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Thursday, 31 May 1928

Mr PERKINS (Eden) (Monaro) . - I have no doubt that the Prime Minister may be right on high moral grounds in the attitude which he has taken up, but I remember that during a debate on this subject two years ago it seemed to be generally agreed that the electoral officers were entitled to an increase in salary. It was felt, at that time, that they were suffering an injustice, and nothing has yet been done to remedy it. I frequently come into contact with the divisional returning officer for this district, and I was well acquainted with his predecessor also. During the last general elections the returning officer for my district was very busily employed. Within a couple of months of the elections the member who had been elected (Sir Austin Chapman) died, and a by-election was held, as a result of which I was chosen. During all this time the returning officer was a sick man, and the medical opinion wa« that his health had been undermined because he was kept too closely at his work. Eventually he fell ill, and the counting of votes had to be temporarily stopped. The residents of that district know that this man died a martyr to his duties, and that he was an underpaid man as well. When the Public Service Board fixes salaries, and we do not know whether their decision is right or wrong, we can do nothing about it; but here is a case in which every honorable member of this House agrees that the men are underpaid. The salaries of many country postmasters are too low, and possibly other officers with whom we do not come in contact are underpaid, but their cases are not before us. That is no reason why we should not. do justice to these men whom, we know are inadequately remunerated. The proposed new clause may be a dangerous precedent, but continued underpayment of valued public officers is more dangerous. The salaries received 'by the divisional returning officers are not commensurate with the responsibilities they have to bear. I know that one returning officer, who was my neighbour, worked night after night without extra payment. Referendums and by-elections are not taken into consideration when the salaries of electoral officers are fixed. Although the proposed new clause may not be the best way to achieve what we desire, I prefer to support it rather than see the present injustice continue.

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