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Wednesday, 8 June 1904

Sir JOHN QUICK (Bendigo) - The Act passed by the Victorian Parliament was, in my opinion, a mistake. It showed a want of confidence in the Parliament of the Commonwealth that was about to be created; and (his particular provision was a sort of " snap " clause.

Mr Tudor - Other States Parliaments passed similar measures.


Sir JOHN QUICK - I think this clause must have been passed bv the Victorian Parliament for political purposes ; at any rate, it showed a lack of confidence in the National Parliament.

Mr Mauger - It was designed to do justice.

Sir JOHN QUICK - There was no necessity to pass a cast-iron clause like this in order to bring within the protecting shield of the Federal Constitution the public servants of Victoria, any more than there was a similar necessity in the case of the public servants of any other State. I do not think there was any necessity for this step; .and it is to be deplored that the Victorian Government of the day did not take a broad view of the matter, and show greater confidence in the Federal institutions about to be called' into being. However, the clause was passed in order, as it was said, to place beyond all doubt the rights of certain public servants in Victoria, who at the time were thought to. be underpaid. The Commonwealth Constitution declares that the rights of the public servants of the whole of the Commonwealth shall be secured, and that none shall be passage of this Act by the State Parliament prejudiced by Federation. Certainly, unexpected results have been flowing from the of Victoria. It was not expected that the Act would impose on the State such a tremendous obligation as now appears.

Mr Fowler - The Victorian Parliament thought the Act placed the responsibility on other shoulders.

Sir JOHN QUICK - I believe that is right. I believe that the State Parliament thought that its obligations would be federalized - that the expenditure would be borne by the whole of the people of Australia. However, it turns out that this is a State expenditure and obligation, the burden of which will have to be borne by the taxpayers of Victoria, at any rate during the bookkeeping period.

Sir John Forrest - That period is nearly over now.

Sir JOHN QUICK - When the bookkeeping period is over - if that period be unrenewed - the whole of the expenditure will be federalized and borne by the people of Australia. We cannot, however, escape a legal obligation.

Mr Mauger - Nor a moral obligation.

Sir JOHN QUICK - The highest Court of the State and the High Court of Australia have interpreted the section of the Victorian Act, and legal effect will have to be given to its provisions. Therefore, I think that the Government are quite justified in bringing down these Estimates. I cannot see how they can escape from giving effect to the State Act. and to the interpretation of that Aci which the Courts, both State and Federal, have expressed. I con- sider that the Ministry are not only justified, but bound, to give effect to the law as it has been interpreted by the highest Courts of the land. I think, however, that there is no necessity for creating so much alarm about this expenditure. It may be that the expenditure will continue for a little while, but I believe that, in course of time, as some of those officers are promoted from the positions which they occupied at the time of Federation, the obligation will cease. In other words, a man who was a letter-carrier at the time of Federation had his rights secured with the salary of a corresponding letter-carrier in other States. But, if a letter-carrier be promoted from one grade to another, or from one office to another, with increased salary, his rights under the Victorian Act are ended. The right and obligation continue only so long as the man is in the exact position which he occupied at the time of Federation.

Mr Fowler - Does the honorable and learned member consider that, under the classification scheme, those rights may be abolished ?

Sir JOHN QUICK - I do not think so. I cannot see that any classification scheme can lower the salary or take away any rights which such a man had at the time of Federation.

Mr Watson - Can we not, under the Constitution, abolish an office?

Sir JOHN QUICK - I am not sure that that can be done to the prejudice of the holder of an office. I do not think that the classification scheme will prejudice officers' rights, as they existed at the time of Federation. Classification provides, so to speak, for the advancement of men beyond the positions then occupied.

Mr Watson - It is extraordinary, if, owing to the provisions of the Constitution, we cannot manage the Departments.

Sir JOHN QUICK - The Constitution merely protects existing rights - that is, rights existing by law at the time of Federation. I do not think that the Commonwealth Parliament can take away those rights. In course of time, however, those servants will gradually be promoted from grade to grade, and from office to office, and then they will no longer require the protection of the Constitution.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Will not an immense sum be expended before these men are promoted ?

Sir JOHN QUICK - That may be so, and I see no legal- escape from the position. It is only by promotion, and the gradual evolution or development of the service that we can get rid of the obligation. It is best to do everything we possibly can to promote advancement and change in the position of these men. A letter carrier might, for instance, be transferred from the Postal Department into the Customs Department, where he could earn a higher salary or occupy a better position.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But men in other States might then be prejudiced.

Sir JOHN QUICK - Men in the other States are protected, just as are the men in Victoria.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But men in the other States are prejudiced by this difference.

Sir JOHN QUICK - By what difference?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - By the difference in the positions.

Sir JOHN QUICK - I do not see how an officer in New South Wales can be prejudiced by the fact that a Victorian officer is getting a salary equal to that paid to the occupier of a corresponding position in New South Wales.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not all ; a Victorian officer may be occupying a certain position and obtaining a salary attached to a corresponding position in South Australia, but the salary paid in New South Wales for the corresponding position may be lower than either.

Sir JOHN QUICK - In that case the Victorian officer gains a benefit ; but the New South Wales officer is not prejudiced in his existing rights. I am not endeavouring to justify the action of the Legislature of Victoria, whose policy was mistaken, and showed a lack of confidence in the Federal Parliament. No doubt there were some underlying considerations; but we cannot escape the consequence, and the best way- is to face the problem and work it out as well as we possibly can. I hope the problem will be solved with every consideration for the finances of Victoria ; and I have no reason to doubt that, as years go by, the financial burden will gradually diminish ; at any) rate, it cannot increase. Instead of being an increasing burden, it will be a diminishing one, and in the course of years will probably disappear. I trust that the Government will accept the advice offered by the honorable and learned member for Ballarat, .and be very careful, before making any of these payments, to obtain a receipt from the men in full satisfaction up to date. They should not be paid in advance, and then allowed to indulge in further litigation. It would be better to come to some agreement that the payment to be made to them is in full satisfaction of their claim, and in consideration of their accepting the terms proposed to be conferred.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - And providing, if necessary, for reclassification.

Sir JOHN QUICK - They could not be asked to barter away their legal rights. Whilst we may regret that this proposal is necessary, I wish to point out that there is no reason for creating a feeling of unnecessary alarm as to this1 being an increasing obligation. As I have already remarked, it will gradually diminish,, and, in the course of years, will wholly disappear.

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