Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Friday, 8 December 1911

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - I am not sure whether honorable senators opposite are so sanguine as they profess to be that this Bill is going to do a. vast amount of good. If I had heard from any branch of the General Division of the Public Service, that they approved of the Bill, I should have felt it to be my duty to give a great deal more thought to it than I have done. But we have only had one petition, from 4,000 members of the service, who are opposed to the measure. It is true that there are something like 16,000 public servants in the Commonwealth, and that only 4,000 have expressed their opinion. But they certainly are a fair proportion of the whole, and the rest have not taken the trouble to signify their view. A Commissioner has been appointed to deal with the Public Service. He has nothing else to do. It is his whole and sole duty to control this body of Commonwealth employes. But while we are told with one breath that he is not able to do this work, we are informed with the next breath that it is necessary to refer the grievances of the public servants to the Judge of an Arbitration Court, who has thousands of other things to do. He has to hear disputes, not merely from 16,000 men, but from hundreds of thousands all over the Commonwealth. What better opportunities will the Judge have than the Commissioner has at present? Every tittle of evidence that the Judge of the Arbitration Court can obtain, the Commissioner is equally able to get. The fact is that the Government simply have not the courage to deal with this question, and the party behind them have not the courage to force them to deal with it. At present public servants have a right to appeal from the Public Service Commissioner to a board. I do not know the Commissioner personally. To the best of my knowledge I have never seen him in my life. Therefore, I can speak of him impartially. I agree with Senator Givens that he has done a vast amount of good.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I believe he has practised a lot of cruelty.

Senator SAYERS - I am not aware of it.


Senator SAYERS - I hope that the honorable senator will get up and give instances.


Senator SAYERS - I had not the pleasure of hearing the honorable senator speak on this Bill. We appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the grievances of about two-thirds of the public servants of the Commonwealth, employed in the Post and Telegraph Department. I have before me the details of expenditure for 1911-12. I find that the Royal Commission is set down for an expenditure of £1,591 in that year, and that it spent £623 in 1910-11. It presented a report. What did the Government do? Did they act upon the recommendations? They simply shelved the document, notwithstanding that it contained evidence collected from all parts of the Commonwealth. The Commission recommended the appointment of a board, consisting of men acquainted with all the technicalities of the Public Service, and fully able to value the work of the officers. The Government turned down that recommendation also. We have not been told why.

Senator Millen - The Government did not even say that they rejected the Commission's report. They left the road open to themselves in that respect also.

Senator SAYERS - We are entitled to a Ministerial explanation on this subject. Will the Judge of the Arbitration Court be in as good a position to understand the work of the service as the board recommended by the Royal Commission would be? His Honour will have no knowledge of the intricacies of the service. He will have to form his opinion from evidence brought before him. What will be the position of the employes in the General Division ? Is the Judge going to grade the officers? Is he going to say to one man, " You are not in the right class," and to another, " You are not paid sufficiently for the position you hold " ? Do the supporters of this Bill think that the Judge is going to do that? The idea is absurd. He cannot grade the service. There must be an expert officer to do that. Had the Government proposed' to appoint a board I should have had no objection whatever to it, because an expert board would be in a position to review the work of the Commissioner, and to weigh evidence. I believe that the Public Service would have approved of that proposal. But under present circumstances public servants are simply put off with a buffer between themselves and the Government. A large number of them believed that when the Labour Government came into power their condition would be improved. They now find that no such thing is taking place. We are told that the Government have granted large increases. But it must be remembered that the cost of living has increased in the Commonwealth. We have a Tariff that has sent up the price of commodities all round. The Government had to meet their servants in consequence of this. They could not say to a man, " We have increased your cost of living by £10, but we are going to increase your wages by the same amount."

Senator Gardiner - Does not the honorable senator think the cost of living in London is higher than it is here?

Senator Barker - A man cannot get a decent meal for is. in England.

Senator SAYERS - I have never had a decent dinner for is. here, except at Parliament House.

Senator Gardiner - The cost of living is certainly greater in England.

