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Thursday, 16 November 1911

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - I have much pleasure in supporting the motion in a general manner, but I cannot agree with the Honorary Minister, who tried to make out too much. In South Australia the Post and Telegraph Department could not have been much worse than it was. Indeed, things were so bad in connexion with the Federal referenda that the opponents cf Labour directed attention to the mismanagement of the Department, and quoted the fact to prove that the Federal Government had more to do now than they could well do. Senator Vardon will, I am sure, agree with me, because I am quoting from a speech which he delivered at the time the Department in South Australia was seething with discontent; in fact, I was afraid that a strike would take place. That was not a very pleasant thing to think of. Several members of this Parliament, including myself, interviewed the officers concerned, and told them to be cautious, and to wait a bit. We said that the report of the Postal Commission had been laid on the table in each House, and would be dealt with, and if, as they said, they could not get justice from the Public Service Commissioner, they might be able to get it from Parliament. Ever since the cry has been, " Adopt by all means the recommendations of the Royal Commission." One of the principal grievances then, as it still is, was that the Public Service Commissioner was the wrong man in the wrong place. The officers complained of his action and the treatment which the service had received at his hands from time to time, and the power which he had claimed. Whether it was legal or otherwise, I think that it was unwise, and I intend to quote what happened about last Christmas. The ex-Postmaster-General, Mr. Thomas, was in Adelaide, and a deputation was arranged to wait upon him. I took the opportunity, with other members of this Parliament, to hear the request put in the best way in which it could be submitted, and the Minister's reply. I came to the conclusion that the honorable gentleman was either incapable, or had not the power to do anything, for he told us straight away that he would see if he could move the Public Service Commissioner to do certain things. He then suggested that a deputation should wait upon the Commissioner if it could be arranged, and stated that he would like to be present at the interview, but he was afraid that would not be permitted. The Commissioner declined to meet the deputation which was appointed by the Civil Service Association of South Australia. Mr. Thomas suggested that the special grievances which had existed in the Civil Service for years back in that State should be settled by an arbitrator to be appointed by both sides. His suggestion was hailed with a good deal of satisfaction. It was thought that, instead of going to law, an amicable settlement might be arrived at by having an arbitrator such as, perhaps, Mr. Justice Gordon, or one of the other Judges of South Australia, to do the work. After the public servants had been rejoicing over the prospect of getting an amicable settlement the Commissioner turned down the suggestion. Was not that cruel? I propose to read a portion of the statement which was prepared by the Civil Service Association in reply to the Commissioner's reports, which have appeared from time to time, in order to show the Senate how the Public Service in that State has been treated, how the men whose names appear in this statement, and they are legion, have been treated, how, instead of receiving increases, they have suffered reductions in salary, amounting to a very large sum indeed. This statement is not a one man affair. It has received the approval of the Civil Service Association after fair and full consideration. They say -

The postmasters and other large sections of South Australian officers were " robbed " (in the moral if not in the legal sense) of considerable portions of their incomes ; the proportional grading was " faked " ; telegraphists in South Australia, as compared with those in the Eastern States, have been unfairly treated j large sections of South Australian officers were discriminated against; and, it may be added, that, in his official reports - particularly in that to which attention is now directed - the Commissioner has misrepresented the conditions existing in the Service.

Regarding the accrued and accruing rights of transferred officers this statement is made -

When classifying the Service in 1904, the Commissioner found South Australian postmasters and postmistresses in receipt of certain payments, or allowances, such as rebate on sale of postage stamps (a very few cases), and Savings Bank salary, &c, in addition to statutory salary. With the exception of one or two small allowances, such as fees for registering births and deaths, which the postmaster retained only until transferred to another office, the Commissioner abolished all emoluments, and, with only two or three exceptions, classified the officers at their statutory salary.

The result was that sixty-four postmasters and a large number of other officers were deprived of a portion of the remuneration which they had received under State control. Several postmasters also were deprived of increments to their statutory salary which had accrued, and were accruing, under State law. This phase of the question is dealt with under the heading " Increments under State law." The following table will show the extent to which the South Australian officers were affected monetarily by the abolition of emoluments and increments.

