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Friday, 24 June 1904

Sir JOHN QUICK (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - I desire to ask the Prime Minister whether the Victorian public servants, whose rights have been secured by special Victorian legislation, are in any way affected or modified by this classification scheme - whether any reductions or differentiations have been made in their favour? I have looked through the lists, and I am unable to arrive at a conclusion.

Mr WATSON - That question is a very difficult one for a layman, or even for an honorable and learned member to answer. The whole matter depends upon the interpretation placed on that section of the Constitution which states that accruing rights shall continue in respect of all officers in the Departments transferred from the States to tlie Commonwealth. My own view, which, as a layman, I put forward with the utmost diffidence, is that, so soon as the law of this Parliament is passed - and I think we can say that the classification scheme gives effect to the Public Service Act, passed by us - it overrides all previous decisions arrived at by the States, or tentatively approved by the Commonwealth. That opinion may not prove to be sound.

Mr HUME COOK (BOURKE, VICTORIA) - Does the Prime Minister mean to say that the Commonwealth law can reduce salaries which are in effect provided for in the Constitution ?

Mr WATSON - One cannot give a definite opinion upon that point ; but my view is that once our own law is passed, it takes the place of the previous State laws which have governed the public servants belonging to the transferred Departments.

Sir William Lyne - But the transferred officers carry their rights with them.

Mr WATSON - I know that; but the legal officers of the Government, and, perhaps legal authorities outside will probably have to determine exactly how far those rights extend.

Sir William Lyne - If the rights referred to are to be continued, the public servants 'should never have had them.

Mr WATSON - But, as a Parliament, we are not responsible for that. The disposition of the Public Service of the Commonwealth, in respect of transferred officers,' is governed by the Constitution, and Parliament cannot alter that. In reply to the honorable and learned member for Bendigo, I would point out that it is impossible for the Government to say off-hand how far this scheme supplants the arrangement under which the service has been worked up to the present time. I am hopeful that it will assist in giving the Commonwealth the complete control of its own servants.

Mr SPEAKER - I must direct the attention of honorable members to the Standing Orders controlling matters of this kind, which I am bound to administer. Standing order No. 93 reads -

In putting any such question, no argument or opinion shall be offered, nor any facts stated, except so far as may be necessary to explain such question.

Standing order No. 94 provides that -

In answering any such question a member shall not debate the matter to which the same refers.

So that neither in asking questions nor in giving replies, must honorable members indulge in debate or argument.

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