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Wednesday, 29 November 1905


Senator CROFT (Western Australia) - The other day I asked a question with respect to the item " gratuities for the conveyance of mails by non-contract vessels." A similar item is found in the division for each of the States. I was told, in answer to my question, that these gratuities represented1 the amount paid as poundage rates. In the circumstances, it appears to me that the wrong term is used. If we are paying for the carriage of mails at per lb., it is misleading to describe the charge as a gratuity.


Senator Drake - That is a technical term used in the Post-office.


Senator CROFT - As we go along we are getting rid of red-tape, and we might decide to use common-sense terms. Some alteration of this item should, I think, be made, so that the ordinary reader may understand what it means.

Senator KEATING(Tasmania- Honorary Minister). - After this matter was mentioned by the honorable senator last week, I caused inquiries to be made, and I find that postally the word " gratuity " is used in a technical sense. It means the payment made to non-contract vessels as distinguished from subsidies paid to contract vessels. In several State Post and Telegraph Acts the word appears, and in the Estimates of Expenditure of those States it was invariably used. When this Department was transferred' to the Commonwealth, and Estimates, were framed in connexion with each of the States Postal Departments, the word "gratuities" was retained, and I think rightly, because it serves to indicate to those concerned with State finances what particular sums are being expended in this way. I have received a memorandum on the subject, in which it is said -

The same wording has been continued in the Estimates of Expenditure for the Commonwealth, but arrangements will be made in connexion with the 1906-7 Estimates to amend the wording so as to make it clear that these payments are payments at poundage rates.

Senator GIVENS(Queensland). - In reply to a question put in another place a day or so ago, the astonishing information was given that big places of business like the Hotel Australia, in Sydney, and the Grand Hotel, in Melbourne, have an attendant all to themselves in the telephone exchanges, and the cost of this attendance comes to more than the total receipts received from these hotels for the telephone services they enjoy. That is altogether wrong. There are other expenses in connexion with these telephones, such as the expense of putting the lines to the hotels, and of fitting up telephones in them; and if all the figures were supplied, I suppose it would be found that these two hotels secure complete telephone services for half, or less than half, the amount they cost the Commonwealth. That should! not be tolerated. I understand that there is a special rate for hotels, but it should be differentiated in some way, and the charge made according to accommodation. If, for instance, an hotel can accommodate twenty guests, it might be charged the minimum charge, but if it can accommodate 200 guests, it should be charged accordingly on some ascending scale, so that the actual cost of the service shall not be about twice as much as the total receipts from it.


Senator Keating - The whole matter of abolishing or modifying the present flat rates is being considered.


Senator GIVENS - I am very glad to hear it. It is, at any rate, desirable that the matter should be mentioned, because the taxpayers of the Commonwealth have a right to expect that when they provide a first-class service for people who enjoy the greatest possible advantage from it, they should receive some remuneration in proportion to the cost of the service provided.

Senator STEWART(Queensland). - A great many complaints have been made about reductions of salaries of Victorian employes of the Post and Telegraph Department. For the information of honorable senators, I propose to read a list of increases which have been granted to men in the more highly paid positions in the service. This list gives the salaries of particular officers on the 26th December, 1900, and the salaries of the same officers as classified by the Public Service Commissioner -

 

In nearly every one of these cases the men had already been receiving what might be termed a fair salary. In some cases the salaries were increased by 20 per cent., in others by 30 per cent., in others by 50 per cent., and in others by up to 100 per cent. ; indeed, in some instances, fairly high salaries have been exactly doubled. While the Commissioner has been increasing the salaries of the comparatively highly-paid men, he has been doing everything he possibly could to screw down the emoluments of the men in the lower grades. Last night

I tried to induce the Committee to intervene on behalf of those men, and to get the Commissioner to re-open the whole matter, but I was unsuccessful. I do not intend to dwell upon the matter, but merely to point out that the more highly-paid men are getting increases habitually.


Senator Guthrie - Yes, but the State itself made a number of these increases.


Senator STEWART - No doubt the State increased the number of salaries at. the very last moment.

SenatorMulcahy. - In this table there is a column showing the difference between the salary on the 26th December, 1900, and the salary proposed by the Commissioner.


Senator Guthrie - Why nottake the salaries as they stood on the 27th December, 1900?


