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Tuesday, 6 December 1927

Senator LYNCH (Western Australia) . - We cannot discuss the salaries of the parliamentary officers perhaps as freely as we otherwise would for the simple reason that some of them are present. We are, however, the final arbiters in the matter of the salaries they are to be paid. We see in the schedule of expenditure that a heavier drain is to be made upon the people who have to pay the taxes than tins ever been the case in the history of this country. Taxation is. mounting up to such an extent that it must really puzzle the brains and ingenuity of those who take an interest in the matter of how and when the brake is to be applied or whether ve are ever going to stop. Already I have pointed out during the course of a recent debate that our taxation is now about £9 3 2s. per head of population, whereas in Canada it is only about £6 per head. The present rate of taxation per head of the people marks about the highest point we have yet reached. We are here primarily to conserve the interests of the taxpayers ; but at the same time to give a fair deal to those whom they, employ. We are not here to treat them unfairly, unkindly, or even ungenerously. I am afraid that in this instance there is justification for the complaint lodged against the policy of raising the salaries of some of the principal officers, whilst those of others have not been increased. I remember on one occasion when the salaries of some officers of Parliament were increased, a serious difference of opinion arose between this chamber and another place. A conference had to be convened between managers representing both chambers in an endeavour to solve the serious difficulty which had then arisen. The cause of the difference of opinion on that occasion was that the salary of the Clerk of the House of Representatives was increased without the consent of this chamber or its presiding officer. It was immediately seen .that by so doing an anomaly was created, and, as I have said, the matter was discussed at the conference. The representatives of another place pointed out that th.-j officer concerned in this chamber was junior to the Clerk of the House of Representatives, and was not, therefore, entitled to be placed on the same plane as that considered to be proper for the senior officer in another place. The position has been reversed this year, as a junior officer in another place is to receive as much as an officer in this chamber who is his senior.

Senator Sir John Newlands -- -At the time the Estimates were prepared the senior officer was Clerk of tlie other House.

Senator LYNCH - That destroys, the force of the argument I am using.

Senator Needham - But the junior officer appointed to this office will receive this salary.

Senator LYNCH - I was merely showing that what applied four or five years ago should also apply in this instance. I also wish to direct attention to thu piecemeal manner in which salaries si-e increased, which provokes dissatisfaction, and a rankling feeling in the breasts of those who wish to see uniformity. If it is possible we should grant increases all round by a general review of the salaries of the whole parliamentary staff. In the present circumstances I fail to sen why there should be a piece-meal review instead of the more satisfactory one of a general review. Mention has been made, and I think justifiably so, of the position of dependents of persons who, for the time being, were the arbiters in cases of this kind. If we refer to the Estimates we find that the dependants of two prominent men are being granted compassionate allowances. Their names are well known. The dependant of one who occupied a seat in this chamber in a ministerial capacity, is now receiving assistance from the Government. An allowance is also being paid to the dependants of a veteran gentleman who was a member of Parliament for long years, and was one of the fathers of federation. Apparently these men did not 10,ave sufficient to support their dependants. That phase of the subject has to be considered. The feature of the case that appeals to me least is that if Parliament grants allowances in such cases it cannot reasonably withhold increases in salaries to others. We cannot make, fish of one and flesh of another. But departmental expenditure is increasing and special appropriations are being made, and we must face the question and ask when this practice is likely to cease. I think the hour has long since arrived when a halt should be called, otherwise we shall keep on increasing the cost of government to such an extent that those who sent us here as their representatives will be calling upon us to account for our actions. I believe it is true that many of the officers of the Senate have not had increases in salaries commensurate with the importance of their work or in anything like the same ratio as we find in the two cases mentioned by another honorable senator. If that is so there is every reason why there should be a general overhaul of the remuneration paid to members of the whole parliamentary staff, instead of increases being made in a perfunctory fashion. I know that we cannot retrace our steps very well, and that Mr. President and Mr. Speaker jointly may possibly have some good reason for their actions. Possibly we shall find that these two officers could earn as much money outside; but that may or may not be so. At all events I am of the opinion that the tendency of the time is to underrate the capacity of capable public officers, which results in their services being permanently lost to the Commonwealth. It is, however, to be regretted that a more thorough overhaul has not been made in the case of the parliamentary staff, in order to ascertain if a. general increase is warranted. In my opinion it is not warranted in the present circumstances. If it is it should be considered in a proper way, and not in the haphazard fashion adopted in this instance.

