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Tuesday, 8 November 1904

Mr BROWN (Canobolas) - Upon the present occasion honorable members are very awkwardly placed, simply because the classification scheme has not yet bee:i d:alt with. I avail myself of this opportunity to point out how unsatisfactory is the position to this House, and how much more unsatisfactory it* is to the rank and file of the public servants. The latter have been looking forward to receiving their increases under the classification scheme, but apparently there is very little hope that they will obtain them during the present financial year, even if this vote be carried. We know that the appeals against the classification recommended by the Public Service Commissioner are so numerous that it is practically impossible for the House to deal with that scheme during the present session. It seems very probable, too - as was pointed out by the honorable member for Parramatta - that the hearing of these appeals will not be completed in time to enable the scheme to be dealt with early next session, and consequently during the present financial year. That position is unsatisfactory to this House, and infinitely more ^unsatisfactory to the civil servants. The honorable member for Gwydir contends that this Committee should not consider the question of increases until the classification scheme has been submitted, and honorable members have been afforded an opportunity of judging the whole position from that stand-point. That is a very good position to take up. We wish to be in possession of all the available information in connexion with this matter. We do not desire to record any votes in the dark. On the other hand, we must consider the position of those public servants whose interests are at stake, and also how we may adjust matters so as to best serve the interests of the State. Whilst I strongly sympathize with the honorable member when he declares that this Committee ought not to sanction any vote upon which it has not the fullest information, we are compelled to acknowledge that in regard to this vote we, unfortunately, occupy that position. Until the classification scheme has been adopted, it is impossible for the Government to supply us with complete information. But I ask honorable members to regard this matter from the stand-point of the public servants. We know that if the classification scheme be not adopted before the end of the financial year, the public servants will not receive the increments which are due to them. But if the Estimates sanctioning those increases have been agreed to, it will be a guarantee that their claims have not been overlooked, and that Parliament does not intend to reject the classification scheme merely because it involves the granting of certain increases to public officers. If, however, the amendment of the honorable member for Gwydir be carried, that construction might be placed upon our action. If honorable members wish to affirm that the public servants of the Commonwealth are already sufficiently well paid, and that they are not prepared - even under a well-thought-out classification scheme - to further augment their salaries, they stand upon firm ground in refusing to sanction these increases. If, on the contrary, they think that public servants are entitled to increments, no harm can result from agreeing to this vote, on the promise given by the Government that the increases will not be paid until the scheme has been approved. In this way we shall give the Public Service a guarantee that we shall be prepared to consider their claim, to increases under the classification as from the beginning of the current financial year, as soon as we can deal with the scheme. There is much force in the contention advanced by the honorable member for Parramatta, that if we pass this vote the Government will be able month by month to make deductions in respect of these increases from the surplus returnable to the States. If the amendment were carried, however, no such deduction would be made.

Mr McLean - It would mean making provision next year for a double increase.

Mr BROWN - Exactly. It would mean that the deductions, instead of being made in respect of the year for which the increases were payable, would all be made at the one time - that the increased expenditure so incurred would fall with double force on the finances of next year, and that the States would probably not be prepared for so heavy a call. If the whole of the surplus, irrespective of the amount required to meet these increases, were handed to them this year, they would naturally expend it, and incur obligations which would render it more difficult for them to provide for the additional payments. It appears to me that the wiser course for us to follow is to agree to this vote, so that the deductions to be made from the surplus returnable to the States will be spread over two years. I am prepared to support the Government proposal, because, while I think there is a good deal in the objection that we are asked to a large extent , to vote in the dark, I feel that there are other more cogent reasons why we should pass the vote. I support it on the understanding that these increases will not be paid until the classificationscheme has been adopted.

Mr. WEBSTER(Gwydir). - I am not disposed to withdraw the amendment, because the more we; discuss it the more we must recognise the wisdom of it. The suggestion that if we pass this amendment we shall render it impossible for those in the higher divisions of the Public Service to receive their increases, while those in the lower branches of the service will be paid them, does not appeal to me. Justice should be done to all. Every member of the Public Service, whether he is in the higher or the lower divisions of the service, should receive any increase to which he is entitled, and there is nothing in the contention that we should not vote for the amendment because it might involve the withholding from certain officers of an increase of salary. It has been admitted even by the honorable member for Parramatta that there is no likelihood of the classification scheme being finally dealt with for another two years or more.

