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Tuesday, 6 December 1927


Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - One. or two matters to -which I intend to refer are mentioned in the third report of the Public Service Board, dated 22nd March, 1927. One paragraph reads as follows: -

In the last report of the board, reference was made to the difficulties arising from the lack of co-ordination between the functions of the Public Service Board and those of the Public Service Arbitrator in the determination of salaries, wages, and general conditions of employment. The provision embodied in the Public Service Act by Parliament for the classification of the service is being nullified to a large extent by the operation of a law dealing with public service arbitration. The position is unsatisfactory and disturbing, and a solution of the difficulties engendered by the present duality of authority must sooner or later be evolved if the public interest is to be conserved. Apart from this aspect of the question, the administration of arbitration awards, through the media of the board, and the public departments concerned, becomes increasingly difficult and costly.

This paragraph is strongly condemnatory of the principle of public service arbitration. It indicates that the Public Service Arbitration Act, and the awards made under it by the arbitrator, are, to a certain extent, handicapping the administration of the board. I question the correctness of that statement. I doubt also whether it is within the province of the board to criticize the act in this way. This is not the first time that the board has attacked our system of arbitration for the Public Service, and this is not the first time that attention has been directed to it in Parliament. Many years ago, when the Commonwealth public servants were in a kind of industrial no-man's land, they felt the need for an improvement in their working conditions, and in the remuneration paid to them; but, being public servants, they were not permitted to form themselves into trade unions. Parliament, recognizing that they needed protection in their employment, and not desiring to be itself an industrial tribunal, ultimately passed legislation under which an arbitrator was appointed for the Public Service. Various branches of the service then formed themselves into organizations for the purpose of approaching the arbitrator. The system has been in operation for some years. I regret very much this evidence of antagonism towards the arbitrator by the Public Service Board, because both the abitrator and the board can function efficiently within their respective spheres and render good service to the Commonwealth. On one occasion an attempt by the board to upset an award of the arbitrator was frustrated by this Parliament. I direct attention to the matter now so that we may ascertain whether or not the Government endorses the statement made in the report, or whether it will suggest to the board that similar views shall not be expressed in future. The Public Service Arbitrator should not be hampered in the discharge of his duties by comments of this nature. The board states further that a spirit of satisfaction has existed for many years throughout the various departments of the public service; that, in effect, the public servants are now a contented body. I see no evidence to support that view. The members of the board themselves may be contented, but their state of mind is not shared by public servants generally. Instead of so adjusting remuneration in the service as to ensure a living wage to those on the lower rungs, the board's object appears to. be to cut down salaries as much as possible. Such economy is false. On page 23 of its last report the board states that at the end of June last there were in the six States 4,602 temporary linemen and 1,221 permanent linemen. In 1924 an examination for linemen was held in Western Australia. Of the men who passed the examination 30 per cent, have not yet received permanent appointments. How can they be satisfied? I am informed, moreover, that the majority of those men have several years of continuous service to their credit. The conditions in Western Australia are probably repeated in the other States. In view of these facts I cannot understand the statement of the board that there is contentment and satisfaction throughout the service. The Leader of the Senate will probably reply that the number of temporary employees in the public service was greater in 1925-26 than in 1926-27. I suggest that he lay on the table of the Senate a return showing the number of temporary linemen employed each year for the last five years. If inquiries were made among these men I feel sure that evidence would be forthcoming of their dissatisfaction and discontent. The branch of the service to which I have referred is certainly not contented. There is no justification for the Government's action in retaining these men as temporary employees. I should like to refer to the question of temporary employment generally. The temporary employees in the public service, not only are without a sense of security, but they are also deprived of certain rights and privileges which are enjoyed by permanent officers. By keeping them on the temporary list the Government is securing cheap labour. Instead of treating its employees in this way the Commonwealth Government should set an example to other employers. These men are giving good service, even under present conditions, but I suggest that, if encouraged by permanent appointments, they would render still better service to the Government. The act under which the Public Service Board operates confers on it somewhat autocratic powers, which it does not hesitate to use. I have here a letter from the Amalgamated Postal Workers' Union of Australia, dealing with the question of temporary employment. It sets out that at the examination for linemen held in 1924, 150 candidates passed, of whom 30 per cent, are yet awaiting appointment to permanent positions in the public service. The letter goes on to say-

At the present time 35 successful examinees are employed as temporary linemen, and have been for periods varying from one to three years continuously. A perusal of the report discloses the fact that there were 20,760 permanent and 5,007 temporary employees. Exempted employees numbered 15,334. Temporary employees mean those employed for six months at a time, and have to be reengaged after being off for six months, whilst an exempt employee does not come under that category, but can be engaged continuously for many years. So it will readily be seen that the number of temporary employees does not fall far short of the total of permanent employees. The reason I quote the line section is I know they are eligible for appointment by virtue of passing the necessary examination. These persons I consider have established their right of appointment to the service, whilst I cannot say definitely what percentage of the remainder are eligible for appointment.