Sitting suspended from 6.14 to S p.m.

Senator Sir JOHNNEWLANDS (South Australia) [8.0]. - Before the committee adjourned for dinner, certain . criticisms were levelled at Mr. Speaker and myself in relation to the salaries that are provided on the Estimates for the officers and staff of Parliament. I wish to assure honorable senators that I find no fault with that criticism, but that, on the contrary, I regard it as fair and proper. Those who are responsible for the preparation of these Estimates must have regard to the salaries that are paid for somewhat similar work in other departments, and by the Public Service Board, and in the light of those facts, decide what increases can reasonably and fairly be given.

At the outset, I wish to refer to a suggestion that was made by Senator Duncan. I took strong exception to it at the time, and I do so now. The honorable senator inferred that the salary of the Clerk of the Senate had been increased unduly because he had the ear of the President. I resent that imputation. Personal contact with an officer has not the slightest influence upon my judgment as to the salary he should receive. I hope and believe that honorable senators know me sufficiently well to give me credit for that.

I point out to honorable senators that the Estimates for the Senate are identical with those of another place, in which they were agreed to without comment.

Senator Reid - Honorable members of another place did not have a chance to discuss them fully, because theywere "gagged " through.

Senator Sir JOHN NEWLANDS - I do not, on that account advise a similar course in this chamber. I take no exception to criticism so long as it is not unfair.

I hope, Mr. Chairman, that you will allow me to deal with the various items under their respective heads, as they are bound up one with the other. The salary of the Clerk of the Senate has been increased in sympathy with that of the Clerk of the House of Representatives; and to such an extent as to bring both somewhat into conformity with those paid to the heads of departments in the Public Service. I feel that heads of outside departments have been receiving such considerable increases that they are getting' far ahead of the officers of this Parliament. I have always been under the impression that the officers of Parliament are deserving of salaries commensurate with those which are paid to officers who occupy similar positions in other departments. We are well aware of the responsible nature of the duties our officers perform. That view - it may be a wrong one - was held by Mr. Speaker and myself when Ave reviewed Avith care and thoroughness the salaries of the members of the staff.

It has been said that the cost of Parliament has increased tremendously. Of course it has! That is due, not so much to higher salaries, as to the fact that the Seat of Government is now at Canberra, and the staff, which is necessary to keep this building in order is considerably greater than that which Avas required in Melbourne. There is also the further fact that in Melbournewe could engage men and dispense Avith their services as it suited our convenience, Avhile here the employment is practically permanent. There is a large number of temporary employees, but they have to be in attendance every day, and their salaries amount to a considerable sum.

I shall now give some figures to indicate to honorable senators the directions in which costs have increased. The Estimate for the Senate Avas £10,703 in 1926-27, and for this financial year it is £11,820. This includes provision for payment of the Canberra alloAvance, amounting to £718. The Estimates for the House of Representatives Avas £16,792 in 1926-27, and Is £17,920 for this financial year. In its case the Canberra allowance amounts to £950. The figures for the Hansard staff are £12,702 in 1926-27, and £13,140 in 1927-28 inclusive of the Canberra allowance of £750. It is not necessary that I should give the figures for the Library, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, or the Joint House Department, all of which come under the Estimates for the Parliament. It will be sufficient if I say that there has been a total increase of £16,503 -from £68,657 to £85,160. That is inclusive of the Canberra allowance, which is shared by every member of the staff, and which amounts in the aggregate to £4,817. I had intended setting out the increases that have been given to thevarious heads of departments, but as it has been done by other honorable senators I shall not traverse that ground. I repeat that I am anxious to see that the status of officers of Parliament is not reduced beneath that of outside officers. The salary of the Clerk of the Senate has increased since 1915 by 25 per cent., that of the Clerk Assistant by 10.3 per cent., that of the Usher of the Black Rod by 13.3 per cent., and that of the Principal Parliamentary Reporter by 40.2 per cent.

