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Friday, 22 April 1921

Senator GARDINER - Yes, for ordinary appointments, but for special cases, such as appointments to the Board of Commissioners, there is room for serious doubt.

Senator Wilson - Which I think you are manufacturing.

Senator GARDINER - If a doubt exists in my mind as to the interpretation of a clause, it is my duty to state the position, to see if other honorable senators agree with me. If the position is as the Minister states, there can be no objection to striking out the words " other things being equal " in sub-clause 2 of clause 9, so that in the making of appointments to the Public Service, preference shall be given definitely to returned soldiers and sailors. I venture to say that out of the 450,000 men who went from this country to the war there are many capable of filling every position in the Public Service of the Commonwealth.

Senator Senior - We are not doubting that.

Senator GARDINER - I know, but we are being asked to pass a Bill which, so far as ordinary positions are concerned, establishes the principle of preference to returned soldiers, while for the highly-paid positions this principle may be ignored. The clause is worded in such a manner that, to me, this principle of preference appears to be merely a pretence. The time has gone by for showing preference to any section of the community.

Senator Duncan - Including preference to unionists?

Senator GARDINER - Preference to unionists stands by itself.

Senator Duncan - Unionists are a part of the community.

Senator GARDINER - They are the whole; at least they comprise the section which does the real work. The question of preference is in this position: The Government have provided one set of conditions for one section, and other conditions for another.

Senator Duncan - The soldier by his energy and self-sacrifice has been the means of conserving everything that the unionists have won.

Senator GARDINER - I agree with that. But it must be remembered that preference to unionists does not shut out any one, because every man can participate in it if he joins a union.

Senator Wilson - That is compulsory unionism.

Senator GARDINER - Not at all. I am showing the difference between preference to unionists, and the so-called preference that is offered to returned soldiers. Preference to unionists leaves the positions open to every man in the community, but preference to returned soldiers deprives men with an excellent ' record of being employed, and shuts out quite a number whose qualifications are in every way satisfactory. It is now nearly three years since the war terminated, and we have to consider the prospects of the young man who was, say, eighteen years of age, and could not go to the war. A public position becomes vacant, and he is nearing the age of twenty-one when he applies in competition with the returned soldier for a position. Although the returned soldier may be less efficient, less capable, and, shall I say, less worthy, he has no possible hope of success. I do not intend those remarks to be regarded as a reflection on the soldiers; but I say openly and publicly that in such an enormous number as went abroad, it was only natural that there were many who were not angels.

Senator Senior - The honorable senator is assuming that they will apply, and they may not.

Senator GARDINER - I know enough to say that very frequently it is the man with the toughest hide and the poorest qualifications who pushes his case the, furthest.

Senator Wilson - I think that applies from the cradle to the grave.

Senator GARDINER - I believe it does. The point I desire to make is that, under the policy of. preference to unionists, no man is debarred from employment altogether. We have to take the case of a young man who was under military age at the termination of the war, and ask why he should be debarred from obtaining a public position because he has not seen active service. Why should he be opposed by a man who has rendered glorious service at Horseferry Bead for a period sufficiently long to enable Mm to return to Australia, and wear a soldier's medal? Why should he be debarred, as this Bill debars him? The worst shirkers, in my opinion, were those who were employed in the administrative offices at different centres, and who never risked their life, or anything else, but who returned to Australia flourishing a medal.

SenatorRowell. - It has not always been their fault.

Senator GARDINER - I am referring to what I term the real shirkers.

Senator Rowell - They had to go where they were directed.

Senator GARDINER - I am blaming the men who went abroad, and who had no intention of fighting, if they could avoid it.

Senator Rowell - And there were plenty of them.

Senator GARDINER - There were many men who took great care that they did not do any actual fighting, and who, because of their service, perhaps in a comfortable office in London, Egypt, or in France, are wearing a soldier's medal. We are dealing with the whole community.

Senator Senior - I think the honorable senator's scales are weighted ; that is not a true measure.