Senator STEWART - The salaries were jumped up for a particular reason, but the Commissioner was not satisfied, and he had to give them another hitch up. Apparently, while increasing the salaries of the more highly-paid officers, he has set himself assiduously to cut down the remuneration of the more lowly-paid officers. Of course, if the Committee approve of that policy, I have no more to say.I gave them an opportunity yesterday of saying whether they did or not. They decided that they did, and now it will go forth to the people that the Commissioner is supported in this policy by the members of the Senate.

Senator KEATING(Tasmania - Honorary Minister). - In many cases the increases to which Senator Stewart has referred were brought about in the first instance by the States Public Service Classification Boards prior to the Departments being transferred. With regard to the officers who he complains have experienced a decrease in salary, I would point out that, by virtue of section 19 of a famous Victorian Act of Parliament, every officer of a transferred Department in the State was entitled to claim, in respect of his work, a salary equal to the highest salary which was given to any officer in any other State performing similar work. The Act was passed just prior to Victoria entering the Federation. In effect, its Parliament said, " Our letter-carriers and telegraph operators are going over to the Commonwealth. We provide now that those officers, as well as every other officer who is transferred--


Senator Stewart - There are none of those officers here.


Senator KEATING - The telegraph operators are included. Whatever they be, they are transferred officers. I only gave those cases as an instance. The Act provided that every transferred officer should receive for his services a salary equal to the highest salary paid to any officer performing similar services in any other State. It was thought at the time that the Commonwealth was going to obtain gold from a treasury which was then hidden upon which it might provide all these men with an increase. As a matter of fact, the men have been receiving the salaries, and Victoria has had to pay them because they were transferred officers.


Senator Stewart - And they are cut down.


Senator KEATING - Our Public Service Commissioner came along, and in the course of the duty which devolved upon him by Statute, he proceeded to classify: the public servants of the Commonwealth. He had to work upon uniform principles and lines, no matter what the Statute of Victoria provided as to the salaries to be received by its transferred officers in comparison with those enjoyed by officers in other States. In order to determine the value of the work done by the different persons, and their efficiency, he had to subject them to an examination. By virtue of section 19 of the Victorian Act No. 1721, a number of officers in Victoria were receiving a salary of £130, but on the adoption of the classification scheme early this month their payments under that Act ceased, and they are now receiving a salary of £120.


Senator Findley - Can the scheme override the Constitution?


Senator KEATING - I think it can override that Statute of Victoria. If we are going to have a classification, it must be based on uniform principles. We cannot adopt as a uniform principle an Act which would give a letter-carrier of nineteen or twenty years of age in Victoria the same salary as a letter-carrier in South Australia who perhaps has put in forty years' service. These men have been reduced in some instances from £130 to £120 as the result of the examination. They have not proved, in the opinion of the Commissioner, their efficiency to do work for which a salary of £130 ought to be paid. But all those who presented themselves for examination did not fail.

There were many who passed the test, and whose salaries were raised from £130 to £140. The complaints we hear come from those who failed to pass the examination," and who, therefore, have had to go back from £130 to £120, so that they will be on the same level as officers who are doing corresponding work in other parts of the Commonwealth. The fact of the matter is that the Victorian Act gave a certain number of persons anartificial salary, and now, when the classification scheme has been adopted, and uniform principles have to be applied throughout the Commonwealth, they have, in some instances, to get down to a salary equivalent to the work which is being done. If officers in Victoria cannot show that they are rendering services equivalent to a salary of £140, they will have to go back to a salary of £120 until they can demonstrate their efficiency to attain to the higher rate after which they will proceed by the ordinary increase until they reach the highest salary in the division, namely, £160.

Senator STEWART(Queensland). - Senator Keating has carefully avoided dealing with my principal complaint about the very large increases in the salaries of the highly-paid officers. These men were not asked to undergo any examination, or pass any test. They were simply advanced, so far as I can discover, at the sweet will of the Commissioner. A section of the telegraphists in Victoria were promoted without being subjected to any test, as Senator Keating admitted in reply to a question by' me a few days ago. Why were these telegraphists in Victoria advanced without being subjected to a test, while the other men were tried by examination ? Further, why were examinations not held in the other States? Why were the Victorian telegraphists singled out for this test?


Senator Keating - Because, as I said, they were getting an artificial salary.


