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Thursday, 14 July 1904

Mr SPENCE (Darling) - I have no intention to discuss the work of the Public Service Commissioner, but I cannot allow what I consider an unfair charge to be made against him without offering some reply.

Mr Johnson - I make no charge against the Commissioner.

Mr SPENCE - The arguments used and the quotations made by the honorable member suggest that in his opinion the Commissioner is either incompetent or has been guilty of favoritism in his treatment of Commonwealth officers in Victoria.

Mr Johnson - Not necessarily.

Mr SPENCE - No other conclusion could be formed from the arguments of the honorable member. In view of the fact that the Public Service Commissioner comes from New South Wales, and therefore ought to be immaculate, and, so far as that State is concerned, has acted on the advice of an inspector who comes from New South, Wales, and . therefoie should also be immaculate, it is unfair even to assume that the work of classification has not been carried out by him in an intelligent way. The honorable member has complained that there is a difference in the salaries paid in the Customs House, Melbourne, and the Customs House, Sydney, and has urged that this is an evidence that there is something wrong about the classification.

Mr Johnson - I repeat that I have no desire to impute unfairness to the Commissioner.

Mr SPENCE - The honorable member has referred on more than one occasion to the revenue collected at these Customs Houses, and I am therefore led to assume that, in his opinion, the salaries of the - officers should be based on the takings of the respective Customs Houses in which they are employed. If that were not the honorable member's view, what was his object in referring to the revenue of the two Customs Houses? Had he Interviewed the Public Service Commissioner he would have learned in the course of five minutes the reasons for the differences to which he has referred. The ' classification scheme has been in our hands for some time; and we have been able, to see for ourselves the salaries paid to various members . of the service. It does not follow that because there is a difference in ' the salaries paid to officers in one State, as compared with those received! by officers doing similar work in another part of the Commonwealth, the scheme is unfair. The honorable member for Lang must surely realize that the Customs House, Sydney, is so to speak, a comparatively young institution. Prior to the establishment of the Commonwealth, we had what was largely a free-trade policy in New South Wales, and only a limited number of officers was employed in the State Department of ' Customs. On the other hand

Victoria has had a protective Customs Tariff in operation for very many years, and consequently the officers of the Department in this State must have been longer in the service than have those in the Sydney branch. The honorable member must surely be ignorant of the fact that under the States laws public servants receive increments from time to time, according to their length of service, and that the rights of officers under those laws were not interfered with in any way when they were taken over by the Commonwealth. Officers, in the Customs House, Sydney, cannot have had the lengthy experience of many officers in the Customs Department in this State. Would the honorable member say that a number of men in the Sydney branch who are young in the service should receive the same salaries as are paid to Customs officers in Victoria, who have been many more years in the Department? He must surely recognise that the introduction of new officers in the Department is responsible for the differences in salary to which he has referred.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is that the reason for these anomalies?

Mr SPENCE - It- is the reason for the differences in salaries.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Who has given it as the reason for the difference?

Mr SPENCE - I have better authority for the statement I make than has the honorable member for Lang, who has been acting on the assertion of certain officers who, because they do not receive as much as others under the classification scheme, consider that some mistake has been made. This, in my opinion; is not the proper place in which to deal with complaints by officers. The honorable member said that he had no desire to name any special case, but he put forward a group of officers in a way that made it easy to recognise who were the men referred to. In the Public Service Act we provided for the appointment of an independent Commissioner in order that political patronage might be abolished, and that the claims of individual officers should not be ventilated before Parliament, which necessarily has not an opportunity to ascertain the full facts of every case.

Mr Johnson - Does the honorable member argue that we have no right to consider the classification scheme?

