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Thursday, 13 October 1910
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Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - Our opportunities for discussing grievances are so rare that one is almost compelled to take advantage of an occasion such as the present. The matter which I wish to bring under the notice of the Senate is one which concerns the good name of the Commonwealth. It has been the ideal of every member of this Parliament that, in the Commonwealth Service, there should be nothing in the nature of sweating. We have done a good deal towards realizing that idea ; but I am sorry to say that much still remains to be done. Unfortunately, I cannot discover, in the present Postmaster-General, any disposition to proceed further in the direction indicated.

Senator de Largie - How can the honorable senator expect him to do all these things within a few days?

Senator STEWART - I do not expect him to do anything of the kind. The persons to whom I refer are those who conduct the semi-official post-offices throughout the Commonwealth. I have had quite a number of communications from officers filling these positions, whose remuneration is the handsome sum of ^78 per annum, -with quarters. That is equivalent to 30s. per week, with house rent. One might almost put it down as the wage of a ploughman. Indeed, there are many ploughmen who are much better paid. The ordinary labourer is in receipt of a better wage.

Senator Lynch - Why should not the ploughman be as well paid?

Senator STEWART - I do not say that he should not. These persons who occupy responsible positions - very much more responsible, if I may say so, with all due deference to the honorable senator who interjected, than that occupied by a ploughman, although I do not say that they are more useful-

Senator de Largie - Some of them do not do an hour's work in a day.

Senator- 'STEWART.-Here .we have the Labour agitator. He has been transferred from the labour market to Parliament, and he begins to talk in that fashion. These men, I repeat, are at the call of every person from 9 o'clock in the morning till 6 o'clock in the evening.

Senator de Largie - Nothing of the kind.

Senator STEWART - I am stating facts. I know of one case in which the officer has not only to be on duty from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m., but is also required to work on Sundays. These men have to be expert telegraphists, they have to issue and pay money-orders, and generally to transact the whole business of the particular office in which they are employed. At the very least, they ought to receive the minimum wage of £110 per annum, instead of which a large number of them receive only £78 per annum in cash, with free quarters. These free quarters are an imposition, pure and simple. The Commonwealth rents a building from some private individual for which it pays a rental of perhaps 15s. or 20s. per week; and then charges die postmaster rent for occupying a portion of it. I say that it is to the public advantage that the officer should reside in the building ; and, consequently, he should not be charged rental for it. These officers should be paid at least £110 per annum, which we have declared shall be the minimum wage.

Senator Findley - No matter what may be the volume of business?

Senator STEWART - What has that to do with the question? I am sure that the Honorary Minister, as an old Labour agitator, has always claimed that if a man's time is at the beck and call of his employer, he ought to be paid for it. At any rate, I have always claimed that. There is no difference between the attitude which I take up now and that which I assumed when I was not a member of Parliament. I said then that if a man's employer kept him from 6 o'clock in the morning until 6 o'clock in the evening doing nothing, he was entitled to his wages just as if he had been working the whole day. That is the practice which is recognised in quite a number of employments. For example, wharf-labourers are paid waiting time. The officers in charge of these semi-official post-offices are employed from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. They would not be allowed to engage in any other work. If they did so, . they would immediately lose their positions. Consequently, the Commonwealth is in duty bound to pay them a decent wage. Thirty shillings a week is not sufficient for a man occupying a responsible position - a man who is responsible for the due delivery of the correspondence of, probably, a very considerable population, and through whose hands perhaps hundreds of thousands of pounds pass annually.

Senator Chataway - The Commonwealth should pay a living wage, irrespective of whether the business transacted at the office pays?

Senator STEWART - Exactly. If the Commonwealth establishes a post-office at a certain place, puts a man in charge of it, and demands the whole of his time, it should pay him a living wage, namely, £1 10 per annum. But the principle which obtains in the Service is that the remuneration of these officers depends very largely upon the volume of business transacted by them. I say that that is a false basis. They ought to be paid for the time which they devote to the service of the Government. Thirty shillings per week is not a living wage. It would not be a living wage for any ordinary workmen, much less is it a suitable wage for persons who have to shoulder the responsibility which these officers have to shoulder.

Senator Fraser - And who have, perhaps, a large family to maintain.

Senator STEWART - That is not a matter of which we can take cognisance. We cannot pay a man with a big family more wages than we pay to a man with a. small family.

Senator O'Keefe - The man . with & large family ought to be paid a bonus upon every child.

Senator STEWART - That would be a most excellent thing.

Senator O'Keefe - Would the honorable senator agree to such a proposal?

Senator STEWART - Most certainly.

Senator Pearce - And we should tax the bachelors to make up the bonus.

Senator STEWART - A most excellent idea. /Senator Walker. - If a man who has fourteen children came to the honorable senator for employment, and another man who had no children also sought employment from him, would he give a preference to the former?

Senator STEWART - The man with fourteen children deserves some recognition at the hands of the community. But we are not discussing that question now. I ask honorable senators to stick to the text which we have before us, namely, the desirableness of effecting some improvement in the conditions of those unfortunate persons who are in charge of semi-official post-offices throughout the Commonwealth. I hope that the Government will give this matter their early and favourable consideration.

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