Senator STEWART - That is the most extraordinary answer I have ever heard. If the salary was artificial then, it is artificial now, and a dozen examinations would not make it real. The men are doing exactly the same work now as they were doing previously. They were not able to pass some fancy test to which they were subjected bv the Commissioner. The Minister says that the salary is artificial. If it was artificial in the one case it was artificial in every case. If these men are not doing their work properly, they ought to be dismissed. If they cannot earn the salaries which they are receiving, they should get their walking ticket. It seems to me to be an extraordinary method of " cutting down men's salaries, more especially those in the lower grades of the service, who are getting very poor remuneration at best. And1 if these men were subjected to a test, why were not officers in the other States subjected to the same test? We hear a great deal about uniformity. Why did not the men in the other States have an opportunity of showing whether they were capable of earning the increases which had been given to these officers? ' It appears to me, speaking without prejudice, that the whole thing is a complete jumble, and that the service is seething with incapacity from top to bottom. I have a word or two to say 1 with regard to Queensland. It will be fresh in the recollection of honorable senators that a few days ago I put a few questions to the Minister representing the PostmasterGeneral. Replies were given. But probably honorable senators do not know the inner history of those questions. I propose to give some information on the point. At the end of January last, an employe" in the Brisbane Post Office was found to have stolen a sum of £8 belonging to the Department. I understand that on the discovery of the theft he was told to go home. In the beginning of February he was tried in Brisbane, convicted of larceny, and sentenced to six months' imprisonment. But he was liberated under the First Offenders Act. On, the 24th of June he received a letter, informing him that he had been suspended on the charges that he had absented himself from duty without leave; that he had failed to account for the sum of £8 odd ; and also that he had been convicted at the Police Court in Brisbane on this charge, and sentenced to six months' imprisonment. This letter, be it noted, was sent on the 24th June, about five months after he had been convicted and sentenced. He had left the office at the end of January, had been convicted of larceny at the beginning of February, and was suspended on the 24th June. He was called upon to answer the charges in writing. He saw the Deputy Postmaster-General, who asked him to resign. But meanwhile some kind friend had whispered in his ear that, not having been suspended or dismissed, he could make a claim for his salary. He did make that claim, and the sum of £83 and some odd shillings was paid to him for which he never did a single hour's work. These facts disclose a most extraordinary state of affairs. Here is a man discovered in an offence at the end of January. He is told - I suppose by his superior officer - to leave the office. In the beginning of February he is charged and sentenced to six months' imprisonment, but is liberated under the First Offenders Act. He was ultimately dismissed, I believe, some time in August; but the Department had to pay him£83 - his salary from the date in January . when he left the office until the date when he was suspended. I want to know why he was not suspended the moment the offence was discovered, and why he was" not dismissed the moment he was sentenced? I want to know, further, what officer was responsible for this neglect of duty ? That officer, I submit, ought to have two alternatives placed before him - either to pay the £83, or to leave the service. The facts disclose a state of affairs which is really lamentable. How can we place any reliance upon an Administration which conducts its affairs in this slipshod fashion? If the interests of the Commonwealth are neglected in these particulars, how are we to know that the whole of our Post and Telegraph business is not going to rack and ruin ? I shall be glad to hear whether Senator Keating has any information to give.

Senator KEATING(Tasmania - Honorary Minister). - -The matter to which Senator Stewart has referred was brought up by means of a question put to me one day last week. Since then I have been making inquiries, and I find, as he has pointed out, that the case first arose in January last. The officer in, question, Butler, was guilty of the larceny of £8 14s, 3d. He was brought before the justices and convicted. He was dealt with, however-, as a first offender, and liberated under the provisions of the State First Offenders Probation Act. Then the question arose as to how far he had forfeited his office. Under the Public Service Act, section 66, it is provided that -

If an officer is on an indictment or presentment convicted of any offence he shall be deemed to have forfeited his office, and shall thereupon cease to perform his duties or receive his salary.

The question had been submitted to the Crown Solicitor - I do not know whether it was an abstract question or whether a concrete case was mentioned - as far back as October, 1903, whether an officer convicted of an offence on an information - as compared with the word " indictment," used in the Public Service Act - could be deemed to have forfeited his office. It was pointed out that the word " indictment," under section 27A of the Acts Interpretation Act, included " information." An opinion was given by the Crown Solicitor to the effect that a conviction on an information would not necessarily cause an officer to forfeit his office, because he might be convicted, for instance, upon an information for riding his bicycle without a light. When this particular concrete case arose, in the early part of this year, I find that what was done by the then Government was that the matter was referred for advice as to whether the conviction of Butler brought him under section 66 of the Public Service Act. That was immediately after he had been released under the First Offenders Act.


