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Wednesday, 27 April 1921

Senator VARDON (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No doubt it is, but for the present I am dealing with the measure now before the Senate. If increases in salary are to be given annually, irrespective of the nature and quality of work performed, it cannot be expected that the Service as a whole will gain in efficiency. Again, heads of Departments may have to recommend that certain per.sons be no longer employed; and, generally speaking, it requires a strong man to make such a recommendation.

One- portion of the Bill in which I am particularly interested,, though perhaps honorable senators may not attach so much importance to it as I do, provides that telegraph messengers in the Postal Department, or persons employed as such, will cease to be employed when they reach the age of eighteen years unless transferred to some other Department. I know the position is difficult, but I would like the Minister to see if some provision cannot be made for the future profitable employment of these young men.

Senator Russell - We tried that some years ago, and got such a block of young men from eighteen to twenty-five years of age that we were unable to absorb them all.

Senator VARDON - I know the problem is a difficult one, but there is a big responsibility resting on the Government concerning the future of these young men.

Senator Russell - They have the opportunity of sitting for a qualifying examination, and,, if they pass, they become permanent employees. Only those who do not sit for the examination or fail to pass drop out.

Senator VARDON - I should like the Minister to consider if the difficulty cannot he got oyer in some way, because from the age of fifteen to eighteen years a boy is usually learning a trade or preparing for commercial life; and unless he has this opportunity he runs the risk of eventually being thrown into the ranks of the unemployable.

Senator Russell - They are encouraged by means of courses in study provided by the Institutes to prepare for any special branch of the Service, and, if. efficient, they are transferred. Only the inefficients go out.

Senator VARDON - If that is so, they are to blame, but it is a very great pity.

I wish now to refer to Division 12 of the Bill, which deals with the insurance of members of the Public Service. Under this measure all members of the Public Service have to be insured, and I am of opinion that the Government might very well undertake this insurance themselves. I do not advocate that the Commonwealth Government should enter upon the ordinary insurance business in competition with the various companies at present engaged in that business. The circumstances of the Public Service are, however, peculiar. We have a large body of officers in the Public Service who, we say, must be insured, and I feel that the Government could provide for their insurance themselves with advantage to the public servants and to the Commonwealth. Under the Bill the Government will in part be carrying out the insurance of these officers, because I notice that where an employee is unable to effect an insurance with an insurance company, or his life is loaded to the extent of more than five years, it is proposed that so much each year shall be taken from his salary or wages, the money invested at interest, and on his retirement the accumulated amount given to him, or, in the event of his death, to his relatives. The Government propose, therefore, by this Bill, to undertake part of this business of insuring public servants, and I believe it would be to the advantage of the public servants, and also of the Commonwealth, if the Government undertook the whole of this business.

In his speech on the second reading of the Bill, Senator Gardiner referred at some length to the question of preference to returned soldiers in the Public Service. I do not wish to speak at length on the subject, but to say that I am in total disagreement with the honorable senator, and feel that the Government should stick to their Bill in this regard. Where the qualifications of a civilian and a returned soldier applying for a position are equal, it is undoubtedly right that the returned soldier should secure the appointment; but, in my opinion, to omit all reference to qualifications would not be in the interests of Australia or in the interests of the returned soldiers themselves.

There is one other clause to which I should like to refer, and that is clause 88, upon which I comment because I consider it a very humane provision. We all know that when a man attains the age of sixty-five years he is not capable of doing the same amount of work as he did when he was fiftyyears of age. He may still, however, have several years of useful service in front of him, and provision is made in this Bill that under certain conditions an officer, having reached the retiring age, may remain in the Service for another five years if he is not entitled to a pension or to receive money from a superannuation fund. That is a humane provision which I am glad to see incorporated in the Bill.

I have dealt with the provisions of the measure to which I desired to refer. I intend to support the Bill because I believe that it will make for economy and efficiency in the Public Service.

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