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Wednesday, 31 October 1956

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) (Minister for Labour and National Service) . - The honorable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr. Crean) has raised a matter which, I know, has exercised the consideration of the High Council of the Commonwealth Public Service Organizations. Perhaps I should indicate that, for the convenience of the Parliament, we are discussing four bills together, and that the matter raised by the honorable member for Melbourne Ports concerns an issue which might, perhaps, arise more appropriately during discussion of the Public Service Arbitration Bill (No. 2). However, it is convenient for it to be considered at this stage.

As I understand the matter, the Public Service organizations were concerned lest, arising out of this amendment, at some point of time there might be a proscription which would have the effect of taking in the whole of the Public Service arbitration legislation in such a way as to nullify determinations of the Public Service Arbitrator. In the first instance, they wrote to me regarding this matter and I sent a letter to them in reply, the substantial part of which I shall read to the committee shortly. Then, last evening, Mr. Smith, the president of the High Council, in company with one of his colleagues, saw me about the matter and I reaffirmed the assurances which I had given them in. the letter I sent. I assume, from what the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has been putting to the committee, that it is desired that I affirm in this Parliament the assurance that I have already given, in such a way as to make quite clear the general attitude of this Government - and this may be more important for the organization and its members in years to come - so that any succeeding government, irrespective of its political complexion, may have no doubt of the intention of the Parliament at this time. It is perhaps desirable and convenient that the matter has been raised by an honorable member on the other side of the committee, because it will be clear on any future occasion that the Parliament as a whole was agreed on the general attitude which I have expressed in my letter of assurance to the public service organizations. I think I can explain the matter best by reading the relevant paragraphs of a letter dated 30th October that I sent to Mr. Smith in his capacity as president of the High Council of Public Service Organizations. I said in that letter -

I note that your concern is not with the specific prescription of the three general acts with which no inconsistent determination or award may be made, but with the power to prescribe other acts or provisions of other acts. If it were that Crown employment was governed solely by the Public Service Act, it would have been a comparatively simple matter to prescribe the provisions with which an inconsistent determination or award might not be made. There are, however, a number of other acts-

I think the honorable member for Melbourne Ports has just indicated that there are, perhaps, more than 40 of them - which deal with the conditions of employment in the services of statutory authorities. Examples are the Broadcasting Act, the Commonwealth Bank Act, the Overseas Telecommunications Act, the Commonwealth Railways Act and the Peace Officers' Act. In addition, there are acts like the Officers Rights Declaration Act, the Tradesmens Rights Regulation Act and the Re-establishment and Employment Act.

The problem that is apparently troubling you did engage my attention when the bill was being drafted. I had hoped to find a form of words which would make it apparent that the provision! that might be prescribed should be those dealing with what I might broadly describe as the structure and organization of the various services, appointments, promotions, discipline and the like. These are matters going to terms and conditions of employment or service with which the Parliament has seen fit to deal specifically, and I would think there would be general agreement that it would be undesirable that power should reside in some arbitral tribunal to make determinations or awards inconsistent with such specific provisions.

I hope that honorable members are following the point that has been raised. We have taken the view that, in principle, it is not desirable that the Public Service Arbitrator should be able to override some specific terms of acts of Parliament, but there are some matters, on the other hand, that we would not wish to prescribe as matters in respect of which inconsistent determinations should be made. My letter then continued -

Unfortunately, it was not found possible to find words which would express, with the precision required for Acts of Parliament, this general concept.

I have heard it said that, as the bill is drafted at the moment, it would be possible to prescribe the whole of the Public Service Act. Theoretically, that is perfectly true. Theoretically, all the other acts, dealing with employment under the Commonwealth, could be prescribed. Nobody surely imagines for a moment that any of these things would be done, unless of course Parliament wished to abolish the Public Service Arbitrator, in which event a more direct method would doubtless be used.

Governments must, of course, be presumed to act responsibly. There is, in any event, this safeguard that all regulations are subject to consideration by the Parliament, and may be disallowed. They can thus be subjected to the same Parliamentary control as the proposed legislation.

J then went on to give an assurance which I would stress for the consideration of all sections of the Parliament, and which, I hope, will meet the wishes of all sections. I said -

I am, however, prepared to go further and say that before any proposals were made to the Governor-General in Council for the making of any regulations under the provision with which you are concerned, I will be prepared to arrange for my department to consult with you or representatives of your council. This will enable full consideration to be given to any views you or your council may have, and, as well, give plenty of opportunity for you and your council to be aware of what is in mind.

I hope that the assurance which I have given at this point of time, and which, I gather from what has been said by my friend, the honorable member for Melbourne Ports, is supported by honorable members opposite, will be honoured by future governments, irrespective of their political complexion.

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