Senator GARDINER - If preference is to be given to soldiers, justice must be done to those who were unable to go. There are many whose health prevented them from enlisting, although they were willing to fight, and their cases should be considered with those who actually saw active service. There were many apparently healthy young men who offered, but found, on visiting the medical officer, that their physical fitness debarred them from enlisting. I ask honorable senators if they consider it absolutely fair ' that men placed in such a position, and who were not permitted to enlist, irrespective of their capacity, should be treated in this way? I know that some honorable senators will say that I am using a double-edged argument, and that if we are going to have preference to soldiers, there must be preference for the higher offices as well as those of the lower grade.

Senator Wilson - We all agree with that.

Senator Russell - It ought to be uniform .

Senator GARDINER - I believe that in a growing community such as ours the ex-soldier will find himself at a great disadvantage - and very soon - by this pretended preference; because, after all, that is what it is, and the sooner we realize that the soldier having done his share is anxious to be treated as other members of the community, the better it will be. Honorable senators can say what they like, but when a man has returned to Australia after fighting for his country, he has received a reward which cannot be taken away from him. He has the knowledge that when the occasion arose he was prepared to face danger, and even death.

SenatorFoster. - That knowledge will do little to keep his wife and family. We must also do something practical for the returned man. .

Senator GARDINER - The best thing for the Government to dowould be to submit a practical proposition, as Senator Foster suggests, so that the child of an ex-soldier shall never want, because his father is out of employment. There are many returned soldiers seeking employment, and they do not wish to be regarded as paupers. Unemployment falls as much upon the ex -soldier as it does upon any one else, no matter how popular he may have been when the war was in progress. When hands are being dispensed with we do not find employers saying,. " You fought for your country, and your services will be retained." In the railways, the tramways, the mines, the warehouses and workshops nothing of that kind occurs. If we are in earnest in giving preference or making provision for the soldiers, let us do it in a fair, honest, and straightforward way, so that real preference shall be given, and no man who fought for his country will ever have to seek employment or be compelled to make his children suffer. It should be the duty of the Commonwealth to find positions for these men. It is a very simple proposition, because the Australian Commonwealth provides ample scope for the useful employment of all the men in our community. I know some honorable senators would say that it would be a disastrous proposition for the Government to undertake the responsibility of finding work for all the soldiers who have returned. But it would not be nearly as costly as finding the interest on the money borrowed to pay those soldiers and keep them in food and clothing while they were fighting.

I understand that the Government do not intend to press the second reading of this measure to a division to-day, so that honorable senators will have ample opportunity for discussing its. provisions. Here is a simple little phrasing which may be likened to the straw which shows the way the stream is flowing. Clause 34 reads - (1.) Any male person who has successfully passed any prescribed examination for admission to the Commonwealth Service, and who on the thirteenth day of September, One thousand nine hundred and fifteen, was eligible for appointment to the Commonwealth Service, shall continue to be so eligible until nine months after the declaration of Peace.

Senator Wilson - That time has passed.

Senator Russell - The final declaration of peace will be proclaimed by the Governor-General. The point is that a regulation was passed providing that no examination should be held during the war, so that soldiers returning from abroad should have equal opportunities for permanent service with those who stayed at home.

Senator GARDINER - Apparently, this is an old Bill, which has been dragged up for us to consider, and the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) has not taken the trouble to read it.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not see anything the matter with that provision.

Senator GARDINER - Very well. We are still legally at war.

Senator PRATTEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The sub-clause fixes a date.

Senator Russell - That is so.

Senator GARDINER - I am glad to see that we are going to make Acts of Parliament so clear. I am going to take the risk of saying that there are not two honorable senators present who can say the date of the declaration of peace.

Senator Wilson - Peace has not yet been proclaimed.

Senator GARDINER - In our Acts of Parliament we should refer to specific dates and years, and not to a period " after the declaration of peace." It is ridiculous to say, " Until nine months after the declaration of peace." There should not be a provision to prevent eligible appli- cants from applying for positions in the Public Service, merely because they were debarred from going to the war. There are men who have been filling temporary positions for years - during the whole period of the war - and who have been prevented from being permanently employed.

Senator Senior - And, in some cases, doing work that was of a higher grade than that for which they were being paid.

Senator GARDINER - Absolutely. The Government will say that they are not debarred, because the time has not expired for them to be appointed.

