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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 895

Mr MARTIN (Banks) - I never cease to be amazed in this House at the lack of knowledge which is displayed by some honourable members opposite, either deliberately or in the belief that they are pulling the wool over the eyes of the people. During the days of Hitler it was said of Goebbels that if you tell a lie often enough somebody will believe it. We have heard this parrot cry from the Opposition benches, and in particular the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Lynch) when criticising the Government for implementing this measure. The parrot cry that was put forward by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was that the Government was attempting to force a situation in which additional leave would be granted to members of unions only. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was pointed out by the honourable member for Phillip (Mr Riordan) - I will repeat it for those who apparently did not hear his speech - that the Conciliation and Arbitration Act provides that the conditions of an award can be made applicable only to the workers under that award. That is exactly what happened.

The Commonwealth Public Service unions applied to the Public Service Arbitrator for an increase from 3 weeks to 4 weeks annual leave. The Arbitrator brought down an award which was made applicable only to members of the unions which applied for it. That decision is contained in the determination of the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator. A determination made under the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitration Act must lie on the table of both Houses of Parliament for 28 days. Either House may reject it. Personally I think that this is an anachronism. I do not think the Parliament should have the authority to reject an arbitral determination of any arbitration system. Be that as it may, that provision is contained in the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitration Act.

The Senate - or the other place, as it is called in this House - for reasons best known to itself decided to make this a political issue, rejected the Commonwealth Public Service Arbitrator's determination which granted 4 weeks leave to Commonwealth public servants which, in accordance with the Act, restricted the additional week's leave to members of the unions who had applied for it. 'Membership of a union' were the key words. That is not new. Yet we have the Opposition saying that the Government is succumbing to industrial blackmail. I think Opposition members show a complete lack of knowledge on the subject when they push out these pious platitudes and expect members on this side of the House to believe them and apparently hope that the Australian people will believe them. Nothing is further from the truth. Owing to the political machinations of the Opposition in the Senate, most ably backed by its representatives in this House, the Senate disallowed that arbitral determination and it then led us into a situation in which, to protect something that the employees had got by arbitration, this Government was forced to introduce legislation in this House to protect the interests of union members and to protect the interests of all members of the Commonwealth Public Service.

There was a time when the conditions of employees in the Commonwealth Public Service set the standard for the rest of employees in Australia. I am afraid that that situation ended in 1949 when the Liberal-Country Party coalition came into Government, but I am happy to say that the improvement in conditions and the changes which have come about since 2nd December 1972 when the Australian Labor Party became the Government have led to a situation in which the conditions of Commonwealth Public Service employees will again set the standard for the rest of employees in Australia. I congratulate the Prime Minister for his action of bringing before this House the Public Service Bill 1973, which grants 4 weeks annual leave to all Commonwealth public servants. In introducing the Bill he said:

In the early years after Federation, employees of the Commonwealth Public Service set a standard for the rest of Australia in conditions of employment. Their minimum of 3 weeks annual recreation leave gave them an advantage over most other employees in Australia. This advantage has long since disappeared, and my Government is determined to restore it. We want the national Government to continue to set the pace in improving the working conditions of Australian men and women.

With those sentiments I wholeheartedly agree. I was shocked when I heard the Deputy Leader of the Opposition come forward today with a statement that he did not agree that conditions in the Commonwealth Public Service should set the pace. I thought that the Commonwealth Public Service and the Commonwealth Government, irrespective of which Party is in power, as a beneficent employer should set the pace. I had always understood that that was Liberal-Country Party policy, and I was shocked today when I heard the

Deputy Leader of the Opposition disagreeing with what I thought was a cardinal principle.

Farsighted employers, and I say this advisedly, have a part to play in altering and improving social conditions. The Commonwealth Government is by far the largest employer of labour in Australia. Consequently it has a far greater responsibility than other employers in setting the pattern for other employers to follow. This Government is doing just that. Commonwealth public servants were eligible for 3 weeks annual leave from 1901, which was the date of the formation of the Commonwealth Public Service. Successive conservative governments, including the Liberal-Country Party governments, have been intent on maintaining that ceiling. On 18th October 1966 an effort was made by the Australian Labor Party, then in Opposition, to lift that ceiling. The now Prime Minister, then Deputy Leader of the Opposition, moved that 3 weeks leave be increased to 4 weeks. That is an indication that the present Government has been battling for this improvement in conditions for a considerable length of time. The now Prime Minister, or, as he then was, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, on 18th March 1966, in moving an amendment on behalf of the Opposition that 4 weeks annual leave should be a condition inserted in the Commonwealth Public Service Act, is reported at page 1897 of Hansard as having said this:

The effect of the amendment is to ensure that Commonwealth public servants have 4 weeks annual recreation leave. The Bill re-enacts the ceiling of 3 weeks annual leave, which has been imposed on public servants ever since the formation of the Commonwealth Public Service in 1901. At that time, Commonwealth public servants clearly enjoyed an advantage over most other employees in Australia. This advantage has now disappeared . . . The Act has always placed a ceiling on their annual leave and the Bill re-enacts the ceiling. Accordingly, we move that the ceiling be raised to 4 weeks.

One would have thought that the then Government, if it was a good employer, would have really given serious consideration to it, but what was the Government's attitude? Its attitude was expressed by the spokesman on the matter for the then Government, who was the Minister for the Navy, the member for Perth, Mr Chaney. He said this:

I want to say that in October 1965 Cabinet considered proposals from employee associations for an increase in the general period of annual recreation leave from 3 to 4 weeks. On 14th October 1965, the then Prime Minister issued a statement intimating that the increase would not be granted as the case for an extra week's leave had not been substantiated.

