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Tuesday, 8 November 1904

Mr MAHON (Coolgardie) - I do not quite follow the Minister of Home Affairs in his statement that if an attempt were made to recast the Estimates it would involve delay, inasmuch as communications would have to be made with distant States. That cannot apply to the Estimates under consideration, or, at any rate, to the Public Service Commissioner's branch of the Department, because, that Department is concentrated, and the Minister can communicate with every officer in five minutes. I do not altogether agree with reducing salaries, or with failing to recognise the ability and the merits of public officers. Honorable members who are disposed to cut into the salaries of public servants should remember that a member of the service is absolutely cut off from any other employment. When he enters the service he relinquishes every opportunity 'to gain extra emoluments outside unless he be a capitalist, and can speculate to advantage. In the public interest, it is desirable to pay good salaries to our officers. But I should like to draw the attention of the Committee to the fact that although the great classification scheme of the Commissioner has been completed, every one of the subdivisions in this Department shows a considerable increase. For instance, in subdivision 1, which we are now considering, we have an increase of about .£640. The Minister of Horn© Affairs says that a portion of that is a statutory increase. But I apprehend that there is no compulsion on the Public Service Commissioner to remove an officer from one subdivision to another unless the officer deserves promotion. Therefore, the Public Service Commissioner is just as responsible for the -statutory increase of £213 to which reference has been made as for the increase of £170 under the classification scheme.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - The increases are within certain classes.

Mr MAHON - But it is within the discretion of the Commissioner to recommend an increase or otherwise. It is within his discretion to say to an officer. "You shall not pass from this subdivision into a higher subdivision just yet, because I do not think that you are deserving of it ; you are, getting all that you are entitled to get for the work you are doing." I am not absolutely certain about the point, but I mention it because the Minister of Home Affairs seems to be absolving the Commissioner entirely for the responsibility for these statutory increases.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - They are the an.nual salaries of the 'Subdivisions of classes.

Mr MAHON - That does not satisfy me that it is absolutely necessary to transfer an officer from a lower to a higher subdivision unless his record shows that he is deserving of the promotion. That being so, it seems to me that the Public Service Commissioner is just as much responsible for any increases under that heading as for increases which are caused by the classification.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - I take it that according to the schedule to the Act, the officers are to get increases if they deserve them.

Mr MAHON - I understand that that was only an indication that when a man approached a certain age, and had a good record, and so forth, he would receive the increase set out in the schedule. However. I find that the total sum provided for the Central Staff is £3,212 as against an expenditure last year of £2,572 - an increase, in this part of the subdivision alone, of £640. There is another increase further on of £200 in connexion with the clerks to inspectors, junior messengers, and so forth. In subdivision No. 2, under the heading "Contingencies," there is an increase of £842. I do not know why there should be these increases.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - The honorable member is comparing the actual expenditure last year with the estimate for this year, and not the appropriation with the proposed appropriation.

Mr MAHON - That is true, but I can take only the expenditure of the previous year as a basis of comparison with the proposed expenditure of this year; that, I think, is a perfectly fair method. The mere fact that Parliament over-estimated the expenditure last year is surely no argument for inducing us to vote more money than is necessary this' year.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - The proposed' provision has to be made, but we mav have savings.

Mr MAHON - I have no doubt savings will be made, but, at the same time, it is perfectly legitimate, from my point of view, to compare the proposed expenditure this year with the actual expenditure last year. I emphasize the further point that, as the classification scheme, which entailed an enormous amount of expense in connexion, not merely with inspectors, but with the whole staff, has been drawn up, we should have expected a reduction rather than an increase; and this is a matter calling for some inquiry from the Public Service Commissioner. Why is it that, having disposed of the great work on which he and the whole of his staff have been engaged for some years, he should now, when there will be much less work, propose to spend about £2,000 more? I should certainly like, before we go to a division on. the item which has been challenged, to have a little further explanation from the Minister.

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