The Government, in consultation with the Public Service Board, should make a serious attempt to reduce the number of temporary employees to the minimum. The Government continues to treat them as temporary workers in order to get the benefit of their cheaper labour. I hope that some redress will be given to these men, so that by the time the board issues its next report, there will be some ground for the statement that there is contentment and satisfaction throughout the service. The report also deals with the transfer of officers from Melbourne to Canberra in the following terms -

The removal of the Seat of Government from Melbourne to the Federal Capital, Canberra, will, before the presentation of the board's next report, have become an accomplished fact, and during the first stage of the transfer a number of the departments will have changed their location, others following in due order. This change is bound to open up many problems of public service administration requiring much thought and judicious handling, while the difficulties engendered by the severance of many hundreds of public servants from their existing habits of life and environment will need to be met with sympathetic consideration and understanding. The board has no doubt that thespirit of loyalty and devotion to public service, which is characteristic of the Commonwealth departmental staffs, will be manifest during the transition, and that inevitable difficulties will be met by co-operative effort on the part of all concerned.

Every honorable senator will admit that the Government was confronted with a huge task when it undertook the removal of the Seat of Government from Melbourne to Canberra. I am sure that Ministers are endeavouring to treat their respective staffs at Canberra with consideration; but they will admit that the changed conditions act to the disadvantage of officers, and are the cause of more or less irritation. There is no doubt as to the loyalty of the staffs, but I question whether that consideration and understanding referred to by the Public Service Board in its report has been shown by those in authority. It is true that a monetary allowance has been granted to transferred officers, but surely no member of the Public Service Board will claim that that allowance is sufficient to compensate officers for the changed conditions and the increased cost of living at Canberra. It is significant that while nearly all the departments to be transferred to Canberra have been so transferred, the Public Service Board itself remains snugly ensconced in Melbourne, without personal experience of the many disadvantages suffered by the officers who have been transferred. Even if the whole of the Public Service Board and its staff could not immediately be transferred to Canberra, some of its personnel should be here, in which case the board would have a more intimate knowledge of the undoubted disadvantages under which public servants at Canberra are labouring. I mention this so that the Public Service Board will endeavour to treat the officers of the various staffs with the consideration which they stress in their report.


Senator Verran - What does the honorable senator suggest?


Senator NEEDHAM - Unfortunately, like Senator Verran, I am powerless in the matter, because this Parliament, under an act of Parliament, delegated its authority to the Public Service Board. I am simply in the position of a humble advocate appealing to the Government to note what the board says, and to give the public servants the consideration to which they are entitled. This question was raised in another place only a few days ago, when the Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) said that nothing more could be done for the public servants than had already been done. All that has been done is to give transferred officers an allowance which is supposed to cover the extra cost of living in the Territory as compared with the capital cities. I trust the Prime Minister will reconsider his decision, and that after consultation with the Public Service Board better treatment will be meted out to these officers.

In reply to a question I submitted, the Minister (Senator Pearce) laid upon the table of the Senate last week a return showing the cost for one year of the boards and commissions at present in operation, most of which have been appointed by the present Government. I found the staggering total of £548,630 as the cost of one year's operations of these boards and commissions. As has been mentioned over and over again, in this Parliament the present Government has a mania for appointing boards and commissions. If there is the slightest opportunity to place work on some other authority, this Government will do it.


Senator Ogden - The Government could not appoint these boards and commissions without the support of Parliament.


Senator NEEDHAM - I realize that that is so in some instances. On such occasions it receives the docile support of its majority, which includes Senator Ogden.


Senator Ogden - The honorable senator has not yet opposed the appointment of a committee.


Senator NEEDHAM - In many instances I have not had an opportnity todo. so. Honorable senators on this side- of the chamber opposed the appointment of the Development and Migration Commission.


Senator Findley - And also the Tariff Board.


