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Thursday, 12 August 1926

Senator McHUGH (South Australia) . - I was very pleased at the nature of the remarks made by Mr. President. I knew that he would be sympathetic towards the underpaid workers connected with this Parliament. When he was in the ranks of the workers, he was always in tho forefront of any industrial movement for the improvement of his own and his fellow workers' conditions. I noticed that the four male office cleaners, including the service for Hansard department, receives a salary each of only £238 a year, so the minimum is not. as stated by Mr. President, £253, but £238 a year. Their pay is not in keeping with the dignity of this Parliament. These men have wives and families. I am sure no honorable senator would like to be obliged to support a wife and family on a wage of £238 a year.

Senator Payne - What about the child endowment ? Does it apply to those male office cleaners ?

Senator McHUGH - Suppose it does? If they have families of six or seven children it would not be very much assistance to them.

Senator Payne - It might mean another £50 a year.

Senator McHUGH - Well, £50 a year will not help very much in the bringing up of a large family. We should be prepared to pay a fair wage to all employees of the National Parliament. The minimum should be at least £300 a year. The wages paid by this Parliament, to some of its employees, at all events, compare unfavorably with wages paid by State Parliaments. The Commonwealth Parliament should set an example to other parliaments. There is no occasion to be parsimonious. Last year we had a surplus of £2,750,000. Why cannot some portion of it be devoted to an increase in the wages of our employees ? It would be impossible to find a better staff connected with any parliament in Australia than we have. Some of our employees are absolutely geniuses in their work. The attendants at the door, for example, have other duties than that of merely opening the door for honorable senators, or showing visitors into the galleries. They are experts in other matters. If an honorable senator is absent for any length of time, and desires to know what has transpired in his absence, the attendants are in a position to inform him. Or if they wish to be supplied with some informa- tion or certain papers, the attendant supplies them with the least possible delay. . I regret to know that some of the men who have been serving members in this Parliament for over twenty years, are receiving only £320 a year, with the prospect' of rising to £350 a year, if they remain here until they are about 70 years of age. That is not a very attractive outlook for men of their calibre. They have no union to look after their interests, so they have to dependupon their higher officers. I assume that whilst they are not satisfied they feel that, having spent so many years here, it is hardly worth while now to seek new avenues of employment. No man can keep a wife and family under Australian conditions on a salary of£235 a year. Some of our lower paid employees have to pay 30s. a week for house rent, so there is very little left after they make the usual provision for the ordinary household expenses. They are always expected to be well dressed, and, when required, to be able to remain on duty during protracted sittings. A couple of years ago, they were on duty on one occasion for 37 hours continuously, and the following day had to face another period of duty extending over 31 hours. These unfortunate men, who do their work well, cannot obtain a little rest during a long sitting, as honorable senators can, and it is a standing disgrace to the national Parliament of Australia that they should be expected to work for £235 a year. Instead of wasting £100,000 in meeting the cost of the referendum to be taken this month, the Government should increase the salaries of the lowerpaid parliamentary officers, who render such good service. I feel sure that, in some cases, their wages are so low that they are unable to provide fires in their homes in the winter. It is a disgrace to the Parliament, and I hope that Mr. President and Mr. Speaker will see that, in future, every man working in this building does not receive less than £300 a year.

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