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Tuesday, 8 November 1904

Mr McDONALD (Kennedy) - I cannot say that I approve of the proposal of the Prime Minister.

Mr Reid - Let us vote upon the question at once. Surely we ought to do some work.

Mr McDONALD - I would point out that the right honorable gentleman has occupied the time of the House for threequarters of an hour this afternoon, whereas I have not even obtruded a legitimate interjection. Personally, I do not believe in attacking the salaries of officers who are in receipt of less than£300 annually. . The Minister of Home Affairs has informed us that increments will be paid upon salaries up to £160.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - The Treasurer said that.

Mr McDONALD - I do not desire to attack salaries of less than£300. Consequently, I can see that a difficulty will arise. One section of the House may desire that salaries of less than , £200 per annum shall not be reduced, another may fix the amount at £160, whereas, I believe that we should not interfere with emoluments of less than . £300. But there is another feature of these proceedings to which I strongly object. We are asked to vote increments to certain officers before we have approved of the classification scheme. We have been assured by the Government that if we vote this money, we shall subsequently be afforded an opportunity of approving or disapproving of the classification scheme, and that the only increments payable to officers will be those which are paid in conformity with our own decision. Personally, I am of opinion that the Committee should first discuss the classification scheme, because when we have approved of it, either in whole or in part, the Government will know the exact amount which Parliament is desirous of voting, and will be able to place it upon the Estimates for next year. It seems to me that we are going the wrong way to work. Since the creation of this Department the salary of the secretary has been increased by £150; similarly, the remuneration of the Registrar has been increased by , £120 within two years.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Are we not discussing the classification scheme now?

Mr McDONALD - We have a perfect right to discuss it if we so desire. Under the heading of the "Public Service Commissioner," we are at liberty to deal with any officer under his control. I would further point out that, since his appointment, the salary of the Examiner has been increased by£150. I regret that the history of the States Parliaments, in regard to their public servants, seems likely to be repeated in the case of the Commonwealth. In the States Legislatures it has been customary for Governments to submit ill-digested schemes for increasing the salaries of their public officers. A few years later, Commissions have almost invariably been appointed to inquire into the work performed by these officers and the salaries which they received. What has been the result? In most cases it has been found that the Departments were overmanned and overpaid. Then an agitation is aroused similar to what was known as the "Kyabram movement" of a couple of years ago, and a violent desire is exhibited to cut down salaries indiscriminately. If we follow those lines we shall ultimately land the Commonwealth in a state of chaos, so far as the Public Service is concerned. Ill-feeling will be engendered between the servants of the Commonwealth and the Public Service Commissioner, or the Government of the day. That is the sort of thing which we should endeavour to avoid. I protest against this vote upon the ground that we are asked to vote an amount which is nearly £2,000 in excess of that which was spent last year. That is a very large increase.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - The Committee is not asked to sanction an expenditure of nearly£2,000 in excess of the vote of last year.

Mr McDONALD - That is so. But the difference between the amount which was actually expended last year and that which we are now asked to vote is nearly , £2,000. We find that this Department is growing day after day, and that the management of the Public Service of the Commonwealth, roughly speaking, involves an expenditure of£1 per head.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I rise to a point of order. I submit that a general discussion of this kind would have been in order on the first item in the. Estimates of the Department, but that the honorable member has no right on this item to indulge in general observations concerning the whole Public Service.

The CHAIRMAN - We are now dealing with the Public Service Commissioner's Branch of the Department, and any matter affecting the classification of the service may be discussed on this item. The salaries paid to officers cannot be discussed, however, save in regard to the increases for which the classification provides.

Mr McDONALD - I am surprised that the honorable member should have raised such a point of order, considering that he has been so long in Parliament.

Mr JOSEPH COOK (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I have never known a general discussion of this kind to be allowed, save on the first item in the Estimates of a Department.

Mr McDONALD - Then the honorable member has not seen much. I only desire to show that under the present system the cost of management is out of all proportion to the extent of the Public Service, and that it is necessary for us to curtail the expenditure. If the cost of the management of the service goes on increasing in the same ratio, it will, sooner or later, cause the Government a good deal of trouble, and give rise to further irritation between the States and the Commonwealth. We must remember that this expenditure does not relate to transferred Departments, but is wholly, new, and has to be borne by all the States. That being so, wet ought to be very guarded in dealing with it, and I trust that reductions will be made in items relating to all salaries above , £300. The course proposed by the Prime Minister is a very inadequate one, and I hope that it will not be adopted. If an amendment were submitted to reduce the amount provided for in the Appropriation Bill it would be said to be tantamount to a motion of want of confidence.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - The Prime Minister proposed a vote on the Estimates to decide the matter.

Mr McDONALD - Even that is a most unsatisfactory proposition. It seems to met that the Government should instruct a clerk in the Treasury to deduct all the increases of salary provided for in the Estimates, so that as each item came before the Committee the Minister in charge would be in a position to ask that it be passed less the amount of the proposed increase. That course might be followed without difficulty, and would not involve any general remodelling of the Estimates.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - We should have very great difficulty in separating the amounts.

Mr McDONALD - I do not think so. If we reduced the amount provided for in the Appropriation Bill by £24,000, we should still be unable to compel the Government to allow . for the reduction by striking off increases in certain salaries. The reduction might be provided for in a hundred and one ways. An Appropriation

Bill must necessarily cover the sum voted by the Committee, and if the total appropriation were reduced by £50,000 or £60,000, the Government would not be forced to reduce the salaries of any of their pet officers.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - The .proposal to which the honorable member refers has been withdrawn ; it is now desired to take a test vote on the Estimates.

Mr MCDONALD - The suggestion is that we should take a test vote on the Estimates, and, if a reduction be made, to reduce the Appropriation Bill accordingly. That, however, would be impracticable. The honorable member for Maranoa has moved that this vote be reduced by .£20, his desire being that the Appropriation Bill shall provide for the payment of salaries, less the general increases under the classification. But, if the amendment were carried, the only result would 'be that the Appropriation Bill would cover the whole sum voted on the Estimates, less the one reduction of £20. I do not think that any Government would admit that an Appropriation Bill introduced by it could be reasonably reduced by £24.000. I submit that the Prime Minister's proposal is utterly impracticable, and that the only course for us to adopt is that which I have suggested. For the reason that I am opposed to the position taken up by the honorable gentleman, I will not allow myself to be dragged into supporting that procedure. I will be no party to allow these increases to be paid in1 any cases in which the salary exceeds £300, and I shall vote against them.

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