Senator NEEDHAM - A number of these boards and commissions were appointed without consulting Parliament. I could mention many which have been appointed by the Executive. Many of these commissions have been appointed by the Government without the sanction of Parliament, and I have not known Senator Ogdenas a member of the Government's docile and overwhelming majority to raise any objection concerning the extraordinary expenses incurred. The National Insurance Commission, which was not appointed by this Parliament, has, according to the return tabled in the Senate, cost £2,548 during the current year.


Senator Ogden - And what of the royal commission on the moving picture industry?


Senator NEEDHAM -I am coming to that. The Industrial Commission which visited America was appointed not by this Parliament, but by the Government; and up to date has cost the country £5,66S. Senator Ogden was again one of the docile majority that approved of the appointment of that commission. He was one of the dumb driven cattle who supported the Government in the establishment of a Development and Migration Commission, to authorize the appointment of which a bill was submitted to Parliament. The members of the party to which I belong opposed its appointment by voice and by vote.


Senator Verran - Because the honorable senator's party was not likely to bc represented on it?


Senator NEEDHAM - The honorable senator was not a member of this chamber when the commission was appointed, and in this, as in many other instances, he is speaking of something of which he knows nothing. He is in entire ignorance of what I am speaking, and all he can do in industrial matters, is to play the part of a buffoon, and to denounce those who first placed him in Parliament. The Development and Migration Commission has cost the count ry for the year 1926-27 no less than £9,627; but the Australian and London organization of that commission's incidental expenses amounted to £99,483, or a total of considerably over £100,000 a year. So far there have been no results from its work. Doubtless its expenditure will be increased for the year 1927-28, and the same negative results will follow. There is also the Tariff Board, the appointment of which, as Senator Findley said, was opposed by honorable senators on. this side of the chamber. When Parliament was asked to authorize the appointment of that board the- Labour party strenuously opposed the proposal. Prior to the appointment of the board the Minister for Trade and Customs was responsbile to Parliament on all tariff matters. The money expended by that body has been an absolute waste; the board has done nothing to justify its existence. The North Australia Commission last year cost £5,657. Will Senator Ogden say that he opposed the appointment of that commission? Honorable senators associated with me said it would not do the work that was expected of it. Although it was ushered in with a great flourish of trumpets by the present Leader of the Government in the Senate it has done nothing to solve those problems in the north, which are awaiting solution, and which we were told would be immediately settled when the commission commenced its work.


Senator Foll - Did the honorable senator oppose the appointment of the North Australia Commission?


Senator NEEDHAM - A vote was not taken. So far as the commission has gone, it has done no useful work. I could also refer to the needless expenditure incurred by numerous other such bodies appointed by this Government, but tims does not permit me to do so. . It is sufficient to say that over £500,000 has been spent in one year on boards and commissions, which can only be regarded as reckless squandering of public money. Most of the work delegated to these commissions could have been done by the Government in its administrative capacity. Reverting again to the Development and Migration Commission, I may say that prior to Parliament being asked to appoint that body, it was agreed to establish a Department of Markets and Migration. We were told that the question of providing markets for our primary and secondary produce and bringing increased population to our shores would be adequately and comprehensively handled by that department. In view of that possibility Parliament agreed to the establishment of a new department ana Sir Victor Wilson, who was for a time the Minister in charge, was later followed by the present Minister for Markets and Migration (Mr. Paterson). No sooner had the department been established and the Minister had gathered a staff together, than the Development and Migration Commission was appointed. The first question it considered was the position of the mining industry, but instead of submitting some concrete recommendations, it delegated its authority to another committee, and so the work goes on.


Senator Sampson - Was it not a technical committee?


Senator NEEDHAM - No. When the commission was appointed we were told that its personnel would comprise experts possessingaknowledge of the various problems with which it was to deal, and that its members would simply have to open their mouths and all our problems would be solved. It has, however, worked out quite differently. I mention these matters so that the Minister in reply may attempt to justify the expenditure which is being incurred. If he does not reply to my criticism concerning the Development and Migration Commission and the other points I have raised, I trust he will at least answer some of my inquiries concerning the discontent in the Public Service, owing to the vast number of temporary employees, many of whom have been unjustly treated. I trust he will indicate whether the Government, in conjunction with the Public Service Board, will take some step to ease the discontent that prevails as a result of the transfer of public servants from Melbourne to Canberra.







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