representatives of the association. I can show honorable members copies of circulars I have received, and side by side with the various requests that have been made I can show which were allowed and which disallowed. It will be found that 90 per cent, of the requests have been acceded to. Requests which have not .been acceded to have been submitted to members of this Parliament who are ex-civil servants, and they have professed themselves thoroughly satisfied with the treatment of the officers proposed by the Government, and have admitted that, those requests were unreasonable and not such as the Government' could consent to. With regard to the permanent officers, the Government is satisfied that everything possible has been done to meet their position. The Bill will make it possible for any retrenchment found necessary to be universal throughout the Commonwealth Public Service. A. clause has been introduced which will permit discrimination to be shown by the Public Service Board, and practical preference to be given to men in the Taxation Department over men in other Departments if they are found to be more- deserving. The only men about whom I am much perplexed are the temporary employees, and especially the returned soldiers amongst their number. There are 150 of them in the Taxation Department, and we have tried to meet them in every way we can. Honorable members will notice certain clauses in the Bill which provide that men who have qualified for permanent appointments, but have not yet received them, will be regarded as if they were already permanent employees. Of the 150 it is found that fifty have never had an opportunity to sit for the special qualifying examination for the Public Service, during their temporary employment. There was such an examination held in 1918, and another in 1920. We have decided that these fifty men shall have an opportunity of sitting for a qualifying examination, and if successful they will be treated in exactly the same way as permanent men already in the Service. That is as far as we can go to meet their ease. We find that there are altogether six limbless men employed, and I have assured the honorable member for Richmond (Mr. R. Green) who, because of his own affliction, has a very great sympathy for these men, that without question we shall be able to find employment for them in some other branch of the Commonwealth Service. With regard to the balance of ninety odd officers, we have requested the Public Service Board to use every endeavour to see if it is not possible to place them in other branches of the<, Service. The honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Scullin) raised the point that, because many of these men are in the Fifth Class, and, consequently, receive a very small salary, they will, if discharged, be entitled to a very small amount by way of compensation. I want to say, in this connexion, that, with the exception of typists and sorters who are mostly female employees, I hope that most of the others will be absorbed in the State Departments, or throughout the Commonwealth Service. I am informed that the State Commissioner of Taxation, Mr. Whiddon, and Mr. Stephens, Secretary of the State Treasury, have been in close consultation with Mr. Collins, the Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasury, Mr. Ewing, the Commonwealth Commissioner of Taxation, and Mr. Hume, the Deputy Taxation Commissioner of New South Wales, and they expect that they will be immediately able to absorb the whole of the permanent staff in New South Wales, though it may be found that some further reduction of staff ' will be necessary later. In any case we will be able to give these officers probably several months notice before they are called upon to retire. There is a certain amount of arrears of work to be overtaken in the State offices, and in the Central Office, and it will be possible for us to give officers who are to be discharged comparatively long notice, in addition to the compensation which will be paid to them. It may be possible to utilize the services of some of the temporary men' in this way for a time. With regard to returned soldiers and temporary men who do not come within the classes I have mentioned, we will make the same arrangement for them as has been made for the officers, retrenched from the Repatriation Department, who were also temporary employees. We will give them, for eight weeks, half -pay as a sustenance payment, if unable to obtain employment, and will use every endeavour through our repatriation organization to try to place them in employment. I would like to assure the House that the Government has, in this matter, recognised its responsibility as an employer of some 2,000 men and women. It will make use of every means in its power to secure that the ' hardships attendant upon the retrenchment, ^ which this step renders necessary, will be felt as little as possible by those concerned. The Government looks confidently to the House to indorse the action it has taken. Even to-night, when we found that there were some other matters which, dealt with sympathetically, would prevent a certain amount of hardship, honorable members will have noticed that I brought down a supplementary Governor-General's Message to enable amendments to be made in the Bill to permit the most generous and sympathetic consideration of these cases. Without wasting further time, I ask the House to negative the amendment moved by the honorable member for Maribyrnong (Mr. Fenton), which is based on absolutely false premises, to carry the second reading of the Bill and enable us to get into Committee, where the real work on the Bill can be done, and we can consider the points which the honorable members for Yarra and Bourke wish to have discussed.

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