Then he went on to give what in his opinion, or in the opinion of the then Government, were the reasons for not giving it. The matter came to a vote, and amongst those who voted against the then Opposition amendment, the Australian Labor Party amendment, were the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon). I wonder whether today, when this Bill comes to a vote in this House, they will have the courage again to vote against the granting of 4 weeks leave to Commonwealth public servants. I doubt that they will.

For the record I think it is important to highlight the attitude of political parties, be they in government or be they in opposition. It is also important to place on record the declared attitudes of the Leaders of the Parties. I have evidenced the declared attitude of the now Prime Minister as far back as 1966. I have evidenced the declared attitude of the present Leader of the Opposition, the present Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the former Prime Minister, the right honourable member for Lowe. There is one of the many Prime Ministers that the Conservatives have had whose attitude I have not evidenced, and that is the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton), the last Prime Minister but one. The situation arose in which he was Leader of the Government in the Senate when a Commonwealth Public Service Bill was before the Senate. Prior to that a question had been asked in the House of Representatives by a very able member of this House, the honourable member for Macquarie (Mr Luchetti), who has been a consistent battler for improvements in working conditions. The honourable member for Macquarie on 12th October 1966 asked the then Prime Minister, the late Mr Harold Holt, whether 4 weeks annual leave would be granted to Commonwealth public servants. This was the reply he received:

There should be no ambiguity about our position, but I shall see that a copy of the Government's official statement on this matter is made available to the honourable gentleman. . . . Some time ago I received a deputation of representatives of the Public Service organisations and I undertook to bring the views of that deputation, which was pressing for 4 weeks annual leave for Commonwealth public servants, to the Cabinet. A Cabinet submission has been prepared which goes fully into this matter. I should expect it to be considered shortly and a decision to be reached for announcement before the Parliament rises.

Remember the date - 12th October 1966. The Bill was the Public Service Bill and it was before the Senate. In the debate in the Senate on 13th October 1966 the right honourable member for Higgins jumped the gun on the Cabinet consideration which the honourable member for Macquarie had been told would take place and, in regard to an amendment which had been moved by the then Opposition to grant 4 weeks annual leave the right honourable member for Higgins, then Senator Gorton, said:

The second proposal ... is that the Government should provide 4 weeks' annual recreation leave instead of 3 weeks for Commonwealth public servants. Senator Willesee quite accurately forecast that 1 would have something to say about the cost that such a change would impose on the Australian economy. If an extra week's leave were granted each year to the total number of Commonwealth employees, an additional 5,800 workers would be required in the Commonwealth Public Service. Of course, the annual wage and salary bill would rise by about £9m.

He then went on to say that the Government had no intention of giving it. However, the Cabinet decision was not made until 5 days later. So in my mind one of the main architects in seeing that the Commonwealth public servants never had justice from previous Government was the right honourable member for Higgins who jumped the gun on that occasion and, in my view, forestalled a possibility - maybe it was a possibility that would not have come into effect - that the then Government could have granted it. The Government then was committed to a position where it could not grant it. When I think of reasons why the previous Government had never granted it my mind goes back to 1961 when the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) met extreme opposition in his own election campaign in that year. The stocks of the then Liberal-Country Party Government were so low that the Commonwealth Public Service unions and associations in New South Wales mounted a campaign against the then Government. In fact it almost led to the defeat of the right honourable member for Lowe. The thought amongst Commonwealth Public Service unions and associations from then on was that the edict went out that Commonwealth public servants would get nothing from that Government because it had almost led to the defeat of their star. It was almost a defeat. It was akin to the little boy taking his bat home when he was not allowed to play cricket. That is not a way to deal with the rights of Commonwealth public servants who seek not a hand out but justice.

I would like to highlight some countries which have far greater benefits for their employees than we provide for our employees. It has often been said that Australians have extremely good working conditions. To a point yes, but certainly not when it comes to leisure or leave. The situation in other countries is a lot better than it is in Australia. That is one of the main reasons why the Public Service unions have a just case and why this Government has granted it. The position in the United States of America in 1949 was that 61 per cent of employees received 2 weeks leave. In 1952, 48 per cent received 2 weeks leave while 46 per cent received 3 weeks leave. In 1957, 64 per cent received 3 weeks leave while 20 per cent received 4 weeks leave and over. In 1961, 49 per cent received 3 weeks leave while 43 per cent received 4 weeks leave and over. In 1966, 60 per cent received 4 weeksleave while 13 per cent received 5 weeks leave. And we hold our heads up in the belief that we have some of the best social conditions in the world. We should hang our heads in shame.

Workers in Norway have received 4 weeks leave since 1964 and yet we are supposed to be called a progessive country. In Sweden 4 weeks leave applies generally in industry and not only in the public service, which is all this Bill seeks to do. Public servants receive from 24 days leave for a 6-day week to 42 days leave a year depending on age and service grading. In West Germany - we hear talk of our economy, but there is not a stronger economy in the world than there is in West Germany -public servants receive 3 weeks leave with a minimum of 4 weeks for all employees over 30 years of age. In addition 4 weeks leave is provided in many outside agreements other than those relating to the public service.

I could go on even further quoting countries without quoting the situation in Australia where in many States employees not only in the public service but also in outside industry received 4 weeks leave. We have this parrot cry:'The country cannot afford it'. The country could never afford it. I can remember when it was said that the country would go broke if we reduced the 60-hour week to 54 hours, then from 54 to 48, to 44 to 40. We have not gone broke yet and are not likely to go broke. The same reaction is seen from conservative governments and conservative interests every time there is an attempt made to improve working conditions. I am proud to be a member of the Government which is granting this improvement. All I hope is that the lead will be taken by employers outside the Commonwealth Public Service and that they will give the same measure of justice to their employees.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

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