Senator SAYERS - I say, without hesitation, that it is not. It may be that the cost of hotel life is much higher in England than in Australia, comparing similar hotels. But that does not mean that the cost of living to householders is greater there. Within the past twelve months the Post and Telegraph employes have been brought very near to a general strike. The Postmaster-General had to go over to Sydney, where the employes laid their case before him. I maintain that it was his duty to come down to Parliament and propose an alteration of the law to meet the necessities of the case. But did he do so? No. The Government simply content themselves with bringing forward this Bill, relegating the settlement of grievances to the Judge of the Arbitration Court. Why did the Postmaster-General and his predecessor make these trips to Sydney? Surely after hearing evidence they could make up their mind whether there was a grievance or not. The Postmaster-General said that the telegraph employes worked only 6£ hours per day, and that he did not see any grievance in that. Immediately after he made that statement I received letters from Brisbane, from people in the same class of employment, saying that their hours were ten and eleven per day. Who is right, the employes or the Postmaster-General ? I do not know. Until I have evidence to the contrary I must accept the statement of the PostmasterGeneral. The Judge of the Arbitration Court is given the powers of a despot under this Bill, powers which ought not to be given to any man. Parliament has no right to shirk its own work by handing it over to the Arbitration Court. A number of civil servants may appear before the Court, and obtain an award which Parliament will decline to accept, or it may be that the public servants will decline to accept it, and it must then come before Parliament. What position should we be in then? We should be inundated with letters and should be almost unable to approach Parliament House, because of the number of public servants who would be seeking personal interviews with us to induce Parliament to give effect to the recommendations of the Court if it increased their emolument or to defeat it if it decreased their emolument.

Senator McGregor - I hope we shall be in Yass-Canberra by that time.

Senator SAYERS - I believe that the honorable senator desires to get to YassCanberra to be away from the public servants, and I also believe that this Bill has been introduced to enable the Government to avoid giving them their rights. We have been told, time after time, that the reason why the service has not been put upon a better footing has been the lack of funds.

Senator McGregor - That is what other Governments have said.

Senator SAYERS - That is what was said by the Government whom Senator McGregor sat behind and dictated to. We believed that the Government were -telling the truth, and would be prepared to rectify anomalies in the service, and improve the conditions if they had the necessary funds for the purpose. But the present Government have the necessary funds. They are in a position to pay every public servant a fair salary. I notice that it is expected that there will be a further increase of revenue next year to the extent of ;£i, 000,000 from the Tariff. The Government have not known what to do with the funds they have had control of, and they have lent money to all the States, with the exception of Queensland, at 3$ per cent. Now that they have the funds, why do they not do justice to the civil servants. Senator W. Russell has told us that certain Commonwealth servants in South Australia have not been justly treated. He is now sitting behind the Government that has ample funds for the purpose, and can do what is right by them.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The present Government have done more for the civil servants in one year than the Deakin Government did in ten years.

Senator SAYERS - The honorable senator was supporting the Deakin Government when I entered the Senate.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - We commanded them.

Senator SAYERS - 1 admit that, and I ask why the honorable senator did not see that the Deakin Government did what was right by the public servants.

Senator O'Keefe - Mr. Deakin is the leader of the honorable senator's party now.