Then follows a long list of names, but I shall content myself with mentioning only a few of them. Mr. J. Skinner, who had been in the service thirty-eight years, suffered a reduction in his salary of 32 per cent.' J. Bastard also sustained a reduction of 32 per cent.

Senator de Largie - Is the honorable senator quoting figures from the classification scheme?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The figures which I am quoting are the result of the classification scheme at the time of its inception. Mr. C. Tucker, who had thirtytwo years' service to his credit, and whose salary was ,£144 per annum, suffered a total reduction of 28 per cent. A. Howley sustained a reduction of 29 per cent., B.Clark of 20 per cent., J. W. B. Croft of 25 per cent., J. W. Hillman of 30 per cent., T. H. Henderson of 30 per cent., and H. R. Holder, a brother of the late Sir Frederick Holder, suffered a reduction of ,£93 per annum. I well remember all the talk of the great liberty which was to follow Federation. Mr. Holder, who was the postmaster at Jamestown, was a strong advocate of Federal Union. At that time I was on the other side - I was a little pessimistic. I recollect that he used to say to me, " Oh you little Australians. Why do you not come out into the light and enjoy yourselves " ? But on the last occasion that I saw Mr. Holder, who has now left the service, he had sustained the reduction" to which I have alluded, and there was absolutely nothing to justify it. I am glad that my old friend, Senator Walker, is' present, because he was a member of theFederal Convention, and because he took anactive part in framing our Constitution.. As this is a financial question, and' he was a financial authority at that gathering-

Senator Walker - Unfortunately, I was not a member of- the Finance Committee at the time.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - If the honorable senator was not a member of that body he ought to have been. I propose now to' quote from the utterances of the members of the Convention, with a view to showing the view which they took of section 84 of the Constitution, and also the spirit in which they preached to the civil servants. They assured the latter that it was to their own interests to vote for Federation at all costs, because they could not possibly lose anything by so doing. The Postal and Telegraph Association of South Australia has provided me with this pamphlet, which contains quotations from the utterances of the great and gifted men who framed our Constitution. The pamphlet says -

The officers affected, individually, through the Appeal Board and by petitions to the PostmasterGeneral, and also through this association immediately claimed that such treatment was a violation of the spirit and letter of clause 84 of the Commonwealth Constitution, which was re-enacted by the first Federal Parliament in clause 60 of the Commonwealth Public Service Act of 1002. Clause 84, relating to transferred officers, provides " Any such officer who is retained in the service of the Commonwealth shall preserve all his existing and accruing rights, and shall be entitled to retire from office at the time and on the pension or retiring allowance which would be permitted by the law of the State if his service with the Commonwealth were a continuation of his service with the State." The officers urged that the Commissioner should have classified them at a salary equal to their total remuneration under the State. In advancing this claim they relied partly upon what they regarded as a clear compact made by the Federal Convention to insure the vote of the public servants being cast for Federation. That compact assured them Hint they would lose nothing by transfer to the Commonwealth. That this view was justified the following extracts from the debates of the Federal Convention at the Adelaide sitting clearly shows. Mr. Deakin, page 1044, said, " The Drafting Committee seemed to have amply provided for those particular rights (pensions, gratuities, and retiring allowances) of public servants. But is it not also necessary to provide that any other existing rights of public servants should be preserved to them?" Mr. Deakin moved an amendment to the original clause in these words, " and all other existing and accruing rights of such officers as remain in the service of the Commonwealth shall be preserved."

The next authority whom I shall quote is an even higher one than Mr. Deakin. He was the leader of the Federal Convention, the present Sir Edmund Barton.

He suggested that the amendment would be wider if the word "other" were omitted, and Mr. Deakin, seemingly anxious that no right should be jeopardized, omitted the word. Mr. Isaacs followed. He said, " I think it is highly important that we should have some provision such as is suggested by my honorable friend Mr. Deakin. I think it is important to put in the word ' accruing." . . . When we transfer men to the Commonwealth it behoves us to do them no injury. We ought to preserve to them not only their existing, but their accruing rights." Mr. Trenwith said, "While it would be difficult for some time, as indicated by Mr. Gordon, to adjust the different conditions running side by side, it would be unjust not to maintain the rights already in existence. We should be doing different from what any conscientious company would do." . . . "If this is not done there will be a manifest injustice to a very large number of citizens of Victoria, and without- imputing selfishness or a want of patriotism to the civil servants of Australia, I have no hesitation in saying that we shall be inducing a large number of citizens to vote against Federation in defence of their own rights and their living, and in defence of justice."

