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Thursday, 30 April 1942

Senator BRAND (Victoria) .- In connexion with the Government's uniform taxation proposals, I desire to bring to notice the possible effect on Victorian State public servants. They are much concerned as to what will happen when the only revenue available to the State Treasurer is a fixed grant from the Commonwealth Government. It is a certainty that, deprived of his power to tax the general public, he will, to balance his budget, levy a special tax on State employees. At present there is no independent tribunal governing their salaries or wages and conditions of employment. The Treasurer is the sole arbiter in such matters. The National Security (Economic Organization) Regulations prevent a direct reduction of present rates of salary, but this levy can be effectively imposed by other means.

Unlike the salaries of almost every other group of employees in the Commonwealth, the salaries of Victorian public servants do not automatically rise with the fluctuations of the cost of living. Further rises of the cost of living are inevitable. The wages and salaries of all other employees will keep pace with the rise, whereas the public servants in Victoria will find the purchasing power of their salaries and wages steadily shrinking. No one but a super-optimist would suggest that they had the slightest chance of prising a cost of living increase out of a State Treasurer situated as he will be under the uniform taxation scheme. He may find himself unavoidably committed to certain expenditure not covered by the Commonwealth grant. To " raise the wind " he will turn to the public servants, who will be made the " chopping block " every time he is short of funds. To ensure that they shall not be so affected or attacked I suggest that the Government, either by a National Security regulation or by the proposed uniform taxation legislation, gives Victorian public servants access to an appropriate tribunal or to the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator. Their salaries will then be regulated automatically by the fluctuating cost of living. There may be constitutional difficulties in the Commonwealth Government legislating for State officials, but these are abnormal times. Taking from the States the right to levy taxation is an abnormal procedure, so why not take the action I suggest when such procedure is likely to prejudice the well-being of a large section of the community. I consider that this is a fair request, especially as many public servants have given a lifetime's loyal service to the Crown.

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