Mr Brown - I hope it will be dealt with before then.

Mr WEBSTER - Judging by the number of appeals yet to be heard, we are being asked to vote for increases which will certainly not be payable during the current financial year.

Mr McLean - The payments will have to date back to the time of the classification, and we must make provision for them.

Mr WEBSTER - I realize that, but if the classification scheme is not adopted the Treasurer will hold the money represented by these increases throughout the present financial year.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - It is hoped that the appeals will be dealt with during the financial year, because many of them may depend on one point.

Mr WEBSTER - I am not in a position to say when the Appeal Boards will finally dispose of the many cases submitted to them, but I cannot recognise the wisdom of providing for increases under a classification which has- not yet been adopted. The whole classification may be rejected, and that being so, what purpose will be served by making provision for increased salaries under it? Assuming that the classification is not finally dealt with by the Parliament for another two years, the money provided to meet increases of salaries under it will remain in the hands of the Treasurer, and he may be inclined to draw upon it from time to time to meet urgent demands, just as was done in the case of the money passed to provide for the fortification of Fremantle.

Mr Brown - If the present scheme be rejected, another one will have to be framed.

Mr WEBSTER - Exactly ; but we must be cautious in dealing with these matters, and I think we ought to eliminate the provision made for these increases.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. MAHON(Coolgardie).- The subdivision, " Contingencies, £6,145," affords further evidence of the excessive cost of carrying on this Department. I do not think that the explanation made by the Minister, in reply to my remarks as to the completion of the classification, was wholly satisfactory. The preparation of the classification scheme is the principal work which the Public Service Commissioner has had to carry out since his appointment. The work which involved a large portion of the expenditure in connexion with this Department has been done, and I do not see whv an increase should be required. The Minister spoke about the overtime that the officers have worked. What is meant bv an expenditure of £879 for temporary assistance if the officers worked overtime?

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - That was in addition to the overtime.

Mr MAHON - There must be a great deal to do in the office. Why is temporary assistance to the extent of £500 required this year? One would have thought that by this time the work would have got down to normal dimensions. If so much extra clerical' assistance is required, why does not the Department adopt the proper course, and, instead of employing temporary officers, make permanent appointments of junior officers at small salaries ?

Mr Crouch - How is it that postage this year is estimated to cost £900 less than last year?

Mr MAHON - I suppose that arises from the fact that the classification scheme must have involved a considerable amount of telegraphing. The item "other printing, £1,000" is very large. The printing of the classification scheme and of the

Commissioner's report were expensive, but the work is not required to be done again. The Ministerhas said that the classification scheme will involve an annual report, but he overlooks the fact that the type is all set up, and that the cost of issuing the document in succeeding years will be almost nominal.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - But there is the printing of examination papers, and so on.

Mr MAHON - The examination papers are not expensive. The expenditure on " other printing " last year was £1,190. Now that the bulk of the work is done. I cannot see why the Commissioner requires £1,000 worth of printing this year. Then £1,000 is set down for travelling expenses. That is a very generous allowance for six inspectors, now that the work of classifying the service is done.

Mr Brown - There are. always Courts of Appeal.

Mr MAHON - But Courts of Appeal and Boards of Inquiry are provided for otherwise. The Commissioner seldom leaves Melbourne.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - The travelling expenses are not for the Commissioner alone; the inspectors have to travel in connexion with appeals.

Mr MAHON - Not to a great extent.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - Largely.

Mr Johnson - The Commissioner himself has travelled a good deal.

Mr MAHON - I believe that he has travelled on the suburban lines; but I never heard of his going further.

Mr Johnson - He has been to Sydney recently.

Mr MAHON - Then again, we have the item " expenses, Courts of Inquiry, £250," and "expenses, Boards of Appeal, £1,000," being an increase of £500 over last year. The " expenses of holding examinations, including advertising," are £750; "other advertising," is set down at £100; " incidental and petty cash expenditure," at £500. The Minister ought to look into these items. We Were told when this Department was established, that it would be economical, and would manage the Public Service at a purely nominal cost. But we find the total expenditure approaching, £11,000, and involving an increase of nearly £2,000 in one year, although the main portion of the work- of the Department has practically been completed. I do not know whether the Minister feels satisfied with the position of this office.

