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Wednesday, 8 June 1904

Mr DEAKIN (Ballarat) - I am sure that we must all regret that my late honorable colleague, the honorable member for Balaclava, is unable to be present, because he could have assisted the Treasurer in explaining the Supplementary Estimates, for the greater part of which he is responsible. I am sure the Committee will be gratified to learn that the right honorable member is making steady and sure progress, and I hope that within a few days wre shall have him amongst us again. I desire to congratulate the Prime Minister upon having made a very fair and clear statement. In consideration of the innumerable duties which devolve upon the head of the Government, the manner in which he has mastered the business which he has submitted to us to-day is greatly to his credit. I do not think that the Committee can complain that he has refrained from furnishing any information which so far seems necessary. If there has been any omission, no doubt he will supply the deficiency. The most serious statement which the Prime Minister has made is one which, unhappily, very seriously affects the State of which I have the honour to be one of the representatives. I trust that the public will be made to realize that, for this extra - and what bids fair to become an enormous - amount, the members of this Parliament are in no sense responsible. I had the good fortune not to be a member of the Victorian Parliament when the majority of honorable members of that body passed the amending Public Service Act in December, 1900. I have learnt since that the particular provision to. which I refer was a proposal which was not submitted by the Government, but was debated at some length, in the Course of a general financial discussion, and passed in the small hours of the morning by a tired House.

An Honorable Member. - The honorable member for Melbourne proposed it.

Mr Robinson - The honorable member for Balaclava was the Treasurer of the day who accepted it..

Mr DEAKIN - Under the pressure of my honorable friend and those who voted with him.

Mr Robinson - No, I was against it. Mr. Tudor. - The honorable and learned member did not vote against it.

Mr Robinson - I should have done if I had been there.

Mr DEAKIN - The incident is useful to us as a warning against legislating under similar circumstances I am not yet entirely satisfied that we have reached safety for the Commonwealth in this matter. This payment is being made under a Victorian law, and we are assured by the Supreme Court of Victoria - by the judgment of a single Judge and of the Full Court - that the particular amount involved in the case of Bond v. The Queen ought to be paid. The matter came before the High Court in the form of Bond v. The Commonwealth. The only point settled by the High Court was the question of law as to whether the obligation rested upon the Commonwealth to find this money, although no provision had been made for it in the Appropriation Act ; in other words, whether under the circumstances the accruing and existing obligations to the public servants provided in the Victorian Act imposed such obligations on the Commonwealth as to justify the Executive of the day in discharging them, even though they were not provided for in the Appropriation Act.

Mr Groom - The Chief Justice of the High Court accepted the decision of the Victorian Court.

Mr DEAKIN - Yes. He accepted the decision of the Victorian Supreme Court, and announced that the High Court would always follow a similar course in regard to State legislation if it were possible to do so. He pointed out that they had not considered it necessary to reconsider the judgment of the Supreme Court of Victoria. They accepted the judgment of the Victorian Court as to the amount, and laid down the principle that the obligation rested upon the Commonwealth to pay the claim, even though no provision was made in .the Appropriation Act. I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether he is satisfied as to the means which have been adopted for determining the financial liability of the Commonwealth in any further cases, except that of Bond. In the case of Bond v. The Commonwealth, the High Court accepted the verdict of the Supreme Court as to the specific amount to which Bond was entitled, and we are perfectly safe, so far as that is concerned. If my information be correct, an agreement has been arrived at between the Public Service Commissioner of the State of Victoria and the public servants concerned as to the amount which is to be accepted by each public ser- vant in full satisfaction of his claims. If such sums have been accepted in full quittance of their claims, the Commonwealth will be safeguarded so far as that goes. I desire to know whether we shall be safeguarded to that extent with regard to all the officers the Prime Minister has mentioned, and whether the same principle will be applied to other employes elsewhere. I hope that the Prime Minister will not fail to notice that it will be necessary to take some precaution in these cases - no less, at all events, than has been exercised in those which have been dealt with. Otherwise we may not only be overpaying without the possibility of recovery, but we may be exposing ourselves to a great variety' of actions of a more or less vexatious character. I hope that the Prime Minister will not consider that I am trespassing if I again press the matter upon him,

Mr Watson - So far, we are not doing anything without the fullest consultation with our own Commissioner and the AttorneyGeneral.

