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Wednesday, 16 March 1927

Senator FINDLEY (Victoria) .- Whatever time may be devoted to the consideration of the motion submitted by the Leader of the Senate (Senator Pearce) will he time well spent. It gives honorable senators an opportunity to examine the policy which the Government says it has from time to time presented to the people, and which it declares the people have endorsed. Can any honorable senator say that this Government has had a definite policy with regard to any subject of moment to the people? One never knows what is going to happen next. The Ministry has acclaimed its desire to bring about peace and harmony between employer and employee, to establish peace on earth, goodwill toward men. But so far from doing that, it has, by its actions, done a great deal to disturb the peaceful and harmonious relationships between the different sections of the community. Let us review the position. Some years ago we had a Public Service Commissioner whose duty it was to classify members of the Public Service. According to those who were in a position to express an opinion worth having he did his work, if not to the entire satisfaction of the public service, at all events efficiently and apparently to the satisfaction of successive Governments. When this Government came into power it appointed a Public Service Board of three to classify the whole of the Service, and fix the hours of work, salaries, and conditions generally. But, before that task was completed, the Government appointed a Public Service Arbitrator to hear appeals from public servants against the classification of the Board. The Arbitrator is vested with authority to vary the conditions laid down by the Board. He adopts the same procedure as a judge, taking evidence regarding claims, and making known his decisions. The Public Service Clerical Association desired that all officers should be eligible for the supplementary payments in the way of child endowment which was limited by the salary bar of £500, and a conference was convened as prescribed in the Act on 30th September last. I want honorable senators to realize that that was not a " hole-and-corner " conference. On the contrary, it was thoroughly representative of all the parties. There appeared before the Public Service Arbitrator representatives of the Public Service Clerical Association, the Public Service Board, and the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. The Public Service Arbitrator went into the matter exhaustively, and, despite the opposition of the representatives of the departments - who, no doubt, voiced the opinions of the Government - recommended that all officers whose salaries did not exceed £600 should be entitled to receive child endowment. Now the Senate is being asked to disallow that determination. If such a procedure is to be generally adopted in relation to the working conditions and allowances in the Public Service a great deal of tlie time of Parliament will be occupied in the consideration of matters that ought not to be brought before it. Parliament should devote its attention to matters of far greater importance to the Commonwealth and its people. I think that all members of the Commonwealth Parliament, no matter to what party they belong, believe that institutions other than Parliament should deal with industrial matters. The Government itself proposes to remove from Parliament the question of child endowment, although Parliament will have the opportunity to dismiss any proposals that are brought forward. The Public Service Arbitrator went into this matter with an open mind. He had a much better opportunity than any member of the Government to consider the merits and demerits of the application that was made by the Public Service Clerical Association. The dis- allowance of this determination will be tantamount to a vote of no confidence in that officer. In effect, we shall be saying that he does not understand his business and that he was not justified in recommending the removal of the £500 bar. I agree that a. question of policy is involved. It was a question of policy that led to the appointment of the Public Service Arbitrator. If his determinations are to be disallowed from time to time he will occupy a most unenviable position. When recommendations are made after serious and thoughtful consideration of the evidence for and against, it is most dispiriting to a responsible 'official to be told by Parliament that his work is unsatisfactory and that his recommendations cannot be allowed. A much better way would be to tell the gentleman that he is a superfluous officer. Parliaments should not be asked to either approve or disapprove of awards that are made from time to time by the Public Service Arbitrator. That procedure is not followed in connexion with awards that are made by other authorities. Why is a distinction drawn between members of the Public Service and other employees? The answer of the Government may be, " We should always have control of our Public Service, and be in a position to say what hours they shall work, what .wages they shall receive, and to what privileges they shall be entilled." The determination of the Arbitrator does not, as Senator Pearce said, definitely fix £600 as the maximum amount that an officer shall receive to be entitled to child endowment. For the time being, that is the maximum. No obstacle is placed in the way of the furtherance of the policy to which the Government says it is committed. According to the statement of the Arbitrator, the anomalies which now exist in the Service will be removed by the raising of the limit to £600. That will obviate the discontent and friction that is now manifest, and give satisfaction to the members of the association. They will approach the Arbitrator with confidence in the future. If the regulation is disallowed, greater dissatisfaction will be caused. For the reason principally that the Public Service Arbitrator is better qualified than the- Government, and particularly the average member of Parliament, to express an opinion upon this matter, I trust that the motion will not be agreed to and that the determinations will not be disallowed.

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