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Wednesday, 21 October 1970

Mr BROWN (Diamond Valley) - In this debate on the estimates for the Prime Minister's Department I wish to speak briefly on one matter which was raised by the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) last evening. Towards the end of his speech the honourable member said:

The professional engineers case was a prime example of the stubbornness of the Prime Minister and his blindness to facts, reason and the need for fair play. It is no use Hie Prime Minister denying - and I do not believe him if he does deny it - that be used his influence upon the Public Service Board to prevent the professional engineers from retaining the position they secured in the general wage structure of Australia as a result of the 1961 engineers case.

It is with respect to that allegation that I wish to direct a few remarks. I, like the honourable member for Hindmarsh, have a great deal of sympathy for the claims being put forward in Australia at the present time by and on behalf of professional engineers. It seems to me, if one looks at the position of professional engineers in this country' - at the training they have to undergo and at the work that engineers in this country are engaged on today - that they are entitled to much higher salaries than they are receiving. To give proper and due recognition to their significance in the industrial development and progress in Australia in general they should be paid much higher wates.

I strongly disagree with the suggestion of the honourable member for Hindmarsh that the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) - on other occasions he suggested the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Snedden) also - had exerted pressure or influence on the Public Service Board and the Arbitration Commission in the engineers case. I have made a study of these allegations and I have come to the conclusion as a result of my researches, and starting off without any prejudices at all, that the allegations are unjustified. I say they are unjustified from a detailed reading that I have made of the judgments delivered by the Arbitration Commission in the engineers case.

I would like to leave this aspect for a moment and return to the first of the two points that I said I wished to raise in respect of this matter. The University of Melbourne Appointments Board earlier this year published a survey of professional incomes in Victoria. That survey contains some very interesting and useful information illustrating the relative position of engineers in respect to other professional men. For instance, one can start off with the dentistry profession. From the analysis that the Appointments Board made one can see that only 8 per cent of the dentistry profession earn under $6,000 a year and that 60 per cent of the members of this profession are earning $10,000 a year or over. Let me take my own profession - the profession of law - which 1 followed before I took the steady slide towards bankruptcy. Thirty per cent of those in the profession of law are earning less than $6,000 a year - very happy days - and 46 per cent are earning $10,000 or over. If one goes further down the list - one has to go a long way down - one comes to the engineers. This profession, according to the list, is below the profession of surveying, for instance, where only 16 per cent are earning $10,000 a year.

In the profession of psychology 14 per cent of those engaged earn $10,000 a year or more. Then we come to the engineering profession which is the third last category on the list of the numerous professions examined by the Appointments Board. One finds that the very large percentage of 27 per cent of people in this profession are earning less than $6,000 a year, and that only 12 per cent are earning $10,000 or over. That is a very small percentage. It is only in two other professions - the professions of agricultural science and social work - that there is a lower percentage of men employed who are earning a salary of $10,000 a year or over. I would have thought that those figures by themselves illustrate the first proposition I wish to make, that when we consider the importance of engineers to the industrial development and progress of Australia and the salaries they are receiving, which are set out in surveys such as the one I have just mentioned and others, we must agree that the salaries are lower than they should be.

Mr Foster - The Government should recognise that, should it not?

Mr BROWN - The honourable member for Sturt refers to the Government. I was just about to come to the Government.

Mr Foster - Yes. get into them.

Mr BROWN - I do not need the encouragement of the honourable member for Sturt to get into the Government because I am quite capable of doing that from my own examination of the facts. When one looks at the position of engineers in the Commonwealth Public Service one can see that their position is not very satisfactory. One can see, for instance, the very useful material that the Australian Association of Professional Engineers has produced and submitted to the Commonwealth Public Service Board in support of its claims for higher salaries. The information set forth in those submissions demonstrates the very unsatisfactory position that professional enginers are in as far as their relative positions are concerned. One can look, for instance, in this material that the Association presented to the Board and see that a technician, for instance, at a minimum age of 21 years is earning a salary of $3,989 a year. His qualifications are the Leaving Certificate plus a 4-year technical college certificate which is the equivalent of a 2-year full time course.

One can go up the scale to an individual described as clerk class 5, whose salary at the minimum age of 23 year is $5,356 a year. That gentleman would be an honours graduate who had completed a 4-years course of study plus a 1-year administrative training course. When one conies to the engineer, one finds that a diplomate engineer aged 21 - this is according to information that I have - receives a salary of only $3,867 a year. This is lower than the salary received by the technician I referred to earlier and, indeed, much lower than the salary received by the clerk class 5 who has gained an honours graduate degree. One might say that perhaps this should be so to some extent because the clerk class 5 has, after all, gained an honours degree. But then one should look at the engineer who has completed a 4-year course in engineering at a university. Having completed that course at the minimum age of 22 he receives a salary of $4,213 a year. This salary is still very considerably less than that received by the clerk who has done an honours course at a university for the same period of study. 1 wish 1 had more time in which to pass on to the Committee more of this information because in summary I think I can fairly say having examined it in some detail, that it does illustrate a very unsatisfactory situation so far as the salaries of professional engineers are concerned.

I would now like to come back to the basic point that what one should be looking at is the shortage of engineers in Australia, the length of training, the detailed training that engineers go through and the great and essential value of engineers in the important matter of the industrial development of Australia. If I could leave that aspect of the problem I would like to refer to the second point which I earlier said I wished to make in this debate. I want to refute without any hesitation the allegations made by the honourable member for Hindmarsh that the Prime Minister had exerted pressure on the Public Service Board. Indeed, on this occasion - I think on numerous other occasions as well - the honourable member has said that this pressure has been followed through to pressure on the Arbitration Commission. In the first place I think it is only fair to say that it has been made clear by the Minister for Labour and National Service in terms and over his signature that this is not so. He has completely denied all of the allegations made. But what is more important is (hat when one considers the judgment of the Arbitration Commission following the deci sion of the Public Service Board one sees in articulated clear terms a clear statement by the Commission that it rejects any suggestion that it brought down its decision in the engineers case because of anything that had been said by the Public Service Board. The Commission expressly rejected that suggestion. So I say that I completely disagree - I think the evidence supports this without any shadow of doubt - that there has been, in this case or indeed in any other case, any pressure brought to bear from the Prime Minister or from the Minister for Labour and National Service on the Public Service Board and through it on the Arbitration Commission. The facts just do not bear it out.

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