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Tuesday, 6 December 1927

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Council) [5.8]. - I wish to reply briefly to some observations that were made by the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Needham). That honorable senator drew attention to certain remarks in the report of the Public Service Board in relation to the Public Service Arbitrator, and gave one the impression that, in his opinion, the board had no right to comment on such a subject. I point out that the Commonwealth Parliament appointed the Public Service Board with the deliberate intention that it should draw attention to anything which, in its opinion, militated against the efficiency of the Public Service. Therefore, if the board considers that the Public Service Arbitrator ought not to deal with questions with which it deals, it has a perfect right to direct the attention of Parliament to that fact.

The Leader of the Opposition also referred to the question of temporary employment in the Government service. He was quite right when he said that every temporary employee would like his employment to be made permanent. Would not the honorable senator prefer a life appointment in this Senate to election for a period of only six years? Of course he would ! We may be pardoned for failing to understand why, when the country has obtained the services of excellent senators, such as those who now hold' a seat in this chamber, it does not appoint them for life. It must be remembered that there are periods when it is necessary in the service to employ a fairly large number of men to carry out certain specific work. Take the Post Office, as an example. About three years ago the Government decided to embark upon a policy of active development, and to that end it has spent many millions. It is obvious that if every person who was employed upon such work was made a permanent public servant, there would need to be a policy of retrenchment when the time came - as it undoubtedly will - when that amount of money would not bc available for further development. The Leader of the Opposition would then be the first to complain about the injustice of discharging men who had been made permanent employees.

Senator Needham - The temporary employees out-number the permanent employees by four to one.

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - That is so, because much of the work is necessarily of a temporary character. They are not always the same men. Consider the work that is carried out by the Works and Railways Department. Can it be argued that every one of its employees should be placed on the permanent staff? For perhaps three or four months mon may be required for a particular job, and when that is completed, their employment ceases. The next big work may be undertaken in another State, and men who are available in that State are given employment. The honorable senator drew a peculiar inference when he said it looked as though this was a means of obtaining cheap labour in the departments.

Senator Needham - So it is.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.As a matter of fact, the wages, hours and conditions of these men are identical with those which they would enjoy if they were working outside the service. In some cases the payment is on a higher scale. Invariably their wages are determined by the Arbitration Court. There can be no question then of cheap labour.

The honorable senator made certain comments upon the appointment of boards and commissions, and singled out for special condemnation the Development and Migration Commission. The mere fact that the principal duty of that commission is to increase the flow of migrants to Australia, and provide for their absorption, is sufficient to condemn it in his eyes, because he is opposed to anything in the way of migration.

Senator Needham - I am not.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.On that account he cannot be expected to sympathize with the appointment of a commission that will stimulate the flow of migrants and arrange for their absorption. It is easy to. win a little cheap applause by condemning the proclivity (f the Government to appoint royal commissions; but he cannot name oneroyal commission that is, or has been, in existence for which there has not been a strong demand within Parliament.

Senator Duncan - One royal commission was appointed in conformity with a resolution that was moved by Senator Grant.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.There was a strong and a widespread demand in Parliament for an inquiry into the moving picture industry in Australia, and a commission was appointed for that purpose. The Government was also strongly urged by members of all shades of nolitical opinion to inquire into the question of social insurance. It cannot be argued that the financial responsibility of instituting social insurance should be undertaken without a full and thorough inquiry respecting the lines that should be followed and the limitations that should be observed. Who is more competent to conduct such an inquiry than members of Parliament, who have a knowledge of the limitations and the responsibilities of public administration ? In like manner, I could run over the whole gamut of the commissions that have been appointed. The honorable senator did not advance any reason against their appointment; he condemned them merely because they had been appointed.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee :

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 postponed.

First schedule agreed to.

Second schedule -

The Parliament.

Proposed vote, £85,160.

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