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Wednesday, 4 March 1970

Mr SPEAKER -I have received a letter from the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The unjust Commonwealth Government decisions and submissions on wage and salary rates, equal pay. and employment standards for Commonwealth employees.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places. (More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places)

Mr CLYDECAMERON (Hindmarsh) the matter of public importance that we propose for discussion so that it may be on the record. It is as follows:

The unjust Commonwealth Government decisions and submissions on wage and salary rates, equal pay, and employment standards for Commonwealth employees.

Also for the record I want to state that although this is a matter which vitally affects the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations, and the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations, the Leader of the House (Mr Snedden) has decided to refuse the Opposition the right to have more than one speaker on this most urgent and important matter. One of the most important matters facing this country today is the vast and tremendously, growing rate of dissatisfaction with the present industrial system, and here we have the Government refusing to allow more than one speaker from our side of the House to speak on this matter. The Government has decided that it will apply the gag as soon as I have finished and the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) has replied. It is all very well for the Minister to say later that we can raise these matters during the Address-in-Reply debate, but the difference between the Address-in-Reply debate and this debate is that in this debate the Minister has to reply. In the Address-in-Reply debate honourable members can protest as much as they like about matters that they think are wrong, but Ministers are free completely to ignore them. On the Opposition's industrial committee we have six members altogether - five besides myself - who wanted to speak on this matter. The honourable member for Burke (Mr Leonard Johnson), the honourable member for Swan (Mr Bennett), the honourable member for Darling (Mr Fitzpatrick), the honourable member for Sturt (Mr Foster) and the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) all indicated to me a desire to speak in this debate in order to support the proposal that I am now submitting.

Mr Speaker,I have not time to deal with all of the matters which ought to be dealt with in a discussion of this kind, but they include such questions as equal pay, the Commonwealth Government's refusal to grant 4 weeks annual leave to its employees and thereby bring them into line with State Government employees in New South Wales, its refusal to give proper consideration to salary ranges, and its refusal to deal with workers compensation expeditiously. We have the worst workers compensation legislation in Australia. The Commonwealth Government ought to be giving complete support to the International Labour Organisation's decision on equal pay, because the Government has full constitutional power to apply equal pay to its own employees if it so wishes. The Commonwealth Government has full authority to apply the 4 weeks annual leave provision which already operates in the Public Service of New South Wales, but it does nothing about it. Not only does the Commonwealth Government do nothing about it, but quite guiltily the Minister refuses to allow Parliament the right even to talk about it. Therefore I regret that in the time available to me I will have to deal with only one of the many matters that I would like to see debated in this Parliament at this time and in circumstances which would force the Government to answer them and not run away from the criticism that we will level against it.

I can deal with only one matter, the professional engineers' case, but it is a terribly important matter and it highlights and illustrates again the attitudes that we have come to expect from this Government. In July 1967 the professional engineers lodged a claim for a new award. Negotiations broke down when the Commonwealth Public Service Board refused point blank to negotiate. It said that it was not prepared to offer without prejudice interim increases because it wanted the matter to go to the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. In July 1969 - 2 years later - the very same Board did approve without prejudice of increases to two other Public Service organisations, and then, after more than 2 years of delay in fruitless negotiations and something like 70 or 80 days of formal hearings, to say nothing of the inspections and the other time wasting devices to which the Public Service Board and the employers concerned resorted - this costing some thousands of dollars, let me say, in counsel fees and for fares and transcript charges - the Board, after saying that it would have nothing whatever to do with these increases without prejudice, unilaterally announced its own assessment of the salaries that should be paid. At the same time it also announced the date from which the increases would operate. I am bound to say that the Board's action in making its offer public carried very strong political overtones because the announcement was made only 4 weeks before the election was held on 25th November last year, and it was made in such a way as to suggest that more could be expected when the Commission made its final award.