Mr. Bartonsaid ; "We may look a little higher than the question - although I agree with Mr. Trenwith - of whether the absence of provision for the rights of civil servants will make this Bill popular. If there is one thing which must be paramount in framing a Constitution of this kind it is that it must be just, and I take it that this Convention would be doing a great injustice if it did not provide for existing rights. . . . These rights, -hovever, will gradually die out under the Commonwealth, and there can be no continuation of them, because there are only one or two Colonies where these contracts, as I prefer to call them, exist ; and it will be very easy to earmark officers, say, from New South Wales or Western Australia, and to say that they are subject to these existing contracts.

Here again is what Mr. Deakin said -

I recognise the force of the honorable member's contention, and trust he will give us his help to provide that substantial justice shall be done to all public servants, and that substantially the rights and privileges they now enjoy will be preserved to them under the Constitution.

I think that the public servants of South Australia have shown that justice has not been done to them. When they read the speeches delivered by leaders in the Convention, they expected that they would get fair treatment. They were given to understand that their rights would be preserved to them. But, instead of that, their claims have been turned down. I was surprised to hear Senator Findley speak about the justice that has been done, the prosperity that prevails to-day, and the extra money that has been spent upon the Public Service. Let mc mention a case. I live in the city of Unley, near Adelaide. We have two deliveries per day. About ten years ago, or less, the first delivery used to bring our letters at about half-past 10 or 11 o'clock, in the morning. But frequently nowadays - last Monday, for instance - the letters were not delivered until about 1 o'clock. I made a careful note of the time on that day. I do not complain of the letter-carrier. I simply said to him, " I suppose you have a big mail to-day." He said that he had. That is not the sort of thing which should occur in a growing place, where the population is on the increase, and where the letters delivered since the inauguration of penny postage have been considerably multiplied. I quite agree with the Royal Commission that the Post, Telegraph and Telephone Services ought to be made to pay, though I was very glad to read a statement made by the Postmaster-General in another place, to the effect that the Department would not expect country mails to pay. It must be remembered that while some cities have three deliveries a day, there are country districts which only enjoy one mail a month, or in other instances one per fortnight. These country districts have not benefited by penny postage. It is the merchants, the manufacturers, and the city people who have benefited. I am glad that the Government have adopted the policy of not calling upon country residents to contribute sums of money towards mail services. I know of one country district in South Australia which wanted three mails per week. The Department told the people that they could only get that service by paying for one mail out ot their own pockets, or by contributing a certain sum towards it. That sort of thing ought not to occur, and I am glad that it is not in accordance with the policy of the present Ministry. Here let me remind honorable senators that under the State administration, South Australia was the only one of the group in which the Postal Service paid its way. Indeed, it produced a credit balance of ,?40,000 for two years. It is therefore particularly disappointing to the public servants of that State to know that they have been treated with particular harshness. This brings me to a statement made by Sir William Lyne, in moving the second reading of the Public Service Bill. That gentleman said -

I wish to emphasize the fact that under clauses 51 and 52 of this Bill, and under section 84 of the Commonwealth Constitution Act, there is a provision to make it quite certain that no trouble shall arise with regard to transferred officers, and that all the rights which accrue to those officers who are taken over from the various States will be respected.

I am sorry that that promise has not been kept. I should also like to quote from a few statements made on the floor of the Senate when the Public Service Bill was under discussion.

Senator PLAYFORD.;Under the South Australian Civil Service Act provision is made that after twenty years service an officer is entitled to a holiday of six months (actually eight months) on full pay. A number of officers have been taken over by the Commonwealth with that right, and they are entitled to claim that holiday whether we pass this clause or not.