On the other hand the increase in the case of the messengers, Avho are supposed to have been overlooked, ranges from 26.8 per cent. to 50.6 per cent. It will be seen, therefore, that the percentage increase in their case has been very much greater than in the case of the highly salaried officers. All these figures Avere before Mr. Speaker and myselfwhen we made a review of salaries. We then decided upon increases that in our judgment were fair. Our judgment may have beenbad; apparently some honorable senators believe that it is. It may be Avithin the recollection of honorable senators that at one time there Avas a proposal that the financial year should end on a different date from thatwhich at present rules. It was, therefore, necessary to prepare portion of. these Estimates in Melbourne. That proposal was abandoned, and the balance of the Estimates was prepared in Canberra. When we undertook this work we had no knowledge regarding the price of peas in Canberra, about which Senator Findley seems so much concerned. When the next Estimates are being framed some allowance may be made on that score! I think honorable senators will agree that as sensible, careful men we did the very best we could in the circumstances. A great deal has been said regarding the salaries that are being received by the lower-paid- men. I say that very substantial increases have been given to those men. Their case was duly, weighed, and they were given what we considered were fair increases. If it bas since been found that the cost of living in Canberra is greater than even honorable senators anticipated, the position may be rectified at another time. I make no promise. I merely say that when the next Estimates are being prepared we shall know very much more about the conditions here than we did an the last occasion. It is contended that the Hansard, staff has not received an adequate increase.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Plain).The honorable senator's time has expired.

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE (Western Australia - Vice-President of the Executive Council) [8.15]. - As the Parliamentary Estimates are absolutely within the control of the President and Mr. Speaker, any remarks I have to make at this stage I make as a member of the Senate> and not as a member of the Government. . I feel that, as a member of the Senate, I have a right to express my views on the matter now under discussion. When submitting their Estimates, the President and Mr. Speaker must accept the responsibility for any alterations they may make, but I want to draw attention to one remark made by Senator Newlands, because it may be thought that the President and Mr. Speaker were quite right in putting forward as a reason for increasing the salary of the Clerk of the Senate the fact that the Clerk in either House occupies a position equiva lent to that of the head of an outside department of the Public Service. That reason, will not bear examination. It is true that under the. Public Service Act, for the purposes of administration and that kind of thing, the Clerk of either House, is the equivalent of the head of a public department, but the analogy can be pushed a little too far. How can we justify the _ Clerk of the Senate receiving £50 a year more than is received by the Secretary to the Home and Territories Department? Of course, it may be replied that the fault is due to the failure of the Government of the day to see that the Secretary to the Home and Territories Department is paid an adequate salary; but I should imagine that when the President was fixing salaries he paid some regard to the salaries already being paid in the Public Service. In. fixing salaries of heads of departments, the Government has to take into account the number of officers in a department and the responsibility that rests on the head of that department. Excluding the mandated territories, Papua, the Northern Territory and Norfolk Island, and such subdepartments as electoral, census, and meteorological, and confining our comparison to the administrative staff of the Department of Home and Territories, we find that it comprises 54 officers, compared with the sixteen officers who comprise the staff of the Senate. If, for the sake of argument, we say that the Clerk of the Senate has also to control the staff of th, Joint House Committee, the total number of officers controlled by -him does not exceed 71, even including the Library staff; whereas', still for the sake of comparison, if we include the electoral, census and meteorological sub-departments among those which are under the control of the Secretary to the Department of Home Affairs, we find that that officer has 395 officers under him. Surely it cannot be said that an officer who controls a staff of 71 is justified in getting £50 a year more than one who is in charge of 395 officers. I suggest' that Senator Newlands is not on safe ground in using the analogy he has drawn as justification for the salary he has provided for the Clerk of the Senate. There is, however, another striking difference between the head of a public department and theClerk of either House of Parliament. The head of a public department has a certain amount of authority, but the fixing of salaries for all officers other than the heads of the department is the task of the Public Service Board. In regard to the parliamentary staff, the President and Mr. Speaker act as the Public Service Board and fix salaries. But it is obvious that in doing so they must be guided by the advice given by the heads of the parliamentary departments. It may be said, therefore, that the Clerk of either House occupies not only the position of head of a department, but also in respect to promotions and the fixing of salaries, a position which is equivalent to that of the Public Service Board. That may be advanced as an Argument to justify the difference between the salaries of the Clerk in either House and that paid to the Secretary to the Home and Territories Department. But I rose mainly to speak upon another matter. The theory underlying the principle we have hitherto adopted is thatParliament should have control of its own staff. But the remarks that have been made during this discussion seem to indicate that in the interests of Parliament itself it might be advisable if it followed the example of the Government and delegated certain of its responsibilities to the Public Service Board. If honorable senar tors seek to keep some parity between the salaries paid to officers of Parliament and those paid to officers outside Parliament in the public service generally, they could not do better than relegate these matters to the board which deals with all the departments. Apart from the salaries of the heads of departments all other salaries paid in the Commonwealth Public Service are fixed by the Public Service Board or by the Public Service Arbitrator.

