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Wednesday, 1 October 1902

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - This is a convenient opportunity to consider the ruling given by the Attorney-General, which has had the effect of depriving federal officers in Western Australia of practically the only benefit conferred upon them by the Public Service Act - of that State. Section 29 of that Act, which was passed in 1900, provides that -

Public' servants shall be entitled to long service leave as under - (a) For six years continuous service, except during annual leave of absence, three months on full pay and three months on half pay.

I do not deny that this is a very liberal arrangement. It is probably more liberal than any arrangement of the kind existing in other States ; but the conditions of life in the districts in which many of these officers discharge their duties are altogether different from those which prevail in many portions of the eastern States. According to the ruling recently given by the Attorney-General, by which the local authorities in Western Australia are controlled, the Act is not retrospective in its operation, and the public servants will be entitled to long service leave only at the termination of six years after the passing of the Act. Although I am not a lawyer, it seems to me that this ruling can hardly be sustained ; because it amounts to this - that the whole of the public servants in office at the time the Act was passed will, at the end of six years, be entitled simultaneously to six months' leave of absence. Surely no Parliament in its senses would pass a law which would bring about such a state of affairs. The dislocating effect of such a provision could not have been overlooked by the legal members of the State Legislature, and I cannot believe the intention to be that the whole of the public servants should be entitled simultaneously to six months' leave. The ruling given by the Attorney-General will operate very harshly in regard to men who are serving the Commonwealth upon the goldfields and in the tropical portions of Western Australia. The Government does not need to be told of the hard conditions of life in these portions of Australia, and it will be generally admitted that officers who have served six years in the tropics, and on themore remote gold-fields, have earned a considerable term of absence. The ruling given practically effaces one of the most important rights of the public servants of "Western Australia who were transferred to the Commonwealth. It was always understood that officers taken over by the Commonwealth were to have preserved to them all their existing and accruing rights ; and it is curious that these interpretations of the Constitution always operate to the disadvantage of poorlypaid men not blessed with friends in high places. I understand the ruling to be that the section of the Act to which I have referred, not being retrospective in its operation, does not confer any right, but merely a privilege ; but it is noteworthy that the Western Australian Government acknowledges that it does confer a right, and that under its provisions they have granted and are continuing to grant leave of absence to the extent prescribed. It should be borne in mind that the public servants in Western Australia who have been taken over by the Commonwealth Government are much worse off than formerly. The Commonwealth Tariff imposes taxation upon nearly every commodity which was previously upon the free list, and as the local Tariff is still in operation, public servants as members of the community have to pay taxes under twoTariffs. The AttorneyGeneral will scarcely deny that if the transferred departments were still under the control of the State, the officers employed therein would receive the leave of absence which they consider they are entitled to under the State Act. The officers express themselves as follows : -

We have just been informed that the Federal Attorney-General has ruled that our Public Service Act is not retrospective, and that officers must therefore serve six years from the date of proclamation before they are entitled to long service leave under clause 29, sub-section (a). This is somewhat remarkable, considering that quite a number of officers in this department, and other Western Australian State departments, have been granted their six months under the Act. There may be some doubt about the Act being retrospective, but it has been applied in that sense all along. Whether it is so or not, does not in our opinion affect clause 29, which states - "For six years continuous service public servants shall be entitled to three months on full pay and three months on half -pay." The Act does not need to be retrospective in order to give effect to this clause, because it is dealing with a circumstance that continues after the Act was passed. If it had been intended that the six years should date from the passing of the Act, it would have clearly stated it ; but such a clause would have completely disorganized the public service, as every officer would have been entitled to six months' leave on the same date, a contingency which would have been noticed by every legal gentleman in the House. The other departments of this State are not refusing to grant the long-service leave, but we are informed that every application is being dealt with on its merits. We admit that the privilege is an exceedingly liberal one, but it is certainly the only one of any value in the Act, and now we are being deprived of it.

In view of the harshness with which his ruling will operate, I hope that if the AttorneyGeneral cannot see his way to give a more liberal interpretation to the law, the officers - many of whom have not had any annual leave - will be allowed to take advantage of the provisions of the Commonwealth Public Service Act relating to accumulated annual leave.

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