Senator EWING.; I do not agree with Senator Downer in the construction he has placed upon the section of the Constitution which he has read. I believe Senator Pearce's view to be correct. There are three classes of civil servants with whom we have to deal. First there are the civil servants who are in the true sense transferred from the States to the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Constitution provides for them. We have no power to interfere with their rights, &c.

Senator DRAKE,while contending that furlough was not an absolute right under the State Acts, the. granting of it being permissive, said, " We ought to legislate in such a way that transferred officers cannot be placed in a worse position than they would have been had they continued in the service of the State."

Notwithstanding all this, the Public Service Commissioner adopted, and has adhered to, an absolutely contrary view, and by the act complained of, inflicted losses on South. Australian Postmasters and on other officers who were entitled to increments under State law, ranging UP to ?15? Per annum, representing reductions of as much as 32 per cent, on individual salaries.

I hope that it will be recognised from what I have read, that South Australian officers have been cruelly treated and deceived. Can any one wonder that they were amazed when they found that the Commonwealth Parliament had given the Public Service Commissioner power to turn down their claims, and to do towards them just as he willed. When the ex-Postmaster-General, Mr. Thomas, was in Adelaide, and was approached on this subject, he admitted himself to be in a helpless condition. He said in effect, "I sympathize 'with you; I recognise that you have a good case, but I have no power to help you. I shall try to move the Commissioner in the matter. Send over a deputation, and I will see that it finds its way into the presence of the Commissioner. Possibly, he will not allow me to be present, but you can state your case to him." We have a Government who are in favour of preference to unionists. So arn I. What was the position in which Mr. Thomas, the ex-Postmaster-General was placed ? He had no power to do anything in the matter at all. When the deputation was agreed upon, .two of the best men in the Post and Telegraph Department in South Australia were selected by the association, and it was supposed that they would be admitted into the presence, I will not say of the Czar, but of the Public Service Commissioner. What happened? He objected to the personnel of the deputation. He could not receive Mr. Macdonald and Mr. Hiscock. The Government recognised that they had no power over him, nor had they. The Government had not the power, and Parliament had not the power. He was an autocrat with a vengeance.

Senator de Largie - Parliament has the power if it chooses to exercise it.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I hope it will show that it has the power. I am not speaking against the Public Service Commissioner personally. I do not know him at all. I dare not go near him. I should be afraid to enter his office, because if I went there to speak in favour of any one I wanted to get into a billet he would at once turn him down. That is the position of the Commissioner, and I repeat that he is ah autocrat. What I meant by the reference to preference to unionists was this - Mr. Thomas shifted his ground ; the Public Service Commissioner spoke through him, and said, " It was the chairman of the association, Mr. Rossi, whom I invited to come over. It was not Mr. Robert Macdonald or Mr. Hiscock." But these latter were the gentlemen selected by the association, and I should imagine that they were at liberty to say who should represent them in spite of any one. The position in which the Public Service Commissioner is placed makes him like the Czar. iHe has no responsibility to the staff intrusted with the conduct of the Post and Telegraph Department, but they are controlled by him. There is great discontent existing in the service in consequence. One of the most urgent demands is for a change in this respect, and I had hoped that the Government would try to meet the service as far as possible in this matter. I think I have proved to the satisfaction of the Senate that South Australian civil servants are suffering an injustice financially,, and Senator Walker knows what that means to a Scotchman. I want to drive this home to Senator Walker, because he was a member of the Finance Committee of the Federal Convention, and has been a member of the Senate since its establishment. I hope he will long continue to be a member of it.