Senator Foll - Then parliamentary positions would be open to all members of the Public Service and vice versa?

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.That is so. If that were done, in what way would Parliament's effective controlof its own staff be injured? It seems to me that it would not be injured in the slightest, any more than the effec tive control over the public service generally is injured by the fact that Parliament says, " We are not competent to go into all the intricacies of these questions, and we relegate them to the Public Service Board, reserving to ourselves the right at any time to abolish the board which we have created if we see fit to do so." I think it would be in the interests of Parliament, the President and Mr. Speaker if all matters, ' other than the fixing of the salaries of the Clerk in either House, were left to the Public Service Board, which would have to pay regard to salaries given to similar officers doing similar work in other departments. I shall support the President, but the debate has given rise to some doubt in my mind as to whetherthe system we have adopted is conducive to economy or good discipline, or, what is more important, to fair play as between one department of the Public Service and another. It seems to me that it is not fair play.

Senator Sir JOHNNEWLANDS (South Australia) [8.24]. - I did not wish to convey the impression that Mr. Speaker and I, in dealing with these Estimates, were influenced wholly by salaries paid to the heads of the departments outside. But when those salaries were laid before us, we could not help drawing a comparison between one officer's work and that of another. The salaries paid to certain heads of departments may have had some little influence on Mr. Speaker and myself, but we certainly did not base our final decision upon them. With regard to the suggestion that the Public Service Board should be asked to fix the salaries of officers of Parliament, I am sure it would be a great relief to Mr. Speaker and myself to get rid of the responsibility of fixing salaries which is almost an annual cause of complaint against us. But I foresee considerable difficulty in making such an arrangement. The suggestion has been discussed repeatedly. As a matter of fact, my predecessor, Senator Givens, was at one time inclined to : vdopt it; but after considering the matter well, he found that it waa not likely to work satisfactorily, as many difficulties were bound to erop up. When my timeexpired previously I was about to deal with the Hansard staff. TheEstimates for the current year provide an increase of £964 on last year's expenditure the actual figures being:- 1926-27, vote £12,702, expenditure £12,176 ; 1927-28, vote £12,140. Of the increase the special Canberra allowance accounts for £750, andpro vision for an additional day's pay on account of leap year, for £49. There is an increase of £360 for the permanent staff. The Principal Parliamentary Reporter's salary is raised from £1,000 to £1,100, the salary received by his predecessor, and that of the Second Reporter, from £S30 to £900. There are eleven reporters, whose salaries have ranged from £630, with annual increments to £730. It is now proposed that the range shall be from £650 to £750.

Senator Duncan - That is still £20 below the amount paid in New South Wales.

SenatorSirJOHNNEWLANDS. - The senior Ilansard reporters are paid £770 in. New South Wales, and £750 in Queensland. Similar increasesare proposed in the other parliamentary departments of those States. It appears that the CommonwealthHansard staff is not as well paid as are the Hansard staffs in New South Wales and Queensland, and that is a matter that possibly in years to come will be remedied in a way that may afford the Commonwealth parliamentary staff some slight satisfaction. But I do not know that I can particularize any further in the matter of these salaries, other than to say that the Estimates are revised from year to year. We are now dealing with Estimates which were prepared partly in Melbourne. The next revision will be made in Canberra, and with possibly a greater knowledge of the conditions here. I can make no promise, but something may be done in the directon that some honorable senators think ought to be done. The House staff has done herculean work in putting the Parliament House in Canberra in order. It has done work that reflects the greatest credit on the ability of those who have done it. The loyalty of the staff is unquestioned. No words are required from me to express the appreciation of honorable senators for the marvellous way in which the Hansard staff performs its duties. Mr. Speaker and I did not deal with these Estimates with the idea of giving undue preference to any officer in the Parliament. Our one desire was to treat all of them fairly, and I can assure honorable senators that if any mistakes have been made, it has not been because we desired to favour one officer as against another.

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