Mr SPENCE - The honorable member for Lang did not discuss the basis of the scheme ; he simply brought forward certain facts, showing that there is a difference in the payments to officers in two States, and he assumes that a mistake has been made, or that there is favoritism. He has claimed that he has done a service by calling attention to anomalies, just as if they had escaped the notice of the Commissioner. The Commissioner has gone into every one of these cases in -detail, and is perfectly well aware of the difference in the salaries paid to different officers. He could have given a reason for those differences if he had been asked. It is not fair to an officer who has had to discharge most onerous duties to take an ex parte statement by some one whose name we do not know, and to make out from it that favoritism has been shown. If the honorable member had asked the honorable member for Melbourne Ports for an explanation as to why higher salaries were paid in Victoria, possibly he would have been told that higher wages are generally paid in protectionist countries. I commend that view to the honorable member for Lang. Possibly on reflection he may come to the conclusion that the fact that New South Wales has been until lately a free-trade country accounts for the lower salaries paid there. The fact is, however, that officers who have had longer service naturally receive higher salaries. It has also to be remembered that recently a number of youths have been put into the Customs House in Sydney. Consequently, in the aggregate, the forty-nine officers in the Sydney Customs House receive lower salaries than the forty-seven officers in Melbourne. When a favorable opportunity presents itself it will be legitimate to discuss the general basis of the classification scheme. We shall then be able to consider whether it is a proper principle that a man who has been twenty years in the service shall have the same salary as a man doing the same work who has been in the service for a shorter period, or whether a fixed salary without increments should be attached to a certain office. It is a fair thing to discuss whether there should be some recognition of the time an officer, has served, and the experience he has gained. We undoubtedly have a right to review the work of the Commissioner. But to bring forward individual cases is possibly to present the whole matter in a very unfair light. If an individual officer can show that some mistake has been made in his case, and submits a statement to that effect, the Commissioner will deal with it. In every case there is an Appeal Court to which an officer can resort if he does not receive consideration from the Commissioner. So that, if unfairness can be shown in any case, the officer has a remedy. Officers have spoken to me about this subject, but I should never think of bringing their cases before the House without making an inquiry. I endeavour to find out the facts; and I must say that I generally discover that the Commissioner is right. It must be recollected that when we took charge of the Public Service the Commissioner found officers who had been transferred from six different States, and who had been working under six different laws. They had been treated in different ways, and had different privileges which the Commissioner had to recognise. Probably it is a fact that some officers received higher salaries than others who were doing similar work. Possibly some received too much, whilst others received too little. The Commissioner had to adjust his classification scheme to these cases as well as he could. I simply desire to enter a protest against the inference that will probably be drawn from the statement of the honorable member for Lang. It is a mistake to bring up the subject in this manner, and to cast a reflection on probably the most important officer we have in the service, one who is administering the affairs of the service under an Act which we endeavoured to make as effective as possible. From statements which have been made to me by many officers, there seems to have been an expectation that the scheme would result in an all-round increase in salaries. That was not a reasonable expectation. The object of the Commissioner was to do justice and to remedy existing anomalies. I believe that he has done as much as he could do in that, direction. Whether he has been completely successful can only be ascertained from an exhaustive and careful examination, based upon the principles of his scheme. We may differ as- to its basis. Some honorable members may think that a different method ought to have been adopted. But, in fairness to him, we should first ascertain whether he has carried out his own principles. I do not feel that I am in a position to say more about the general question. But I know something about the Public Service Commissioner and his experience. I have the utmost confidence in him as a man who will endeavour to see fair play and justice rendered. I am certain that he has shown no favouritism to any one State or group of officers, but that whatever has been done is easily explainable. Individual cases, which appear to merit reconsideration, may be found. That was to be expected in any case. But I for one refuse to believe that such things as the honorable member has inferred could have taken place under the gentleman who is now holding the position of Public Service Commissioner.

Mr Johnson - I desire to make a personal explanation. The honorable member for Darling, in his speech, has repeatedly stated that I charged the Public Service Commissioner with unfairness, and that I imputed favoritism to him. I distinctly stated at the commencement of my remarks that I had no such intention or desire. I wish to say emphatically that I made no charge, nor did I intend to insinuate any unfairness against the Commissioner, who is, I believe, a gentleman of the strictest probity. From the little I have seen of him, I believe him to be a gentleman who will command the universal respect of all classes of the community.

Mr. JOSEPHCOOK (Parramatta).The honorable member for Darling has tonight again been successful in fulfilling the role, which I understand he has assumed during the past few weeks - that of a kind of mentor to the whole House.

Mr Spence - That is quite a new character.

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