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Thursday, 15 November 1973

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesLeader of the Government in the Senate) - The Government opposes the motion moved by Senator Wright. The proposition is that the arrangements arrived at to deal with the salaries of senior public servants by way of the procedures set up under law should be departed from now in a special way. The honourable senator is entitled to move his motion. The procedure is there. But disapproval would have the consequence, in effect, of a disallowance of the increases which were granted pursuant to law to administrative and clerical officers in high positions in the Public Service. If one looks at the situation in general there may be support for the view, which Senator Wright puts forward, that the increases are not justifiable. There may be opposition to the view which he puts forward, but the Government takes the view that there is a system. Under that system there is conciliation, consultation and the arbitral processes. We are familiar with those processes which affect the ordinary citizen in the Public Service. There are similar procedures, similar practices of consultation and conciliation and tribunals to deal with the determinations or, where it becomes necessary, arbitration.

It is true that this was a consent matter. The Public Service Board and the staff organisations reached agreement. The application was filed with the Arbitrator under the Public Service Arbitration Act. The determination was issued. I understand that the cost is $56m in a full year. The Board has responsibility under the Public Service Act as a primary wage fixing authority. It deals with applications such as this every day. Dozens or perhaps hundreds of these applications flow through the office of the Board. The Board is charged with a very high responsibility and the Government has to assume that that responsibility is being discharged bona fide in the proper exercise of the powers of the Board, with due regard to the rights of persons affected by the exercise of these powers. Those affected include the staff officers concerned and the general public which has to pay to provide the revenue to meet these increases.

The policies of the Board are worked out and applied consistently by the Board. I do not think it is contended by the honourable senator that there has been any departure from the policies of the Board on this occasion. What has been done is a matter of policy, comparable to what would be done outside the Public Service. The Board found that other public and private employers had moved their pay scales for these groups in a way similar to what has been done since the last fixation and as was done in this determination. In the Board 's judgment increases of 1 6 per cent for the Second Division and 12 per cent for the Third Division clerical and administrative group were warranted. The determination reflects the viewpoint of the Board. I say to the Senate that we ought not to interfere with what is being done. It is no secret at all that probably some members of the Government felt exactly the same as Senator Wright now feels about the matter.

Senator McManus - The Minister for Labour.

Senator MURPHY - There has been a great deal of publicity about the matter. I think it is true that the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) spoke quite strongly and persuasively and with a considerable amount of fervour on this matter.

Senator McManus - He was probably right, too.

Senator MURPHY - Senator McManussays that he is probably right. However that may be, whether right or wrong, the fact is that we have entrusted these matters to a wage fixing authority. The law is the law which was laid down in these matters by the previous Government. The Public Service Board which is responsible for these matters is largely composed of public servants who were engaged by the previous Government. I think that there has been some slight change in the Board but, by and large, it is the Board which was set up by law to do these things.

Senator Durack - Does the honourable senator think that it is a satisfactory system when, in a sense, they are fixing their own salaries as well, are they not?

Senator MURPHY - If the system is not satisfactory, let us change it. But it has operated in this particular instance. The determination has been made. Where will the Senate be if it interferes in this way? I do not say that the Senate has not the power. Senator Wright is quite entitled to invoke it. But the determination has been operative for some time. This is not really the way to deal with it. I do not think it is a satisfactory set-up where these matters can be dealt with in this way. Perhaps it is necessary that each House of Parliament have the ultimate power and retain the ultimate power, in effect, to disallow. I am reminded that the salaries of the members of the Board- that is their own personal salariesare fixed by Parliament and not by themselves. Their salaries do not vary in some ratio to the salaries of those staff members which are determined by the Board.

Senator Wright - We have not fully effectuated that principle since we adopted the procedure of fixing them. That is to say, we have not exercised our full responsibility iri the fixation of the upper salaries so as to keep the lower ones down.

Senator Gair - Senator Murphywill recall that he opposed the increase in the salaries of statutory officers. We supported him.

Senator MURPHY -Senator Wright says that we have not fully carried out our control over the higher salaries. He says that we should do that in order to keep the other salaries down.

Senator Wright - Do not misunderstand me.

Senator MURPHY -I would not like to misunderstand the honourable senator because what he has said will be very unpalatable to most members of the Public Service and, I think, probably to members of the public. It may be the honourable senator's purpose, but it is not my purpose, to see that the salaries of the lower paid members of the Public Service are kept down. I think that there might be a lot more to be gained if there were to be more equity and less gaps. But the honourable senator may not have intended that. Of course he will have the opportunity to clarify his statement if, in some way, I have misunderstood him or if his thought has not been sufficiently expressed. I will not pursue that. He can explain what he means himself. Senator Gair said that we had opposed the increased salaries for statutory officers. If I recall properly, in the Senate we deferred the fixation or the increase in the salaries of the statutory officers until such time as there had been a review taking into account the proper relationship between the salaries of the judiciary, Parliament, the Ministry, statutory officers and permanent heads.

Whatever arguments there are against the systemand there may well be cogent arguments about its operation in some areas- we have the system. Let us not interfere with its operation in this particular instance. If the honourable senator wishes to have a review of the wage or salary fixing mechanism, let that be attended to. We hardly have a right to interfere with a particular instance of fixation by the authority concerned, expecially where it has been arrived at by a process of conciliation and agreement between the parties. I therefore ask the Senate to reject the motion moved by Senator Wright.

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