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Tuesday, 12 December 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - This clause embodies one of the crucial points of the Bill. I desire to know the definition of the word "employes.'' I quite appreciate the remarks of Senator Vardon as to the danger of clothing any Court with legislative powers, 6ut I intend to deal with that question upon the motion for the third reading of the Bill. The clause refers to " salaries, wages, rates of pay, or terms or conditions of service or employment of employes. " Now, the " terms or conditions of service or employment of employes " involve a very important point. Apart from salaries, wages, and rates of pay, which are comparatively simple matters to understand, " the conditions of service or employment of employes " should always be under the control of the Executive. Nobody ought to know that better than Ministers themselves. But I would ask what constitutes an "employe " under this Bill, which contains no definition of that term?

Senator Guthrie - Look at clause 3.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am aware that the term "employe" is defined under the Public Service Act. But there are two classes of employes in our Public Service:

There are those whose conditions of employment are regulated by the Public Service Act, and those whose conditions of service are absolutely controlled by Parliament, and whose salaries are secured by Statute.

Senator McGregor - We shall never have any trouble with them.

Senator ST LEDGER - I ask, "Are these employes to be removed absolutely outside the scope of the Bill?" If all employes are not to be considered employes under the Public Service Act, we shall have confusion right away, because the term is' not sufficiently denned in clause 3 of the Bill. That clause reads -

Employes in the Public Service of the Commonwealth, or any division, class, grade, or branch thereof, or in any calling, service, handicraft, occupation, or avocation in the Public Service of the Commonwealth, or any division, class, grade, or branch thereof, shall be deemed to be employes in an industry within the meaning of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904-11.

I repeat that there are employes whose conditions of service are regulated by Parliament, and whose salaries are a. charge upon the Consolidated Revenue. According to the interjection of Senator Guthrie, these officers will all come within the definition of the term "employes" contained in clause 3 of the Bill. In that case, to which Act will this special class of employes be subject ?

Senator McGregor - There will never be any trouble with those officers.

Senator ST LEDGER - From the opinion which has been expressed by the Vice-President of the Executive Council, I take it that those officers whose terms and conditions of service are defined by Statute and whose salaries are charged to the Consolidated Revenue will not be affected by this Bill.

Senator McGregor - No public servant will be affected by the measure unless he makes a complaint.

Senator ST LEDGER - I am glad that the Vice-President of the Executive Council has assured me that the Bill will not touch this class of officers. But if the Government are going to exempt them, why do they make this distinction, seeing that they are always talking about universal equality ? However, I have discharged my duty by drawing attention to the awful absurdity and inequality which are contained in the Bill.

Senator McGREGOR(South Australia - Vice-President of the Executive Council) gentleman like Senator St. Ledger gets off the chain. I do not know what he has been raving about.

Senator Millen - That is not his fault.

Senator McGREGOR - I do not say that it is. He has argued as if every employe' in our Public Service would come under this Bill, and would be dealt with by the Arbitration Court. I would point out to him that no officer will be dealt with by the President of that Court unless a section of the employes of the Commonwealth has a grievance.

Senator Vardon - The Vice-President of the Executive Council is wrong. If he will look at clause 9 he will see that the Court may exercise any of its powers on its own motion.

Senator McGREGOR - But only when trouble arises. For instance, if a difficulty occurred between the letter-carriers, the telegraphists, the letter-sorters, or even between the Judges themselves, and the Government

Senator Lynch - Or between the men engaged on the transcontinental railway.

Senator McGREGOR - Yes, or between the men engaged in the construction of the transcontinental railway ; and if no appeal were made to the Court for its settlement, the President of that tribunal could, if he thought it would be in the interests of the Commonwealth for him to do so, interfere on his own motion. But nothing of that kind can occur until a difficulty arises, and no public servant, so long as he has not a grievance, will seek to come before the Court. Consequently, the President of that tribunal can inflict no disability. Senator St. Ledger will recognise that our Judges, and the heads of Departments, whose salaries are fixed by Parliament, cannot have any grievance, because they, have only Parliament to deal- with, and they have accepted the decision of Parliament before being appointed to their present offices. But there are dozens of places in our Public Service where difficulties may arise, and the Bill 'is intended to meet those difficulties. Consequently, I do not think that Senator St. Ledger need be in the least alarmed. It is unnecessary for me to argue in favour of the retention of the clause at any greater length. Senator Vardon knows very well that, when the Public Service Act was passed, certain wages and conditions of employment were laid down ; and if, in dealing with the complaint of any particular section of the Public Service, the President of the Arbitration Court thinks that in making his award he should go beyond that Act, he will be quite justified in doing so. But to the extent to which his award does exceed the law, that award will be laid before Parliament, and either House will be at liberty to disagree with it. If both Houses are in consonance with his decision, it overrides the law ; and that will be an indication to Parliament that the sooner the law is amended the better.

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