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Wednesday, 8 June 1904

Mr McWILLIAMS - We have tried the system in Tasmania.

Mr MAHON - Yes ; and I am very glad to say that it was a Tasmanian officer who originally carried it out in Western Australia. I have good reason to be grateful to him for the success he made of the work, which was carried out, I am sorry to say, against the advice of some of the local officers, and in. spite of their opposition. I shall look into the telephone regulations, and although they have been quite recently adopted, an effort will be made to liberalize them. There are one or two reasons for the apparent inflation of the Supplementary Estimates. The first reason is, of course, the statutory increments and arrears arising out of an Act passed in this House, and from an Act passed by the Victorian Parliament. I may point out, also, that where increases appear in the permanent salaries, corresponding reductions appear in contingencies and temporary salaries. The ' honorable member for Corangamite drew attention to an item of £1,250 for overtime and allowances for tea money, paid to Western Australian officers in the Post and Telegraph. Department.

Mr Wilson - And also in South Australia, I think.

Mr MAHON - I have no information in regard to South Australia, but in Western Australia, the position appears to be that the staff has, to some extent, been undermanned, and the result of the operation of the Public Service Act in the matter of overtime is responsible for this large sum. For instance, Sunday work is now paid at one-and-a-half rates, and that, together with some arrears, accounts for the particular item. Previously it appears overtime was not allowed in1 the Post and Telegraph Department of Western Australia, certainly not for what is known as current work. I shall be glad, later on, to give any further information which is in my possession ; but, as I have already said, I believe the increased amounts are accounted for largely by the causes indicated. Where additional officers have been appointed from time to time to cope with increased work, on the approval of the Public Service Commissioner, the temporary staff has been reduced to a corresponding extent. Certain remarks were made by the right honorable member for Swan respecting the appointment of the Public Service Inspector in Western Australia, and I may have another opportunity to deal with that matter.

Mr. MCWILLIAMS(Franklin).- Like some honorable members who have already spoken, I express the hope that the custom of placing the Estimates in the hands of honorable members immediately before they are discussed will not be continued. It is absolutely impossible for an honorable member who has not served in this House previously to go through the Estimates during the discussion, and arrive at anything like a satisfactory conclusion.

Mr McCay - And the more the honorable member studies the Estimates the more unsatisfactory, perhaps, will his conclusion be.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - If that be so, it is our duty to protest in a more vigorous way. The. sum provided for, £137,000, consists i!n a great measure of transferred, and not new expenditure, but the figures are large enough for some of us who think that Federal expenditure has already grown too much.

Mr Watson - The figures do not really show an increase.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - I know that; but it is unsatisfactory to be passing items which ' we have had no time to consider. It maybe unfortunate for us, but it is fortunate for the Government that they are not responsible for the items, and I suppose the present Ministry have had a little difficulty in arriving at an explanation of some of the amounts. There are one or two matters which ought to receive very serious attention. The first and most important is connected with that celebrated, or infamous, Act which makes it compulsory to give certain advances to Victorian officers. I was in hopes that some of Ihe Victorian members who had the honour to hold seats in the State Parliament when the Act was passed, would have given a much fuller and more satisfactory explanation than we have yet received. As I understand the position, the Commonwealth has been practically "bull-dozed" into the payment of this money, which means a gross injustice to the public servants of the Commonwealth and the other States. A very much worse injustice will be perpetrated if we carry out the idea of the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, who suggests that in order to relieve the

Commonwealth from this unfair stipulation, Federal officers in Victoria may be promoted over the heads of other officers in other States. That might relieve the Commonwealth; but I hope that suggestion will not be carried out. It would be better that the Commonwealth should bear the burden than that a grave injustice should be inflicted on the public servants of other States. There is a matter in connexion with the extension of telegraph wires to which I should like to call attention. I.t is a small matter ; but it has always appeared to me to exhibit the 'height of folly in administration. I grant that the idea and intention may have been good ; but the practical working out of the regulation to which I refer is, in some of the States, highly suggestive of a farce. The position is that line- repairers may be employed for a period of only six months, at the end of which they "must retire, and make room for others. I believe the intention was to give employment to a greater number of men ; but I know that the result is quite the contrary. The Department will never get skilled men of experience prepared to take the. small salaries offered under the circumstances. The pay is by no means large. If we are exceedingly liberal in the higher branches of the service, the Commonwealth cannot be accused of extravagance as regards the lower branches. Good men will not be induced to take an appointment for six months, knowing that at the end of that time they will have to depend on casual work for at least another six months. That is a regulation which I trust the Postmaster-General will take into his consideration. When we get good men who are beginning to understand the nature of their work, it is a serious mistake to dispense with their services at the end of six months.

Mr Watson - The object of the regulation is to prevent persons being appointed through political influence as temporary officers, and then becoming permanent officers, thus avoiding the provisions of the Act with respect to competitive examinations.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - No competitive examination is necessary for an ordinary line repairer, who cuts telegraph poles in the bush, and who in sinking them has merely to do pick and shovel work. When these men have served for six months they have to retire, and make way for others, no matter how good their work may be.

Mr Tudor - They can be appointed permanently.

Mr MCWILLIAMS - The honorable member will find that they cannot. There are other matters to which I might refer, but they can be more properly dealt with when the items with which they are connected are before us. The usual practice is, I believe, to have a little general discussion on the first item, and to reserve detailed criticism until the items are separately before us. I hope there is no desire to rush these Estimates through, without giving honorable members an opportunity to consider what they are being asked to pass. I believe that, from one end of the Commonwealth to the other, there is a grave fear in the minds of the public that Commonwealth expenditure is growing far too large. Although the members of the present Government may not be responsible for these Estimates, and they may include transferred votes, it behoves us to scrutinize the items very carefully, in order that we may prevent increments, and may reduce expenditure wherever we possibly can. The taxpayer must be considered, as well as the tax-receiver, and I hope that honorable members will give the items, when submitted to them seriatim, the serious consideration which they deserve.

Mr McCay - What does the Prime Minister propose to do?

Mr WATSON - I must ask the Committee to assist me to get these Estimates through to-night. I have arranged with another place to have these Bills sent on by to-morrow. I did so, because I hoped to get them through to-night, in view of the fact that I have excluded from the Supplementary Estimates all items other than those which were assented to by the late Treasurer or by myself, the latter being a very small proportion. I must therefore ask the Committee to assist me. In reply to the honorable member for Franklin, as to the short notice given for the consideration of these Estimates, I hope the honorable member will not think that the Government are endeavour-' ing to establish a precedent in this regard. In connexion with the general Estimates, and every proposal involving debateable matter, we believe that ample notice should be given to honorable members, and they should have the Estimates in their possession for some time before they are called uper to consider them. I am to-night asking honorable members to make some exception, and I can assure them that these Estimates were circulated as soon as they were available. The other branch of the Legislature must be considered, and I have been anxious to consider it, as well as anxious to replenish the Treasurer's advance account. Although' there is only £137,000 involved in these Estimates, the Treasurer's advance accountis slightly overdrawn at the present time. That is explained by the fact that various items here are re-votes. In view of all circumstances, I again ask the Committee to assist me to get the Bill through.

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