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Friday, 8 December 1911

Senator GIVENS (Queensland) . - Amongst the many weighty speeches which have been delivered by honorable senators opposite, we have had one honest and candid reason advanced why this Bill should not become law. That reason was put forward by Senator Vardon. He has said quite frankly that he is opposed to the Bill because he is opposed to the principle of arbitration. If other honorable senators had been equally candid they would have said the same thing. Their opposition to the Bill is based upon their opposition to the principle of arbitration. I admire Senator Vardon for his plain and straightforward declaration. I can understand his position. My only regret is that other honorable senators have not been equally candid.

Senator Sayers - Does the honorable senator imagine that we all think the same way ?

Senator GIVENS - Past experience has taught me that honorable senators opposite generally take up an attitude antagonistic to the principle of industrial legislation.

Senator Sayers - Each man upon this side of the Chamber speaks for himself.

Senator GIVENS - I have heard that before. But I would ask the honorable senator how the party to which he belongs treated Mr. Willis when he accepted the Speakership of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly? That gentleman was free to do as he liked, but the party to which he belonged is proceeding to punish him by every possible means in its power.

Senator Sayers - What would the honorable member's party have done if a member of it had taken a similar course? The honorable member would have shot him.

Senator GIVENS - But we do not argue that every member of our party is free to do as he likes.

Senator Sayers - You are holding up Mr. Willis for admiration.

Senator GIVENS - I am expressing no admiration for Mr. Willis, because I feel none. What is the principle at the bottom of this Bill ? It is that the members of any branch or section of the Public Service who think that they are badly treated shall have the right to appeal to a judicial tribunal. The Labour party entered politics first as the opponents of all class distinctions and privileges. It entered this Parliament, as it has entered every other Parliament in Australia, with the avowed object of removing every disability from which any citizen was suffering. With regard to public servants, we have tried to do that. We have removed the political disability which they suffered under previous Governments, and we have not found the slightest difficulty arising from that act. We are now removing another disability under which they labour, by conferring upon them the right of appeal, in common with every other citizen in the community, to a judicial tribunal to insure that they shall get a fair deal. It is said that they have the right to appeal to Parliament. Of course they have, and we now wish to give them a right which every other citizen has, and that is the right to appeal to a Court. If they have reasonable grievances, or think that they are not fairly treated, the Arbitration Court is the place in which to prove that. Senator Vardon made a good deal of the fact that, after the Court has given its award, .the public servants will still have the right to appeal to Parliament. If they do exercise that right, Parliament will be in an infinitely better position then than it is at present to say what are the rights and wrongs of the case. It never yet has been in a position to rectify the grievances of public servants, and to see that absolute justice was done, because it never possessed itself of all the facts. It could get ex parte statements from one side or the other, but it could not get the evidence presented, weighed and sifted as it will be able to do through 'the medium of a judicial tribunal. When we have had an appeal made on behalf of a section of the Public Service, what has happened ? We, as the representatives of the people, have presented the case to Parliament, or to the Ministry. We have done what we could to get the whole thing rectified, and then it has been referred to the departmental officers, who issued a report which was pigeonholed. We are now providing a means by which Parliament can be placed in possession of all the facts of a case, so as to be able to do justice, if an appeal to it is made. There is no inconsistency in Parliament saying to public servants, " While we are your employer, we want to give you exactly the same redress for any unfair conditions, or unfair hours of labour, or unfair remuneration, as every other citizen has." Parliament is a very large employer, and between ourselves and our servants we have interposed a Commissioner. I have not a single word, except of admiration, for the gigantic work which Mr. McLachlan has done. In spite of all complaints, I hold that he has done a great deal of good to the Public Service; but it must be admitted that it was too great a task for "any one man. I do not think that if his inner mind were expressed, he would be found to have any objection to giving those who think that they have been unfairly or improperly dealt with by him the right of appeal to a Judge of the Arbitration Court.

Senator Vardon - Why not give him assistance, as the members of the Postal Commission recommended?

