Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 23 June 1904

Mr WATSON (Bland) (Treasurer) .Under the Public Service Act the House handed over to the Public Service Commissioner the classification of officers and their salaries. The classification must be presented to the Governor-General. It may be dissented from by the Governor-General, who, of course, is practically the Government of the day, but, in that case, the following procedure is laid down in sub-section 3 of section 8 of the Act -

If the Governor-General does not approve of any proposal, it shall be the duty of the Commissioner to reconsider such proposal, and within a time to be specified by, the Governor-General to submit another proposal. Such fresh proposal shall be considered and dealt with by the Governor-General.

Where the Governor-General does not approve of any proposal, a statement of the reasons for not approving, and for requiring a fresh proposal shall be laid before The Parliament.

The Government has not disapproved of the classification. I think that the honorable member for Echuca is more than justified in asking for any particulars which may be available, and I may explain' to the House that the Government obtained from the Commissioner an estimate of what this scheme would cost. That seemed to me to be- the only matter of policy involved. As a Government we are not concerned with any de- 4 y 2 tails such as, for instance, whether Officer Brown or Officer Jones is to receive a certain sum. The decision of the question has been left by the deliberate action of Parliament to the judgment of the Commissioner, subject, of course, to the amounts being voted. On the matter of policy, we were informed that the nominal cost of the scheme at the beginning of the year would be, roughly, ^20,000. The Commissioner adopted the policy of classifying the work done by officers primarily, and where it was found that an officer was receiving more than the salary which the office held by him justified in the grading, the Commissioner did not reduce his salary, but he has noted every such officer for removal to an appropriate position at the earliest possible time. As a result of that policy, he estimates that the actual cost for next year will not exceed £1 1,000, and whenever a vacancy occurs in a position higher than that held by an officer who is out of his place, he will immediately transfer the officer to the appropriate position, and replace him with an officer of lower grade, and, therefore, receiving a lower salary. The net effect of the scheme will be that during next year we shall require an additional expenditure of ;£i 1,000 for all the States, and in each succeeding year there will be a diminution in the excess, until within a comparatively short period the Commissioner estimates that the scheme on its new basis will cost for the same number . of officers as are now employed less than the Commonwealth is now paying. That is the outline that we have received from hi'm, and when one recollects that some 12,060 permanent officers scattered throughout the Commonwealth are affected, one can easily imagine that it has been a very difficult task for him to perform, and, further, that the total immediate increase of ^11,000 for the first year is not, in view of all the circumstances, an extraordinary one. That is the way in which it appeals to the Government.' I thought it was only proper, in answer to the inquiry, to let the House know what is the actual amount involved.

Mr McColl - Will the Government refrain from accepting the scheme until the House has had time to consider it ?

Mr Batchelor - We cannot, because we have no power.

Mr McColl - What we wish to know ' is, not whether it involves an increase now, but how the cost of government under the Commonwealth will contrast with the cost of government under the States previously. A very cursory reading of the scheme leads me to believe that the cost under the Commonwealth will be very much higher than it was under the States.

Mr WATSON - There are some Departments in regard to which a comparison is impossible, because they did not exist under the States. It is true that some officers get largely increased salaries compared with what they received from the S tates. Many of those officers were occupying positions quite subordinate in the States services; but when transferred to the Commonwealth, they received salaries commensurate with the importance of the new positions which they were asked to fill. The mere fact that a particular officer is getting much more than he received in a State service does not indicate that he is getting more than he should.

Mr McColl - But taking the aggregate ?

Mr WATSON - The aggregate will depend on which Departments one includes. It is almost impossible to get an accurate basis of comparison. But the net amount that T have spoken of as being involved in this scheme is in addition, of course, to those increases - which Parliament has provided for, and which are conveyed by statute, either State or Commonwealth. The 11,000 1,000 is the additional sum which we shall be asked to find. I cannot promise that the Government will not accept this scheme, because, so far as we are concerned, it has been accepted.

Mr McColl - Surely the House should "have some control over it?

Mr WATSON - Under the Public Service Act, the House deliberately put this matter in the control of the Commissioner, except in regard to the broad matter of policy involved, and on that the House surrounded the Ministry with a number of conditions which practically put beyond its consideration any question but that of the total sum involved. The Government considered that, and in view of the fact I have just stated that this scheme only involves an additional expenditure for next year of ^11,000-

Mr Watkins - Is that as against last year, or as compared with, the expenditure under the States?

Mr WATSON - As against last year.

Mr Watkins - Then that means ^100,000 more than the expenditure under the States.

Mr WATSON - Honorable members must recollect that we must take as our basis the expenditure for last 'year, to which this House consented, and not the expenditure under the States.

Mr Watkins - The House might ask why there should be any increase at all.

Mr WATSON - Quite so. I say, that we had tq consider, first, that the proposed scheme involved an additional expenditure of 11,000 for next year - that was a matter of policy - and the additional fact that every succeeding year will mean a diminution of expenditure until later, on there will be a saving as the result of the operation of this classification scheme, as compared with the expenditure of last year. That broad policy the Government considered. We did not see our way to comply with the conditions by which any dissent on the part of the Government is surrounded in the Act, and which would involve our giving reasons, distinct and clear, for every dissent we made.

Mr Batchelor - And such action would have delayed the adoption of the scheme of classification.

Mr WATSON - And of course it would have delayed the adoption of this classification scheme, which, in my view, is very important ; because I think it will have the effect of abrogating section 19 of the Victorian Act, to which reference has so often been made, and similar statutory provisions, imposing obligations carried over from the various States. I do not say that my interpretation of the law is necessarily correct, but that is the view I hold. Once the classification scheme is accepted and approved by the Governor-General, it will dispose of all the hampering statutory obligations of the various States under which we have been working for some time.

Mr McColl - That is the honorable gentleman's conjecture.

Mr WATSON - It is not merely my conjecture, though I admit that it is not necessarily good law. I have very good reasons for believing that it is good law. In the circumstances which I have related, the Government have accepted the responsibility laid upon them by the Act of accepting the policy of the classification scheme.

Question resolved in the affirmative. House adjourned at 11.38 p.m.

Suggest corrections