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Tuesday, 12 December 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) - - The first explanation which the Vice-President of the Executive Council gave for this increase was to point out that the work of this officer had increased. But in almost the next breath he gave another explanation. He said that we ought to remember that this officer had to decide important matters between litigants, and that because of that it was necessary that a high salary should be given to him. But since 1904, when the first Conciliation and Arbitration Act was passed, this officer has been acting in a position where his duties were responsible. For six years he was not apparently receiving a salary commensurate with the importance of his office. How is it that it has suddenly been discovered that the office is highly responsible, that the officer's duties are exceedingly onerous, and that his salary ought to be greatly increased? These explanations are highly unsatisfactory. The Minister asks us to believe that the officer has to be a sort of tribunal between litigants and the Court, and that, therefore, he must be in a position in which he mav be free from influence, and impartial. We might admit that if it were not for the fact that a stipendiary magistrate, who may have matters referred to him under this measure, will not receive much more than half the salary that is to be paid to the Registrar. This officer is to have a salary ranging between £,600 and ^850 a year secured to him by Act of Parliament. He can only exercise administrative functions, and whether he is right or wrong in the exercise of them is a matter that will probably, in the first instance, be determined by a stipendiary magistrate. The more the position is criticised the more unsatisfactory it appears to be. But we have had another lively explanation from a supporter of the Government who asked us to. remember the trouble, difficulty, and care that will have to be exercised at the very door of the Arbitration Court by those who wish to knock and enter. The impression was sought to be created that the functions that are to be imposed upon this officer are so great that he will have to be one whom we can thoroughly trust to keep the door barred if necessary. That is just what the public servants are saying. They allege that this Court will show a repetition of the troubles and technicalities that have beset the Arbitration Court throughout its procedure. It' is because of that belief that 4,000 of them have petitioned Parliament against this Bill. If the door of the Court is to be guarded by an officer who is' to know a great deal of law, and to exercise important functions, and if that officer is to watch carefully before any body of public servants can enter, the measure will be an even greater farce than many public servants have foreseen that it will be.

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