Senator GIVENS - On this Bill I cannot allow myself to be dragged away to deal with that vast subject. Mr. McLachlan acts as the Commonwealth employer in place of the Ministry and of Parliament. It is for him to fix what are, in his opinion, fair conditions for the men in the Federal branches. But he cannot be expected to be infallible. He cannot be acquainted with all the details - the technicalities, or the varying circumstances which surround every walk of life in the Public Service, and, therefore, he cannot be expected to do complete justice all the time. Besides, he will never have an opportunity of having all the evidence brought before him. While he is the proper man, as the employer representing the Commonwealth, to fix what, in his opinion, are fair conditions and fair wages, there is nothing absolutely wrong in allowing an appeal from his decision to the Arbitration Court. I think that it is an admirable principle. In the multitude of his duties, and the many obscuring details of varying Departments which are brought before him, he, as the employer, will undoubtedly make mistakes. It will be for those servants who think that they are unfairly dealt with to state their case to the Arbitration Court, to present all the evidence, and to rely upon a fair Court to get a decent wage. If that fails them, and they still think that they are not fairly treated, they will have the right of appeal to Parliament, and the strong recommendation of the whole Bill to me is that, in that event, Parliament will be in a position it was never in before, and that is to judge as to what is the right thing to do. We have been told that we are simply shirking our duty ; that we should safeguard the interests of public servants, and investigate and rectify any grievances they may have. If that argument is sound, why is it that all honorable senators on the other side have presented the view in forcible terms of interposing the Commissioner between the public servants and Parliament? Why is it that they were so strong in having the Public. Service entirely removed from political control? That is a question which I think is unanswerable. They cannot justify their opposition to giving the public servants the right to apply to the Arbitration Court for the rectification of grievances and at the same time their advocacy of interposing the Commissioner between the Public Service and the Ministry and Parliament. If it was a good thing in one case, undoubtedly it is a good thing in another. Having removed the disabilities from public servants, why should we create a specially privileged class in the Public Service? We say to every other worker in the Commonwealth, "This is the proper way to insure that you shall get a fair deal! in your employment " ; and .why should we not say the same thing to public servants? Is there any reason why we should make them the one privileged class which has the right to appeal to Parliament ? We, as their employer, will have the final say, and, as Senator Vardon so cogently pointed out, Parliament has the inherent right to be supreme over any decision or award arrived at by any Court. But the strong point of the whole Bill is, I repeat, that after an award has been given Parliament will then be in a position to do justice if appealed to.

Senator Stewart - We have the report of a Royal Commission, and we have not acted on it.

Senator GIVENS - With regard to one branch of the Public Service that is quite true. But if the honorable senator has unbounded confidence in the Royal Commission and their findings, that is a great deal more than I have. I have viewed with a great deal of suspicion various Royal Commissions which have been appointed at the instance of different Parliaments. This is a generally accepted truism in Parliament when a Royal Commission is to be appointed, " Tell me who the Commissioners are to be, and I will tell you what their verdict will be before a tittle of evidence is taken." It is quite true that we have, with regard to one branch of the Public Service, the report of a Royal Commission to guide us. Very likely, in future years, when the conditions have altered, we may want to appoint another Royal Commission to inquire into the new circumstances, and we shall be continually wanting to appoint one. The Arbitration Court is, I hold, a very much better tribunal than would be any Royal Commission to get evidence, to weigh and sift it, and to give an award. The Postal Department is not the whole of the Public Service, by any means. We are going in for enormous railway construction enterprises. We will employ a very large number of persons in the development of the Federal Capital Territory in the very near future, and also men in various walks of life all over the Commonwealth. Apart from the Clerical Division, there is the large General Division of the Public Service to which there has been little attention paid. These are the men, rather than the highly-salaried officers, who, I think, will derive most benefit and get the surest means of having their cases heard and their grievances attended to and rectified by the Arbitration Court. They are a very hardworking and deserving class of the Public Service. We should extend to them exactly the same rights as every other individual in the community has, and assure to them that measure of justice which hitherto they have been denied. It is unanswerable, I think, that whereas highly-paid officers could come here and to other Parliaments year after year and get increases of salaries, it was almost impossible to get an increase of 2d. for a working man at the bottom of the ladder. A highly-paid officer has the ear of the Minister; the man next to him has the ear of the head of the Department ; but those in the General Division . have the ear of nobody. They have been looked upon as slaves to carry out any one's bidding. Now. however, they are to have the right, for the first time on record, of appealing to an independent tribunal. I am sure that they will appreciate it, and be glad that there is a Government in power which has given them access to a Court endowed with authority to remedy their grievances.

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