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Thursday, 31 May 1928


Mr FORDE (Capricornia) .- The new clause should receive the support of every honorable member. The embodying of it in the bill would not involve a departure from any great principle or create an undesirable precedent. There are only 76 divisional returning officers in Australia, and who are better qualified to assess the value of the work they do than members of parliament, who come into close contact with them before and during elections?


Mr Seabrook - They do no extra work before the elections.


Mr FORDE - For three or four months before an election they work at high pressure. I know that they are engaged night after night, working overtime for which they receive no extra payment. That is especially so in big electorates like Capricornia. When a. pri vate employer asks a clerk or typist to work overtime he expects to pay extra. The divisional returning officers should not be expected to work night after night, as they do during the election campaign and between polling day and the declaration of the poll. They have authority to engage assistance, and to pay overtime to others, but not to themselves. The Prime Minister's remarks would lead one to believe that these men were receiving princely salaries. He reminded us that the Public Service regulations prevent the payment of overtime to persons receiving £400 or more. Many unskilled workers earn £8 or £9 a week.


Mr Scullin - They do not average that wage.


Mr FORDE - No ; but £9 is not a big payment, especially for men with expert knowledge and holding responsible positions. The divisional returning officers are in a different category from other public servants; as they number only 76 it would be easier to do justice to them than to rectify injustices throughout the Public Service. They are selected because of their ability and integrity. Like judges and magistrates, they are expected to be absolutely impartial, and I have never heard complaint that any one of them has shown a partiality for any candidate or party. We pay high salaries to our judges to place them beyond want and temptation; for the same reason we should increase the payment of the divisional returning officers. All our public servants are underpaid, and this bill gives a special opportunity to be just to one section of them.


Mr Seabrook - Because an election is approaching.


Mr FORDE - The honorable member unjustly reflects upon the divisional returning officers if he suggests that they will be influenced by what is said by honorable members on this bill. I hope the Government will accept the proposed new clause.







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