Senator Russell - If the honorable senator will give me a case I shall have it fully investigated.

Senator GARDINER - Very well. I know of a young man who had been in the Public Servicefor some years, and who was secretary to Senator E. D. Millen when Leader of the Opposition. When a change of Government occurred, and I became Leader of the Opposition, the present Minister for Repatriation strongly recommended this young man to me, who then became my private secretary. He had been temporarily employed in the Public Service for six years, and, but for the war, would have been permanently appointed. The Government have, in an underhand, way, put him out of the Service, but they pay the Leader of the Opposition an amount sufficient to cover his salary. Any one can be engaged for the position, and the salary does not enter very largely into consideration. My secretary is a young married man with a family, and should now be a permanent officer. The Minister has asked for a case and I Have given him one.

Senator Russell - Was there anything to prevent you employing him if you thought well of him?

Senator GARDINER - No; it is not a question of his employment, but one of his failure to be permanently appointed, notwithstanding his character and capacity.

Senator Russell - I think the Leader of the Opposition should be allowed to select his own private secretary.

Senator GARDINER - The Leader of the Opposition is allowed to do that; but I am speaking of a man who was temporarily employed in the Public Service for a number of years and who cannot be made a permanent member of the Service. His present salary may be more than he would receive as a permanent Public officer, but he has lost the right to a permanent engagement because of the war. The Public Service Commissioner will not appoint him because he did not serve at the Front, but no inquiries were made as to why. He had served in the Public Service sufficiently long to secure a permanent appointment. It is well known that a temporary employee can only be engaged for a certain time, when his service has to be broken. Men could not be made permanent officers during the war, because of the decision to make no new appointments to which I have referred.

Senator Russell - The honorable senator thinks that the services of the gentleman to whom he refers should count as service in the Public Service ?

Senator GARDINER - I do. Immediately fresh appointments were made after the war, this gentleman should have been permanently appointed to the Public Service.

Senator Russell - If a man works in Rabaul, Papua, or any of our Territories, his work there will count as service in the Commonwealth Public Service. If, for instance, the gentleman to whom the honorable senator refers had worked for five years in Papua, that would count as five years' service in the Commonwealth Public Service.

Senator Wilson - Is the honorable senator still employing the gentleman he refers to?

Senator GARDINER - I certainly am, and every month the Government send me a cheque to pay whomever I may be employing as private secretary. That is a roundabout way of doing the business, and I contend that to all intents and purposes the gentleman to whom I refer is an officer of this Parliament. He had been employed in the Prime Minister's Department. He was transferred to the service of Senator Millen, and from Senator Milieu to me, and then the war being over the regulation which prevented him being made a public servant prevented his continuance in the Service. I say that it is a most unfair thing to take four years out of this young man's life when he might have been improving his position in the Public Service of thecountry, and then to put him out of the Service altogether.

Senator Senior - The honorable senator was a party to the unfairness, because he was' in the Senate when the Act was passed.

Senator GARDINER - We are all parties to everything that occurs in the Senate; but judging by the number of times I am reminded of my responsibility, I should be the most influential man in the Senate, if not in Australia. Every time I take exception to anything that is going on I am met with the excuse that I am myself responsible.

Senator Senior - The honorable senator was a member of the Government while the war was on.

Senator GARDINER - While the war was on it was quite fair to suspend appointments until the men came back ; but after they came back it is not fair to say that a man who, but for that regulation, would in the ordinary course have received a permanent appointment, should be prevented from getting one now.

Senator Russell - If the gentleman referred to passed the necessary examination for admission to the Clerical Division of the Service, he would be appointed under this Bill.

Senator GARDINER - He passed his examination in the State of South Australia.

Senator Wilson - Then he is good enough for anywhere else.

Senator GARDINER - He is, . absolutely. He came here from South Australia; but he was not transferred from the South Australian Public Service. The point I make is that a man under the Public Service Act cannot be continued in temporary employment beyond a certain period. He should then be given a permanent position. I am sorry to have referred to a somewhat personal matter: but I have done so in reply to a challenge to state a case in support of my contention. I say that the Public Service authorities in this case took a miserable, narrow view of the position, and had it been any one but myself for whom the gentleman to whom I have referred was working, I believe he would have received a permanent appointment in the ordinary way.