Senator Pearce - If the honorable senator changes his views.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Whether Senator Walker changes his views or not, he is a man we all love and respect because of his amiable disposition. Instead of approaching the association with their grievances, some men - I do not like to use the word " scab," or any word of that kind - go crawling and using influence in their own interest. We want to put a stop to that. Senator Findley will understand that members of the Senate do not care to listen to grievances from one or two or half-a-dozen men. But if they are members of an association, we shall know where we are. If they are authorized tq speak' in the name of an association, we shall know that they speak for the majority, and can be trusted. I am strongly in favour of that policy. Senator Findley said that the Government intend to stick to the Public Service Commissioner. No doubt' they often feel pretty much in his hands. That does not apply only to the members of the present Government, who are smart! men, but to the members of previous Go'vernments as well. They have all been too much under the heel and dictation of their officers.- Perhaps there is a cause for it. The officers know the ropes, and they do not. I remember that one of the first acts of the present, or the first, Fisher Government was to reappoint the Public Service Commissioner for a further term of seven years. I do not say that we should dismiss him. Far from it. But I do say that if one man is to be given the' power of ruling such a huge Department, he will need to be a very brainy man indeed. I do not believe that the man is yet born who is capable of satisfactorily performing all the duties of such a post.i Senator Findley admitted that the evidence taken by the Postal Commission was good, and their report clear, and nice in every respect; but I hope he will change his! mind and go a little further. My elec-' tors expect me tq vote, not for ousting the present Public Service Commissioner, but for clipping his wings and reducing; his power. The Government may not be in favour of that, but I hope that the majority of honorable senators will be in favour of it. Some of us have backbone enough, and are determined enough, believing it to be our duty, to see that justice is done to the civil servants, whatever the effect may be upon the present Administra-? tion. We shall do our duty to the country, and shall support the recommendations of the Postal Commission, even though in> some matters of detail the Government are opposed to our views. I feel strongly on this matter.I know personally a number of the men affected. I may say that I have been told that the attitude assumed by the Government in the House of Representatives last Friday had an influence injurious to the Labour party in the election which took place last Saturday. Whether that be true or not, I cannot say; but I was told it by some one who ought to know.

Senator Pearce - Their attitude on what ?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Portions of the speech delivered by Mr. Frazer, the Postmaster-General, were telegraphed to South Australia, and a number of civil servants, at all events, were dissatisfied with it. One man, whose name I could give Senator Pearce if he wishes to hear it, said that he was just a little bit afraid that that had something to do with the result of the election.

Senator Pearce - Then they did not vote on political principles.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am telling Ministers the statement I heard.

Senator Pearce - So far as I am personally concerned, it would not alter my attitude if we lost the whole of their votes for a reason like that.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - If the Minister expresses himself in that way, and is content to allow injustice to continue-

Senator Pearce - I did not say that.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - And to allow a man to rule the roost for all these years, in spite of the oft-repeated and almost unanimous requests of public servants in the different States, I do not know what to say. If the Government have no confidence in the people-

Senator Pearce - I did not say that.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I do not know what will be the result. I am speaking from a sense of duty ; and those who have listened to what I have said, and especially to what I have read, will know how the civil servants have been treated, not by the present Government in particular, but by previous Governments as well. They have been unjustly treated all through, and both sides try to make political capital out of it. I recognise and claim that it was the party to which we on this side belong that asked for the appointment of "the Postal Commission. We forced the battle and succeeded at last. We waited a long time for. the report, and we have got a good one. I cannot understand how a Labour Government, if they were as friendly disposed as they ought to be to the public servants, could have allowed a report of that kind to lie on the table until nearly the end of the session without taking action.

Senator Pearce - I thought the complaint was that we put too many of the recommendations into force before the Postal Commission had made them.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - No. One of the most important recommendations is that which proposes the limitation of the power of the Public Service Commissioner.

Senator Lynch - Did you expect the Government to adopt the whole of the report?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I expected the Government to adopt the principal part of the report, and undoubtedly that is the principal part. Apparently the Public Service Commissioner has no sympathy with the Public Service.

Senator Lynch - I do not think that that is quite correct.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is my opinion, and it is also the opinion of the Public Service, which has had to deal with the Commissioner. The hardships and injustices which I have quoted and spoken of, and which public officers have had to endure, have been caused principally by the Commissioner, and they think that the time has come when the Labour Government should have at least as much sympathy with them-

Senator Lynch - Have not the Labour Government shown that they have more sympathy ?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am not here to advocate party justice; but I want to drive home the position. I have already stated that the Labour party forced the Opposition party to appoint a Royal Commission. I only hope that the Government may find that, when the figures are up, they need to go further than they expected. I trust that, whatever happens, the principal recommendation of the Royal Commission which presented such a grand report will be fully adopted.

Debate (on motion by Senator Needham) adjourned.

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