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Wednesday, 22 November 1905

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) - There is a matter in connexion with the Defence Department to which I should like to address the attention of Ministers and the Senate. It is a matter which I have raised on previous occasions, and to which I understand the Minister has been giving some attention - the case of what are known as the military clerks. Two classes of clerks are employed in the Defence Department. Seventy-nine of them are serving under the Public Service Act, and are called public service clerks; thirty-seven of them are serving under the Defence Act, and are called military clerks. Prior to the proclamation of the Commonwealth Public Service Act, the then Minister of Defence, Sir John Forrest, raised the question whether military clerks should be brought under its provision. Major-General Hutton --who was then Commandant of the Forces - strongly objected to the proposal. It is a singular fact, however, that at this very time the naval clerks, occupying a precisely similar position in the Department, but in a different branch, were brought under the provisions of the Public Service Act. The effect of this distinction is that the public service clerks have the whole Public Service open to them for advancement. The military clerks have no opportunity of advancement beyond a maximum of £260 a year, except in the case of two positions allotted to first clerks. It must he obvious to honorable senators that, however energetic and diligent in the performance of their duties these clerks may be, they are placed at a disadvantage when compared with their fellows who are fortunate enough to have been brought under the Public Service Act. A further disadvantage is that the age limit is controlled entirely by regulation, which may at any time be altered1, so that these clerks have no security of tenure. The age has lately been extended to sixty, but there is no certainty that it may not be reduced once more to fifty-five, or even fifty, in which case the clerks will be subject to all the disabilities which previously attached to the limitation. The military clerks, prior to appointment, are subject to a strict medical examination, and are sworn in under the Defence Act for five years. That medical examination and test is repeated every three years, and if any man is found physically unfit he is liable to be discharged from the service. While 'a medical examination of the kind is very necessary in the case of the active members of the Defence Forces, it cannot be regarded as indispensable in the clerical branch ; but, simply because these clerks happen to be brought under the Defence Act, they have to submit to the same conditions as do the soldiers. In this regard, they occupy a very disadvantageous position, as compared with that of their fellow clerks, who happen to be brought under the Public Service Act. I have here the classification of the military clerks, as arranged by the late Minister of Defence, Mr. McCay, and, according to section 51A, the following is the scale of salaries, inclusive of all other allowances, other than travelling, from the 1st July, 1905: - First class, minimum salary, ,£285, and maximum, £335 ; second class, minimum, £2 2b, and maximum, £260; third class, minimum, £170, and maximum, £210; and fourth class, minimum. £70, and maximum, £160, with increments of £15. There is a foot-note to the scale, as set out for the first class, providing that salaries between the minimum and maximum shall be fixed by the Minister of Defence from time to time in accordance with the work done. There are only two positions for military clerks which carry the maximum salary of £335. The classification for clerks of similar class and grade under the Public Service Act is as follows: - First class, minimum, £520, and maximum, £600; second class, minimum. £420, and maximum. £500; third class, minimum, £310, and maximum, £400 : fourth class, minimum, £185, and maximum, £285 ; fifth class, minimum, £40, and maximum £160. Some of these military clerks work in the same office, side bv side with clerks who are under the Public Service Act; and yet there is in the salary this disparity, which will become more accentuated as time goes on. The clerks under the Public Service Act have the whole road of advancement open to them - they have scores of positions to which they may attain, where the military clerks have only one. During the discussion on the Defence Estimates last year the late Minister of Defence, Mr. MoCay, in referring to the exclusion of the military clerks from the operation of the Public Service Act-

The PRESIDENT - The honorable senator must not quote from a debate in another place.