The applicants, the Association of Professional Engineers of Australia, the Professional Officers Association and the Association of Architects Engineers Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia, had every reason to expect that there would be substantial increases awarded over and above the Board's interim increases. They were entitled to assume that the 1969 award would have lifted the salaries to a level at which they would be at least equal to those awarded in the 1961 and 1962 cases. The three associations were representative of highly qualified, well-trained and widely experienced people whose salaries had become so depressed that this country, which needs this class of highly trained people so badly, had to watch the brain drain to other countries. If one looks at the figures and sees the number of professional engineers in the United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the United Kingdom and compares them on a pro rata basis with the number of engineers in Australia, one cannot help but realise that we are drifting into a serious and dangerous position, because this is a young and developing country which needs these highly trained professional men more than any other country needs them. How do we treat them? We treat them in a way that is literally driving them out of the country in order to obtain better treatment elsewhere.

The Association of Professional Engineers of Australia, the Professional Officers Association and the Association of Architects Engineers Surveyors and Draughtsmen of Australia knew, too, that Mr Justice Wright .and Mr Commissioner Portus, who had heard the 1961 and 1962 engineering cases, had stated that the Board's interim offer was not enough. If anybody knew what the rate ought to be, it was Mr Justice Wright and Mr Commissioner Portus because in 1961 and 1962 they had made an assessment of the rates which represented a completely new charter for the professional engineers of this country. The associations knew that Mr Justice Wright and Mr Commissioner Portus would constitute a majority on the bench of the Commission which would finally decide the matter, and therefore they were entitled to assume that there would be some increases in salaries above those which the Public Service Board had fixed. They knew, of course, that the Public Service Arbitrator would do whatever he might anticipate would be the Government's wishes. Imagine therefore the astonished anger of professional engineers when, with the Federal elections safely out of the way, the Commission endorsed in toto the Board's assessment of salaries' and thus limited salary increases to 11% for class 1 officers, .12% for class 2 officers, 13% for class 3 officers, 14% for class 4 officers and 15% for class 5 officers, and ordered that the increases would operate from the date chosen by the Board, 17th October 1969.

The professional engineers had noted that there had been no examination of engineers salaries since the famous 1962 case. Their association took into account the assessment made in that case, the accelerated economic changes and the increased value .of engineering work and felt justified in claiming rates ranging from 45% for class 1 engineers to 54% for class 5 engineers. Their case was an excellent one. It was not an extravagant case; it was a case which they were able to back up with hard facts. Therefore, they were expecting that their application would be granted. But the negotiations and hearings dragged on for 2 years and, as I have already pointed out, on the eve of the recent Federal election the Public Service Board made its first offer.

I wish to say something about the decision of the Commission in support of the Board. It seems to me remarkable that the Commission should have reached exactly the same conclusion, made exactly the same assessment in regard to rates and decided on exactly the same date of operation as the Public Service Board - no doubt acting under the Government's instructions - had arrived at earlier. This can be interpreted in only one of three ways. Firstly, the benches did not agree that 11% to 15% was warranted but, the Commonwealth Public Service Board having agreed to it, they decided to let it stand. Secondly, the benches independently arrived at the same percentages as the Board. Thirdly, the benches were told what to do by the Liberal-Country Party Government. As to the first interpretation, the most experienced arbitrators - Mr Justice Wright and Mr Commissioner Portus, who both sat on the previous engineering cases in 1961 and 1962 - stated that the amounts granted were not enough, though for differing reasons, but Mr Chambers and Mr Justice Moore said that the amounts granted were correct. In regard to the second interpretation, it can be shown quite easily that 90,000 million to 1 would represent something like the odds against the benches independently arriving at the same conclusions as the Public Service Board. Therefore, I think we are left with only one reasonable interpretation. Clearly what happened is that the Government told the Commission, either directly or indirectly, what to do.

The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) is scribbling down notes so that he can make a denial later on. This is something we have come to expect from him, but it is not good enough. The evidence strongly suggests that' the Liberal-Country Party Government put pressure to bear upon the Public Service Arbitrator, which is not hard to do as be has proved himself always to be a mere rubber stamp of the Government, particularly the Public Service Board. His deputy is no better. The Postmaster-General (Mr Hulme), who is glaring at me, knows to his sorrow that because he rubber-stamped the Deputy Public Service Arbitrator's decision in the postal dispute now we have a strike on our hands.

Mr Hulme - We have not.

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