We have a great Public Service, consisting of a huge number of men. and a considerable number of women. It will be an ever-growing Service, and it is important that in passing this measure we should make provision, so far as human foresight can do so, for the remedying of all the grievances of the Public Service. If half-a-dozen young men. enter one branch of the Public Service, and by their attention, ability, and qualifications, reach the highest office in that particular branch, in the ordinary course of events it will be a very great number of years before there will be any chance of their promotion. I believe that one of the disabilities of the Service is that after men reach certain positions in one branch of it, no facilities are afforded them to get into another branch in which there might be openings for their advancement. Any Service that keeps able, competent men from progressing is not doing justice to those whom it employs. We should be on the lookout for our progressive men to see* that they are given fitting employment, and they should not be continued in watertight compartments because half-a-dozen of them may have reached the same grade. The wholeof the Commonwealth Public Service should be open to every man in it.

Senator Russell - That is the object of the Bill.

Senator Rowell - What the honorable senator means is that it should be possible for an officer of the PostmasterGeneral 's Department to be transferred to the Department of Trade and Customs.

Senator GARDINER - That is what I mean. As a member of Parliament I have to listen to the grievances of a good many people. I take the case of an officer who has reached a particular grade, and sees no possible chance of further advancement in his particular branch. There may be another branch of the Service, in which he would have a chance of advancement; but when he makes an application for a transfer to that branch, the head of the officemay say "There is no officer of your grade here, but I have men here already who understand the business of the office, and I do not think it would be of any advantage to have you transferred to my branch, because you would take a certain time to become as efficient as men of even lower grade who are already in the branch." I confess that there is much force in such an argument, but I go further and say that such an officer as I have referred to would, in a very little time, become an efficient officer of the branch to which he might be transferred. I believe that provision should be made in the Act to make such transfers easy.

Senator Russell - That is provided for in this Bill. Men employed in Papua and New Guinea will have the right to be transferred, for instance, to the Treasury Department in Melbourne.

Senator GARDINER - There is another provision in the Bill under which officers may be reduced in grade because there is no position open, carrying the amount of salary they have been previously receiving. In such cases, if their services are retained they are appointed to a lower office at a lower rate of pay.

Senator Russell - Not for twelve months.

Senator GARDINER - I am obliged to the Minister for his interjection, because it confirms what I desire to say. I can believe that there may be a whole harvest of complaints arising from a provision of this kind. For the purpose of illustration I take the military service, and the case of an officer who has been acting as a colonel and carrying out bis duties in an efficient way.

Senator Russell - Military officers are not under the Public Service Act.

Senator GARDINER - I am aware of that. I wish they were under the Public Service Act, because a Board of Appeal is provided for under that Act, and if we have a Board of Appeal for the benefit of members of the Public Service, we should have such a Board also for those employed in the military service. To illustrate the matter to which I wish to refer, I take the case of an officer who has been acting as a colonel. He has been efficient, and has done his work well. There is a reconstruction of the military service under which there is no position for this particular officer commensurate with his rank and pay as a colonel. After twelve months his pay is reduced to that of a captain. I say that the Commonwealth is sufficiently wealthy to pay every officer a salary commensurate with his industry and qualifications.

Senator Russell - The object of the Bill is to get the best men to fill the positions that are open.

Senator GARDINER - I remind the Minister that the Bill contains several clauses setting out how these reductions of pay may be made. In one part of the Bill provision is made that when an officer who has been reduced because no position of a higher grade is left open to him has to pass out of the Service he is compensated on the basis of the rate of pay of the higher office which he held.

Senator Senior - The provisions to which the honorable senator refers would not be so objectionable were it not for the water-tight compartments . in the Service.

Senator GARDINER - That is so. If, when an officer who has been reduced passes out of the Service the Government admit the justice of giving him compensation on the basis of the salary of the higher position which he filled, surely they must admit the justice of continuing to such a man retained in the Service the salary of the higher position he occupied, instead of degrading him, and I say it advisedly, in the eyes of his fellow public servants by compelling him

Debate (on motion by Senator SENIOR' adjourned.

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