Senator SAYERS - He was leader of Senator O'Keefe's party when he was a member of a previous Parliament. When I entered the Senate every honorable senator on the other side, with the exception of those who were returned at the last election, were behind the Deakin Government. They laid down the law for Mr. Deakin, who had to carry out their behests. The excuse given at that time was that the Government had not sufficient funds to do justice to the Public Service, but now Mr. Deakin has been thrown over, and when the Labour Government have sufficient funds to do justice to the public servants they prefer to say, " We will shelve this matter for three years. We can get out of it by telling the public servants that we will give them what we give to every other citizen of the Commonwealth." We know that that is not done by this Bill. If a private employer does not obey the mandate of the Arbitration Court to pay wages in accordance with an award he can be made to do so. But the Government cannot be made obey an award of the Court. If the Government, on an appeal by members of the service, consider an award of the Court reasonable they can act under it, but if they consider it unreasonable they are in a position to reject it. Yet they tell the public servants that they are them in this matter in the same position as the general body of workers outside. After consenting to the appointment pf a Royal Commission to take evidence and report on the conditions prevailing in the Post and Telegraph Department, the. Government set aside the recommendations of the Commission. Why do they not adopt the recommendation to appoint a Board of three members to manage the Post and Telegraph Department. If they did so it might be said that the Postal -Commission had done some good. But they have turned down the report of the Commission, because it does not suit them. If honorable senators carry this Bill they will be shirking their duty as members of the Senate. If it were shown that the public servants had wrongs which Parliament should right, and that any class in the service was not being properly paid, there would not be one dissentient on this side to a proposal to pay them properly. I can refer to the case of a young man in Melbourne, who is twenty-two years of age, and in receipt of the munificent salary of £120 a. year. Last year, when he reached the age of twentyone years, he received an increment of £to, and this year he receives another similar increment bringing his salary up to £120. I believe that he has a wife and child, as well as himself, to support. In ordinary occupations outside, demands are made by unions for minimum wages of 9s. and ros. per day, yet we have a man in the Public Service, who is expected to keep up a respectable appearance on £120 a year.

Senator Pearce - Does the honorable senator not know that the present Government have raised the minimum salary in the service above £120.

Senator SAYERS - I am aware of that.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator has just said that the man to whom he referred was expected to keep up a respectable appearance on £120 a vear.

Senator SAYERS - It is a fact 'that he had to do so.

Senator Givens - Under former Governments.

Senator SAYERS - I have already dealt with that, and I remind Senator Givens that he was a supporter of former Governments. Why did he not compel them to do what was right by the Public Service. The present Government have ample funds.

Senator Givens - So had previous Governments only they gave away £6,000,000 to the States.

Senator SAYERS - The honorable senator supported the Governments that gave that money to the States. A young man enters the Public Service at a minimum salary which is increased by annual increments to, it may be, a maximum of £160 or £180 for his class. What chance has such a man in the service compared to what he would have outside? There may be a dozen clerks in the office with him, and no matter how much they differ in ability they all get only the same increment of salary every year.

Senator Pearce - The honorable senator was supporting the Fusion Government for nine months. Why did he not insist upon such a condition of affairs being altered.

Senator SAYERS - The Minister of Defence does not know what he is talking about. I was never tied to the Fusion Government, nor did I give that Government my support. I was here as an independent senator, to do what I thought right and just in connexion with every matter that was brought before the Senate. That is what I pledged myself to, and on that I was returned to the Senate.

Senator Long - It is only a coincidence that the honorable senator votes with his party on every occasion.

Senator SAYERS - I vote with my party when I think it is right. I shall vote against this Bill because I think it is wrong. I have never left the chamber when a division was about to be taken. I have always had the courage of my convictions. I am not like a good many honorable senators opposite, who, when the bells ring - although they have not heard a single word of the discussion - troop into the chamber and take their seats with the other members of their party.

Senator McGregor - The honorable senator is a good hand at that sort of thing himself.

Senator SAYERS - I am always prepared to vote in accordance with my convictions. Indeed, on one or two occasions, I think I have been instrumental in saving the Government. A great deal has been said during this debate abort the increments which have been granted to our public servants by the present Ministry. But I would ask Senator Givens whether wages have not been increased in nearly all walks of life - in private employment as well as in our Public Service?

Senator Givens - Has any increase taken place in the wages of the miners of Queensland ?

Senator SAYERS - I do not think so. But in nearly every walk of life there has been an increase. Until recently the men who have been employed as navvies by the Commonwealth received only 7s. 6d. or 8s. per day. But in a good many instances they are now receiving a higher rate of pay. Why? Because the cost of living has increased.

Senator O'Keefe - Have the public servants of Queensland received an increase of pay ?

Senator SAYERS - Yes. We have been told that honorable senators upon this side of the chamber do not act fairly, and that they resemble Mr. Willis.

Suggest corrections