Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 13 October 1921

Senator FOSTER (Tasmania) . - I have some correspondence which was handed to the president of the Returned Sailors and .Soldiers Imperial League (Captain Dyett) relative to the employment of returned soldiers in the Federal Public Service, particularly in the Taxation Department. Exception has been taken, I understand", by the returned soldiers' section of the Public Service to tho seventh annual report of the Federal Commissioner of Taxation, and more particularly to the last paragraph of that report, at page 7. The Federal Commissioner of Taxation, dealing with the employment of returned soldiers in the Department, made the following statement : -

The employment of returned soldiers who were formerly officers of the Department has not been an unqualified success. Many were employed temporarily to meet emergencies of work, but they could not be dispensed with upon the termination of the work until the general policy of the Government regarding employment of returned soldiers had been settled. Host of these men have not had the necessary education or experience to enable them to apply their minds to the technical problems connected with taxation, and if the Department is to render efficient service to the community they must give way to persons better qualified for the work.

That section of the report deals with the employment of the soldiers who were formerly officers of the Department.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not read it in that way.

Senator Senior - I think there has been an omission of one word from that paragraph.

Senator FOSTER - I have read it as it was handed to me. I understand that some of these men were employed by the Taxation Department; but probably not in that particular section of it where technical problems are dealt with. The men who go into the returned soldiers' section have to pass a certain qualifying examination for admittance into the Taxation Department of the Public Service. T take it that this particular paragraph, so far as the Taxation Commissioner is concerned, deals particularly with those who have not had, as he says, the necessary education or experience to enable them to apply their minds to the technical problems connected with taxation. That would lead me to suppose that it is in the' highest branches of the Taxation Department that returned soldiers feel themselves particularly penalized in applying for, or endeavouring to achieve, promotion. In pursuance of the communication from the Department, the following application was made to the Deputy Federal Commissioner of Taxation, at the Central Office: -

In accordance with staff direction No. 43, application is hereby made for permission to hold a meeting of returned soldiers attached to the central staff, at Anzac House, at 4.40 p.m. this day, 30th June. The subject for discussion is the Commissioner's Seventh Annal Report, in so far as it relates to the employment of returned soldiers.

The object of the meeting is to forward a report to CaptainG. J. C. Dyett, President of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League, as requested in a letter from him dated the 27th instant, copy of which is annexed.

There was a verbal reply given to the application. It was conveyed by the Chief Clerk, and was to the effect that the

DeputyCommissioner would neither refuse nor grant permission. Consequently the returned soldiers concerned assembled in meeting at Anzac House, and, conr sistent with the League's policy of following constitutional methods, decided not to discuss the report, owing to the disability imposed upon them by the Deputy Commissioner's non-committal reply. That disability was subsequently removed, and they were given permission. The Commissioner's report, and particularly that part of it which I have read, was fully discussed. It was resolved that the matter should be put before the League, and, later, before Parliament, in the hope that an inquiry would be held as to whether the returned soldiers were getting the fair deal that they claimed they ought to receive. As I understand the position, these men say that, in the first place, the dictum of Parliament, and the policy of the Government, was that no man should be penalized because of his having served abroad. They allege that if a man who ought to have gone abroad stayed in the Department, and thus for five years had the opportunity to acquire the necessary qualifications in the technical branches of the Department, he had an advantage over the man who went away. Both were expected to compete on the same level. The men submitted a request to the Department - I do not know whether the Minister for Repatriation (Senator E. D. Millen) actually received it - that the Government, in view of the fact that it was spending money in the education of returned soldiers, technically and otherwise, should devote a certain sum of money to engaging teachers and providing classes in which the men who were prepared to study and to. do the work might acquire the necessary qualifications.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Do yon mean night study?

Senator FOSTER -Yes.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is available to every soldier.

