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Friday, 4 March 1932

Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- I support the protest of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Scullin) against the action of the Government in withdrawing the instruction that the award rates should apply only to members of claimant organizations in the Commonwealth Public Service. On the 22nd April, 1930, the Public Service Board issued an instruction as follows: -

I am directed to inform you that the Government lias directed that, on and from the 1st Juno, 1930, application of the provisions of the various Public Service awards and determinations shall be restricted to members of the Public Service organization concerned.

That decision was made to apply also to returned soldiers, whether or not they were members of organizations; but fully 95 per cent, of the returned soldiers in the Public Service had already joined their respective organizations, and, therefore, no hardship whatever has- been imposed on that section of the Service. I had thought that something better than the latest decision might be expected from the present Prime Minister (Mr. Lyons), because when he left the Labour party and joined the Nationalists, he declared that he was not forsaking any of his Labour principles. He added that he would continue to be as good a Labour man as ever.. For over 20 years he supported the policy of giving preference to the members of the claimant organizations who had made their full contributions, and had assisted in getting improved conditions for their fellow members in the Public Service. Speaking in this House on the 22nd May, 1930, the Attorney-General (Mr. Latham) remarked -

I, and honorable members on this side of the chamber generally, quite understand, and to some extent sympathize with, the objection of members of trade unions to others obtaining benefits for which the unions have fought and struggled.

If the honorable gentleman had acted up to that statement the Opposition would have had no cause for complaint on this matter, but while the Government recognized that certain public servants who were not members of Public Service organizations, had no moral right to the benefit i won by members of those bodies, it rescinded the instructions that were issued at the instigation of the Scullin Government that the benefits of awards applied only to the members of the claimant organizations.

This subject has received a good deal of consideration at the hands of the Public Service Board, and of Public Service Commissioners in the past. For fourteen years Mr. D. McLachlan was sole Commonwealth Public Service Commissioner, and after his retirement from office he was asked to act on a royal commission to investigate the conditions in the Commonwealth Public Service. In 1919, he wrote -

Every officer of the class concerned should join his representative association. In the formation and maintenance of an association, expenses incurred should be met by the members jointly. It would be unfair to the members of an association, which, by its efforts, gained some advantage that persons who, through indifference, refused to join the association, should share in the benefits and not in the incidental expenditure ... If any officer refuses to join the association there should be deducted from his salary, at the usual duo dates, the amount of membership fees of the association, and the amount so deducted should be paid to the association.

It cannot be said that Mr. McLachlan was a militant unionist, or was associated in any way with the Trades Hall. As a member of the Commonwealth Public Service, he was not connected with any political party, yet as a royal commissioner he expressed the opinion that the benefits of awards should he extended only to members of claimant organizations. Again in 1925 a report on this subject was submitted to the Bruce-Page Government by the Public Service Board, comprising Sir Brudenell White (Chairman), Mr. W. J. Skewes and BrigadierGeneral McGlynn. These gentlemen expressed the view that there was every justice in the claim that had been urged periodically by the Public Service Association that awards of the Arbitration Court should apply only to members of Public Service associations. I, therefore, call that board as an impartial witness in support of the claim which wo now make. It cannot be urged that its members were in any way associated with the Labour party or had sympathy with industrial unionism. So the fact that it endorsed the opinions and recommendations of Mr. McLachlan, the former Public Service Commissioner should carry a great deal of weight with this Government, if it. is not absolutely biased against trade unionism generally. I am afraid that in extending arbitration awards to non-unionists, the Government is, in effect, giving preference to non-unionists in the Public Service. Every act of this Government has been to discourage trade unionism, and to make for the open shop, where the individual will have to make representations in person to get redress of his grievances. Having a good knowledge of human nature, we all know what many heads of departments would do if a junior officer had the audacity to voice his grievances personally. In most cases, he would get very short shrift, and would be told to get out of the office. The position would be entirely different if all public servants were members of associations. Representations then made to heads of departments would receive careful consideration, because of the knowledge that they had behind them the full weight of the Public Service organizations. This blow which has been struck by the Government at unionism will inevitably redound to its discredit. It will not destroy the spirit of unionism in the Public Service. On the contrary, it will strengthen it, because public servants will realize more fully than ever that such organization constitutes their bulwark against an attempted invasion of their rights.

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