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Friday, 24 August 1923

Mr CHARLTON (Hunter) . - I am rather surprised that the Minister has not seen his way clear to accept the reasonable amendment that has been submitted. In justification of his attitude the Minister has pointed out that, at about this time of the year, a large number of men usually leave the employ of the Department. These are chiefly temporary hands who are not covered by the Bill.

Dr Earle Page - A fair number of permanent employees also leave about this time every year.

Mr CHARLTON - But an officer must have been in the employ of the Department for twelve months to he entitled to compensation under- this measure. We should do justice by these men. Quite a number, knowing that certain changes were pending, took advantage of any opportunity that offered and secured employment outside the Department, believing, no doubt, that they were assisting the Government to get over a difficulty, and all honorable members have received letters from employees asking if it is possible to get a transfer to some other Department. Many of those who have gone out of the Public Service are to-day in positions inferior to those which they occupied in the Department, but they believed that it was better to accept what employment was offering, rather than wait for the retrenchment scheme to be put into operation. If they had hung on to their positions until this Bill was passed they would have received a month's salary for every year of service rendered. They are now shut out. The acceptance of the amendment would not involve very heavy expenditure, but it would be an act of justice to those men.

Mr C RILEY (COOK, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Possibly many of them were advised by the head of the Department to accept positions outside in view of pending retrenchment.

Mr CHARLTON - No doubt, and in all probability, -they thought they were helping the Government by accepting outside employment. It was known many months ago that the Government contemplated coming to an agreement with the States in regard to taxation matters. Accordingly, a certain number of employees looked elsewhere for employment. It is possible that, in many cases, they have no chance of permanency. They may soon be thrown out on the world again. The least we can do is to make the Bill retrospective to April last, so as to include all men who were then in the employ of the Department, and who had given faithful service to this country. The Government should endeavour to be an ideal employer. They should, as far as possible, make the conditions attractive, and, in the event of retrenchment, should treat their employees fairly liberally. I am afraid the Treasurer was rather hasty. Perhaps, on reflection, he will realize that these men have a just claim to reasonable consideration. Even if there were half-a-dozen cases, such as the Treasurer mentioned, out of forty or fifty, justice should be done to the latter. Perhaps it will be possible to exclude the cases referred to by the Minister. It is very hard for an employee to be shut out of the provisions of this Bill simply because he left the employ . of the Department a few weeks, or, perhaps, only a day, before this Bill was passed. Some of these employees may have established homes of their own, and have contracted obligations. What is to become of those homes. Possibly also, if they were granted a lump sum, by way of compensation, some of them would be able to start a small business, and make their future secure in that way. It is very hard on a man who, perhaps, had given eight or ten years' faithful service to the Department to be denied compensation simply because he took advantage df an opportunity to obtain employment outside the Department a week or two prior to assent being given to this Bill. I am prepared to accept a compromise in this matter, and if the Treasurer thinks that April is too far to go back, let him agree to go back as far as June. That would not involve very heavy additional expenditure. We have to bear in mind that a single man need not be greatly concerned about looking for other employment, in view of his possible retirement as the result of this measure, but the married men with dependants must look to the future. He knows this retrenchment is to take place, and he knows what the loss of his employment will mean to his little ones. He naturally looks out for a job, and if. he takes one a month, or a fortnight, before we pass this Bill, he is to be given no compensation, whilst the single man who hangs on until the Bill is passed, will get compensation. When I was working for a private employer, if I received notice I did not wait until it expired before I looked for another job.

Mr Prowse - Did the honorable member's previous employer chase him with an offer of compensation?

Mr CHARLTON - As a matter of fact, he treated me better than the Treasurer proposes to treat the officers of the Taxation Department. He said that he did not wish me to go, and would find something else for me to do, and I want the Government to find some other em- ployment for these taxation officers. We know that, as a rule, private employers will dismiss an employee without the slightest consideration, but it does not follow that because that is the practice of private employers we should treat our employees in the same way.

Mr Prowse - They are not our employees, but the employees of the' public.

Mr CHARLTON - The honorable member, in common with other honorable members, is a director who is called on to act on behalf of the public, and he is entitled to consider the position in which these officers will be placed. He cannot call it equitable treatment if a man who hangs on to his job in the Taxation Department until this Bill is assented to, is given a lump sum of money by way of. compensation, whilst another, who may have left the Department a day or two before the Bill is assented to, is deprived of all compensation.

Mr Paterson - The men to whom the honorable member is referring have got jobs, and I take it that the compensation is for the man who has not got a job.

Mr CHARLTON - I am dealing with the case of men who will have left the Department before the Bill is assented to. We shall find that this provision will work very harshly in many cases. We should encourage men to find other employment, when they know that retirement from the Public Service is before them, and we should not cut them off from any hope of compensation. These men should receive fair treatment. I urge the Treasurer to reconsider his decision and to split the difference.

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