Judging from what I can hear, the work does not give satisfaction to the public servants, and I am quite sure that it is not satisfactory to the public, seeing that it costs so large an amount of money. Nothing could be more ill-considered than the grading of some of the post-offices in Western Australia - a grading which, on further consideration, had to be altered.

The CHAIRMAN - To what heading do the honorable member's remarks apply?

Mr MAHON - They are incidental to the vote under consideration. The Minister claims that the travelling allowances of these inspectors are not too great. I wish to show that these officers have not travelled to good purpose, or have not had their eyes open when travelling. I do not wish to labour the point, but before we adopt these Estimates, we should have a statement from the Minister as to whether some of the items are justified. I feel inclined to move for a reduction of the travelling expenses, but will give the Minister an opportunity to reply before I do so.

Mr. BROWN(Canobolas). - In connexion with the item, "boards of appeal, £1,000," I presume that that sum is intended to cover the expenditure of boards of appeal under the reclassification scheme. If that be so, in view of the debate which has taken place on earlier items, I wish to take the opportunity to urge strongly upon the Government the advisability of endeavouring to have the appeals dealt with as speedily as possible. The honorable member for Parramatta seems to think that the hearing of the appeals will probably extend over two years. If that be the case the Government should take steps to strengthen the machinery so as to reduce the time. The matter is one which seriously affects the Public Service. Until the appeals are dealt with, the increases which the officers are entitled to under the reclassification scheme cannot be paid to them. I know that we cannot hope to discuss the scheme this session, but I trust that the Government will endeavour to expedite the hearing of the appeals so as to enable the public servants to receive the money to which they are entitled before the end of the present financial year.

Mr Johnson - I understand that there is a verv large number of appeals.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - They are very numerous, but many of them turn upon the same point.

Mr BROWN - I can quite understand that one case may afford a test for a very large number, and that being so, the work involved in dealing with them will not be so great as might appear upon the face of matters. I quite understand that the appeals are so numerous, and of such a character, with so many points involved, that their hearing will take a considerable time. That is the reason I make the appeal, in the interests of the public servants and of good government by this Parliament, that the whole matter should be settled as speedily as possible - that a special effort should be made to have the question decided by the end of the present financial year. Parliament would then be in a position to deal with the classification scheme, and the Government would be empowered to pay the public servants their increased salaries. I do not propose to take objection to any of the items, but merely to press the suggestion I have made. If the present machinery under the Public Service Act is not sufficient, the Government should take the means at their disposal to strengthen the machinery.

Mr DUGALD THOMSON (NORTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Home Affairs) - The honorable member for Coolgardie raised some questions, on which I shall briefly reply. I have already taken steps to see that the items of expenditure referred to are made as low as safety requires. I have had reasons adduced by the Public Service Commissioner why the amounts in the Estimates should be maintained. The classification list will have to be reprinted ; that will cost a considerable sum, although a great part of the type is already set 'up. Then additional printing will be required by the office, a great many forms passing to and fro amongst the various branches in the Commonwealth, and, in addition there is the ordinary printing for the Department itself. As to the matter of temporary assistance, it will be observed that the cost of that assistance has been reduced by £379- The cause of that reduction is the carrying out of the suggestion of the honorable member for Coolgardie, that permanent appointments should, in some measure, be made to replace the employment of temporary assistance. There must, however, be an amount available for temporary assistance, because in connexion with examinations and other work there are often rushes of business, and it. is quite impossible for the ordinary staff, unless it be unduly enlarged, to get through without assistance. It is much better, in my opinion, to have temporary assistance to meet special rushes of business than to. enlarge the staff to such a degree as to be able to cope with the work under every condition. The honorable member will quite understand that there has been no opportunity for this Government to effect, many reductions ; but every attention will be given to the desirability of keeping the expenditure down to the lowest point. As to the remarks of the honorable member for Canobolas, I, by interjection, stated that many of the appeals hang on the same point. For instance, a number of the appeals are in connexion with what is really a legal question, namely, the statutory rights carried over from the States services. Whether those appeals will be satisfactorily settled by an Appeal Board has to be seen ; but a great number of the cases, as I say, hang on that one point. So with other appeals, and every effort is being made to complete the business as rapidly as possible. But it must be remembered that the inspector has by the Act to be a member of the board, and, therefore, there cannot be a multiplication of boards. The Commissioner is very hopeful that, so far as the appeals can be settled by the Appeal Boards, there will be a conclusion of the work within the next few months.

Proposed vote agreed to.

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