Senator PEARCE - I am not quoting from a debate; indeed, I do not know whether the remarks of the late Minister of Defence were made in the House. I am merely desirous to show the reasons he gave for the exclusion of military clerks from the operation of the Public Service Act. The late Minister said that there were a great number of technical matters, which, if war were to break out, these clerks would have to attend to on the field, and that if they were brought under the Public Service Act, men would have to be introduced from other Departments to do this work, which they could not be expected to perform. Furthermore, the late Minister of Defence intimated that in the case of some breach of discipline, military clerks, instead of being dealt with by military officers who have control of them, could, under section 50 of the Act. ask for an Appeal Board. But when Mr. McCay made that statement he could not have g,iven the subject much consideration. Had he read section 50 of the Public Service Act he would have found that there are only certain classes of offences which can be made the subject of inquiry bv an Appeal Board. Those offences are provided for in sections 3T. 46, 49, 65, 66, and 73, and comprise negligence, inefficiency, drunkenness, improper conduct incapacity, conviction for any indictable offence, and so forth. In no case can an Appeal Board deal with the class of offences which the late Minister contemplated would lead to a breach of discipline, or to interference with the efficiency of the Defence Forces on active service. Such offences would be dealt with under the Defence Act of 1903, section 73 of which gives military officers full power to dp,il with the whole of the men who come within their control, as would these clerks on active service. It will be seen, therefore, that the objection raised by the late Min ister of Defence is not a valid one, and that it cannot be raised as a reason why these military clerks should continue to be excluded from the operation of the Public Service Act. But even if it were a valid reason, it ought to apply to clerks who are performing exactly similar work in the Naval Department, who are under the Public Service Act. and also to the other seventy-nine clerks in the Defence Department who are exempt from the operation of the Defence Act. I understand that the Minister has taken this matter into consideration, and I trust that he will see the advisableness of departing, from the course laid down by his predecessor, and not leave these military clerks marooned on an island, as it were, away from their fellows. We listened with great interest to the speech of the Minister of Defence last Friday,, though most or us, I think, would have liked him to be a little more definite in regard to the proposals for the future.

Senator Playford - Give me time, in view of all the conflicting evidence !

Senator PEARCE - Perhaps after the recess the Minister may be in a position tc» submit some definite policy.

Senator Playford - Hear, hear !

Senator PEARCE - The Minister, like all of us, recognises the need for a policy, and the very confusion of ideas and of evidence, £0 which reference has been made, only shows the necessity for some strongminded man to come forward and decide on a policy. If Tis not possible for the military and naval men to agree, the Minister ought to say which of their warring policies, or how much of them, shall be adopted.

Senator Matheson - Parliament should say that.

Senator PEARCE - The Minister must submit his policy to us before Parliament can act.

Senator Matheson - But Parliament must eventually settle the policy.

Senator PEARCE - Parliament must eventually indorse the policy. My point is that the Minister should take into consideration the various policies which have been put before him, and shoulder the responsibility due to his office of proposing some action for the future. Amongst the other items mentioned by the Minister of Defence, outside his own Department, was one of £5,000 for the establishment of a Statistical Bureau. The Census and Statistics Bill which we recently passed renders this vote necessary ; but I sincerely trust that the Department of Home Affairs, in establishing the Bureau, will approach the various States Governments, and ascertain whether, in relieving them of any work of this kind, we cannot also relieve them of some of their officers. This is a class of workwhich has been undertaken in the past by the States; and, if each State maintains the present organization, the Commonwealth Bureau will mean the addition of a seventh Department. There are very valuable officers employed by the States in doing, this work, and they might well be transferred to the Commonwealth for the purposes of the proposed Statistical Bureau. During the visit of the Old-age Pensions Committee to Western Australia, I was very much impressed by the capacity of Mr. Wicken, who laid before us some valuable statistical information. The Commonwealth Statistical Bureau may be started on a small and modest scale, but the men we select for the work will probably be at the head of it when it becomes a gigantic and important organization. They ought to be capable men of experience, and not men transferred from other Departments, simply because they happen now to be in the Commonwealth service. The Government will be well advised to ascertain from the States Governments whether their Statistical Departments are over-manned or fully manned, and if there is any possibility of obtaining the services of efficient men to organize the bureau.

Senator Playford - The great point is to prevent duplication of work and double payment for the same information.

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