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Thursday, 31 May 1928

Mr LEY (Barton) .-The Prime Minister (Mr. Bruce) has given us a word of warning that is well deserved I do not think that Parliament should fix the salaries of public officials. The Public Service Board is charged with that important function, and in this particular case if the board had carried out its duty, or, shall I say, refrained from making a statement that has given grave cause for dissatisfaction, no complaint would have been made. I have come into contact with the divisional returning officers, and their case was taken up by me because of the facts revealed in the correspondence that was produced to some of us who formed a deputation to the Government on their behalf. From that correspondence, it is perfectly clear that, when the salaries of these men were fixed by the Public Service Board, the additional responsibilities that they to-day bear were not taken into consideration, because the legislation that has since been passed providing for compulsory voting and the taking of referendums was not then projected. Unfortunately, I have left that correspondence in my office in Sydney. It was necessary for . me to ascertain whether these officers had an easy time for three years and worked only during a small portion of that period when an election was approaching. I visited the offices of several divisional returning officers and overlooked their work. I discovered that their job is no sinecure. I was greatly impressed by the cleanliness of the Federal rolls, the manner in which they were kept, and the up-to-date data which had been collected by the officers. My investigation revealed a continuous and systematic effort on their part. They attend the office every morning at 9 o'clock until the appointed hour of departure. In one case not only did the returning officer work on Saturdays and Sundays to fulfil his duties, but he obtained the assistance of his daughter to do typing for him. "Were these officers employed by private firms there would be a clamour for overtime rates to be paid to them. I cannot understand the attitude of the Public Service Board. It manifestly did not know, when it fixed the salaries of the returning officers, that legislation would be introduced entailing additional work and responsibility. It seems to me that the board, having informed the Prime Minister that it had taken all the circumstances into consideration has, considering itself omniscient, refused to go back on its word. That would certainly justify action being taken by this Parliament. The Prime Minister has said that the returning officers have the right to appeal to the Public Service Arbitrator. That is quite true, but it may interest the right honorable gentleman to know that these men have appealed to the Public Service Arbitrator, and although that appeal has been lodged for several years, their case has not yet been heard, and they have received no redress. They have therefore been compelled to take some definite action through this Parliament to let the Public Service Board know of their additional responsibilities. I do not think, however, that Parliament should intervene in the maner proposed. It would be a great pity to insert a clause in the bill providing for the re-adjustment of salaries of these public servants. The reason for that is perfectly clear. It would mean, as the Prime Minister has said, that Parliament might become a happy hunting ground for organized bodies outside to enable their members to obtain advantages to which they were not entitled,., Let me, however, emphasize the attitude of, the Public Service Board. First of all," the board, when fixing the salaries pf the. returning officers, did not know that' legislation was .to be introduced providing for compulsory voting and the taking of referendums. Despite that fact, .it still intimated to the Prime Minister that it had taken every circumstance into consideration. I regard that as an insult to the intelligence of honorable members. It is useless for the Prime Minister to speak of an appeal to the Public Service Arbitrator as a means of obtaining redress for the returning officers, because they have already appealed, but so far have not had their case heard. If the Government will give us an assurance that this appeal, which has been standing over for a very considerable time, will be heard promptly, I shall be quite satisfied. In view of all the circumstances, I quite realize that the honorable member for Hunter (Mr. Charlton) felt that this was the only proper course to take in order to ventilate the matter. I do not think that any honorable member in this House would be very anxious to vote for a clause of this kind, because its insertion in the bill would, as the Prime Minister pointed out', undermine a principle that we all ought to uphold. But I think that the Government ought to give us a definite assurance that the appeal on this matter will be heard without any further delay.

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