Senator FOSTER - I will say something in regard to that shortly. The returned soldiers state that the men who did not enlist, who had the opportunity and the advantage of practical administrative experience, and who studied and obtained technical qualifications, are appointed to the highest positions. They consider that the Commissioner, in his report, evidences a lack of sympathetic consideration of the difficulties confronting returned soldiers in their reestablishment in civil life, and they cite evidence to show that at no time has he conceded to returned soldiers facilities necessary to enable them to compete fairly with non-returned soldiers. In March, 1919, before the large majority of the A.I.F. ยป!had returned to Australia the matter was brou'ght under the notice of the Commissioner. It was admitted that it would be fallacious, merely because of service in the A.I.F., to appoint returned soldiers to positions, the duties of which they could not efficiently perform, but it was claimed that some concession should be granted until such time as returned soldiers could reasonably be expected to undertake the duties for which they would be temporarily inefficient only because of absence on active service.- As far as that claim by the men is concerned, I think it is very fair. To meet this transient contingency, it was suggested that the Commissioner should initiate a scheme based on a comprehensive review of the Department's functions, and which would include an intensive instructional course, continuous for a period prescribed, according to the requirements of each returned soldier, and of the position to which he might be appointed. * It was further represented that as the Government had made, in the Repatriation- Act and regulations, provisions which were tantamount to paying private employers to train returned soldiers, it would be equally willing, if the position were brought under notice by the Commissioner, to make provision during the repatriation period for a staff to give the necessary instruction to its employees during the usual hours, as obtained in civilian employment. That, of course, was not for night study, as the Minister suggested. The Commissioner took no action in connexion with this suggestion.. Returned soldiers say they were required to commence the duties of their respective positions without any system and co-ordination in training, in a manner devoid of the essentials to ultimate efficiency, and under conditions which must perpetuate to non-returned soldiers the undoubted advantage of experience gained during the absence of others on active service. Following upon this, the Commissioner, at the unveiling of the Central Office honour board, stated, inter alia, "Returned soldiers must remember that they have been given their start, that they are now in ' competition with other men, and the best man must go up." Returned soldiers say that, provided reasonable facilities are given to them to bridge the period of active service, no objection can be taken to this policy. They allege, however, that no reasonable facilities have been granted. Further, they say that at a conference of senior officers, at which -views fairly representative of returned soldiers were not presented, it was determined to increase the efficiency and general knowledge of the staff by instituting a series of voluntarily-attended classes after the usual office hours, the classes to be open to returned soldiers and non-returned soldiers alike. This scheme, and the Deputy Commissioner's minute on an individual representation to him, showed that the Department had decided that the returned soldiers should be given only the same facilities as were available to non-returned soldiers. At this stage it was proposed to hold competitive efficiency tests, but in view of the inequitable conditions imposed, returned soldiers decided not to ait for such tests. Subsequently the tests and the classes were abandoned. The above-mentioned classes were to be held after office hours in the months of July to December, and to be discontinued from January to June, which is the busy period of the Department, when overtime work is introduced. Returned soldiers are not exempted from overtime whilst engaged in studies essential to their reestablishment, and, consequently, some of them have been unable satisfactorily to present themselves for recent technical examinations. To non-returned soldiers, who have obtained taxation experience and technical qualifications without interruption by active service, these encroachments upon their private time are not of much moment, but they penalize the returned soldiers, delay their technical studies to increase their efficiency. and thus prejudice their prospects for future advancement. The returned soldiers then complained that, they were required, at their own expense, to -go to a medical officer to get an exemption from working overtime, and that only when an exemption was granted did the Department pay the fee. They say that, seeing that they have not been given the ' opportunity of getting the necessary technical education, they have been penalized. The Commissioner has now laid it down that, having been given their opportunity - and 'they deny that they have had the opportunity - they must compete with others, and that the best mau must go up. I have always agreed that efficiency must be obtained, and that if one man who has not been away from Australia is, in the matter of technical knowledge, head and shoulders over a man who has been away, the best man must be appointed.; but the returned soldiers in the Public Service should be given an opportunity, even if it means conceding what they ask, for an intensive course of instruction in the technical" duties of their Department, so that they may at least have a chance of competing successfully with the men who did not go away. They go further, and say that they have every confidence that if an inquiry is instituted by the Minister for Repatriation or any one else with respect to their position in the Service they will be able to prove that they have not had a reasonable opportunity, and that if given that opportunity they will be in a position to compete with men who did not go to the Front. I have said on a number of occasions that I disagree with the policy of the Government in respect to preference to returned soldiers, if by that is meant preference " other things being equal." The Minister for Repatriation reminded me on one occasion that the Returned Sailors and Soldiers' Imperial League approved of that interpretation of the policy, with, I believe, a reservation giving the returned soldier an allowance of 10 per cent, inefficiency. This, however, is not a fair way in which to judge the returned soldiers, particularly in a Department of this character. Time is getting on, and I do not desire to be now repeating the things which, at one time, it was necessary to say in regard to the men who did not go to the Front. I will say, however, that every man in a Department such as that to which I refer, who could " have gone to the Front, ought to have done so. While others were fighting, these men were gaining greater efficiency and wider knowledge of the technical details and administrative work of the Department, and it is not fair that the soldiers should be asked on their return to compete with those men on level terms. This, instead of representing preference to the returned soldier, is really preference to the men who did not go to the .Front, whilst penalizing those who made sacrifices for the country. I leave the matter now with the statement that if an inquiry is made it will be f found that the returned soldiers are asking only for a fair thing..

Senator SENIOR(South Australia^ [12.54]. - We generally have to complain that the Senate is not given a reasonable opportunity to discuss Supply Bills. They come to us at a time when we are told that the money is urgently required, for the payment of the Public Service, and -the practice followed is scarcely courteous to the Senate or just to honorable senators. I do not 'know where the evil lies, for evil it ' certainly is ; but it does' appear as if the practice were followed of set purpose, suggesting that as the Senate has not the right to initiate money Bills it should not have the right to discuss them. It might be said that there ia not much ground for objection in the case of a Supply Bill for only one month, but I have noticed that in the discussion of previous Bills of this character advantage has frequently been taken of the fact that the Senate has already agreed to payments on a basis similar, to that of those proposed in the measure under consideration. We are placed in a peculiar position. We must vote Supply, and we have not .sufficient time in which to discuss the, measure, and yet later on, in dealing with a Supply Bill for a longer term, we may be met with the argument that we have already voted Supplies on a similar basis. I enter my protest against the practice adopted, and express the opinion that greater interest should be taken in and more time given to the discussion of money Bills in the Senate.

Something has been said with respect to the suggested amendment of the Constitution. Senator Thomas has said that" he has no sympathy with the proposed Convention. Everything depends on whe:ther or not it is the intention to put tha

Constitution into the melting-pot, and permit the Convention to consider its amendment at their own sweet will. I do not believe that the Convention should deal with the. whole of the Constitution. We have not resumed normal conditions, and it would not be wise for us to-day to undertake the complete remodelling of the Constitution. Senator Thomas expressed himself in favour of granting more powers to the Commonwealth than it already possesses.I am not by any means a Unificationist, but I think that our experience has proved that, in respect to many important matters, whilst specific powers should be given to the Commonwealth, unspecified powers should be left with the States. With me it is almost a basic principle that, where certain functions can be best and most conveniently carried out by the State, they should be left to the Government, and not to private enterprise. A great deal of correspondence has passed regarding the constitution of the proposed Convention, and the method of convening it. Some comical suggestions have been offered in this connexion, and if some of them were adopted it is very likely that the recommendations of the Convention would be repudiated by this Parliament and by the people.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.30 p.m.

Suggest corrections