Senator Stewart - Did not the authorities know what to do with him?


Senator KEATING - They did not know as a matter of interpretation whether he had lost his office. He had been convicted before two justices.


Senator Clemons - The matter submitted to the Crown Solicitor was a very vague reference.


Senator KEATING - I donot know whether, in the earlier instance, a concrete case or an abstract case was submitted. I am informed that this subject was brought under the notice of the Government at the time, and was referred for advice as to whether the conviction brought Butler under section 66 of the Public Service Act. The Crown Solicitor forwarded the papers to the AttorneyGeneral, and he gave an opinion upon the case which runs as follows : -

Butler was" charged with, an indictable offence, but apparently was dealt with summarily under the State Justices Act. The question is whether he was convicted on an indictment or a presentment within the meaning of section 66 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act 1902. Section 27 of the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 provides that in any Act, unless the contrary intention appears, the word "indictment" shall include information. The Crown Solicitor has previously advised that summary conviction for an offence which is not indictable is not a conviction on indictment or presentment. My view is that information in section 27 of the Acts Interpretation Act means an information in the nature of an indictment, and does not include an information before justices; and consequently that the officer in this case was not convicted on " indictment or presentment." " Indictment " in English law means an indictment by a Grand Jury. In Australia indictable offences are mostly prosecuted by information or presentment of the Attorney-General or other Crown Law Officer- and it is submitted that the intention of the Acts Interpretation Act is merely to make the word indictment extend to this procedure.


Senator Clemons - Who was the AttorneyGeneral ?


Senator KEATING - Senator Symon.


Senator Stewart - Why was the man not suspended?


Senator KEATING - The authorities were not in a position to suspend the man, unless they were certain that such action would be the proper one. A proper charge would have had to be formulated, and it was desirable that iti should be known whether it was necessary to suspend him, considering the possible fact that he bad forfeited his office by conviction. He had been convicted, but was still not suspended.


Senator Stewart - Then why not have suspended him then?


Senator KEATING - I have twice told the honorable senator the reason. It was not known whether the .man could be suspended, or whether that was the proper course, until the legal position bad bien ascertained.


Senator O'Keefe - The Department might have been open to a claim for damages ?


Senator KEATING - Exactly. It was desired That a course should be adopted which could be followed in all similar cases hereafter, and the proper step was taken to obtain an opinion from the Law Department of the Commonwealth. The Crown Solicitor thought the case of such importance that he referred it to the AttorneyGeneral. It was seen that it could not be held that the man had lost his office, and that if they had endeavoured to act on the supposition that he had, the Department might have been) involved in an action for damages.


Senator Stewart - How?


Senator KEATING - Because he had not lost' his office.


Senator Stewart - He had committed an offence.


Senator KEATING - Then there was a proper procedure to follow.


Senator Stewart - What is that procedure ?


Senator KEATING - The procedure that was afterwards followed -

The Deputy Postmaster-General of Brisbane was thereupon instructed that it would be necessary for proceedings to be taken against Butler under section 46 of the Public Service Act, i.e., that he should be formally suspended and charged with a breach of the provisions of the Act.

That is, that he should be formally suspended, and charged with a breach of the Act;; and* that is why he has been suspended and a charge made against him.


Senator Stewart - The explanation is a thousand times clearer than mud.


Senator KEATING - It is better in a case like this for the authorities to know exactly their legal position - that they, should know exactly where they are.


Senator Stewart - Where are they?


Senator KEATING - It is desirable that no hasty or ill-advised 'action should be taken by the officials on, perhaps, the first reading of the Act,, which may involve the Commonwealth in costs for litigation.


Senator Givens - How is it that a man may be suspended for giving a back answer, to his superior, whilst he cannot be suspended if he is guilty of robbery?


Senator KEATING - If a man has lost his office by virtue of a conviction, as was thought to be the case in Brisbane, he could not be suspended.


Senator Givens - -But this fraud was discovered before the man was convicted, and why was he not then suspended?


Senator KEATING - He might have been suspended on suspicion, but, of course, he was not guilty until convicted. After conviction, the question arose whether a. man could be suspended who had already lost his office by reason of the conviction.







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