Mr DEAKIN - Yes. But while the Government, in consulting the AttorneyGeneral, and the Public Service Commissioner safeguard their own side of the hedge, the claimant on the other side of the hedge may not be satisfied, and may raise further claims and place the Commonwealth in a position of disadvantage. What alarms me particularly is that it is possible that the State of Victoria may be required to pay the large sum of £75,000, on account of the unwise and imprudent Victorian Act which has been referred to. I desire to know what calculation has been made, and how the estimate of £75,000 has been arrived at. I understand that it is a rough estimate of the Public Service Commissioner ?

Mr Watson - I asked the. Public Service Commissioner to give me an estimate of the amount of the claims for the three years during which the Commonwealth had controlled the transferred Departments, and he said that he did not think that it would amount to less than £25,000 per annum, or a. total of £75,000.

Mr DEAKIN - All I desire to say at this time is that it does not rest with the Public Service Commissioner to determine the extent of our obligation. He can form an estimate, and no doubt he is in a position to arrive at a very fair conclusion. But these are legal obligations, and it is possible for further claims to arise even after a certain sum has been paid, unless a full and clear discharge is given.

Mr Watson - Provided that the cases come within the category of that decided by the Court, we do not wish to put the claimants to the expense of a Supreme Court action.

Mr DEAKIN - Certainly not ; I wish to avoid that; but unless the Government arrive, with the consent of the claimants, at a determination of the amount which is to be paid in full settlement of the claims, we shall not be protected against further demands. The case of each individual officer stands by itself. There is length of service to be considered, and certain privileges have to be taken into account. Even the station of an officer has to be borne in mind, because a metropolitan location is supposed to possess advantages over one in the country. Consequently, the Government will have to deal with each individual case that comes under the operation of section 19 of the Victorian Act. That will be a matter of extreme complexity as well as, unhappily, a matter of great expense to the State of Victoria. The only decision that has been obtained had regard to the amount of money to be paid to one individual ; beyond that the decision has not gone.

Sir John Quick - But the Supreme Court settled the principle.

Mr DEAKIN - The Supreme Court settled, and .the High Court confirmed, the amount which was to be paid to Bond, but the amount to be paid in each other case will have to be decided apart from the decision given by the Court. Although the principle is the same all through, it is so general that it requires to be freshly applied to each particular case.

Mr Watson - In regard to this £18.000, what we do is to recognise the obligations admitted by the State in detail. They paid certain individual claims up to the 31st March,- 1901, when the Post Office Department was taken over by proclamation. Thev have paid these amounts in respect to the claims of a large number of officers in the postal service, and we are paying at the same rate for the period for which we are responsible.

Mr DEAKIN - But are the Government receiving a full and complete discharge of all demands?

Mr Watson - Of course, nothing has been paid yet, and I do not know what procedure the State Treasurer has followed. We shall probably follow their example.

We still have power to make terms, because we have not paid the money. I do not see any reason why we should not accept a quittance of our obligations for the past three years. How can we insist upon the officers giving us a quittance for anyfuture period ?

Mr DEAKIN - If they accept the money at all they must accept it as a complete discharge of our obligations to date. No doubt by that means we can partly extricate ourselves from a very awkward position. Then arises the question of the claim which has been made for increments. That, I am glad to hear, the Government intend to consider seriously,

Mr Watson - We have decided not to pay them.

Mr DEAKIN - Before those increments are paid a claim will require to be contested in the law courts, and a decision obtained upon it. I come now to the important 'question whether this obligation is perpetual, or whether it will not be concluded by the gazetting of the classification scheme of the Public Service Commissioner. If I remember rightly, when I held office as Attorney-General in the Barton Government, the opinion at which I arrived was that the Commonwealth assumes full control of its officers from the time that scheme is gazetted, that, though existing and accruing rights are preserved up to that point, the Commonwealth Government then assumes complete mastery over its cwn officers. Under these circumstances, I think I held that there was not a further obligation. The information which the Treasurer has given the Committee is as satisfactory as could be expected under the circumstances. The burden which Victoria will have to bear as the result of State legislation is very heavy. My chief concern is that the public shall not see this amount - as it probably will - .included in the general accounts of the Federation, so that it may be pointed to as another proof of the increased, expenditure consequent upon Federation. That is what we may expect to find unless honorable members embrace every opportunity to publish the legacies that we have inherited from the States Legislatures. This is one of many for which no member of this Parliament has a tittle of responsibility.

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