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Wednesday, 13 December 1911

Senator STEWART (Queensland) . - I wish to ask the Minister representing the Postmaster-General whether the last word has been said with regard to the salaries, the hours of duty, and the conditions of labour generally of lettercarriers. This important body of public servants is very anxious to know whether Parliament, before compelling them to have recourse to the Arbitration Court, will schedule the rates of pay and the conditions generally. The idea of the Arbitration Court is that it shall only be resorted to in the last extremity - that is, after all efforts at arriving at a fair basis between master and men have failed. Is the Government prepared to still further consider the claims of the letter-carriers, or has its foot been put down, and they are to be compelled to go to the Arbitration Court ?

Senator Millen - Is not the Public Service Arbitration Bill the answer to that ?

Senator STEWART - Not necessarily.

Senator Millen - These men have been asking for redress for months, and that is the Government's answer.

Senator STEWART - The lettercarriers have been asking for months, and I hope that they will continue to ask, for redress, because the Arbitration Court is only to be resorted to in the last extremity. A Royal Commission has reported against the conditions under which these public servants labour. Is that report to be disregarded ? If it is to be disregarded, then, apparently, 'all the money and the labour which these men and the Commonwealth expended in making an exhaustive examination into the affairs of the Post and Telegraph Department is, if not altogether Wasted, at least' partly wasted. If the Arbitration Court is the answer to the claim of the men, and the answer to the representations of the Royal Commission, I must say that I object to it. The Royal Commission was appointed after a very great deal of agitation, and after much information had been presented to both Houses of Parliament with regard to the difficulties under which the Department laboured. The generally accepted idea was that, whatever the Royal

Commission reported, in reason, of courser would be accepted ; and now I suppose that Senator Millen, if he were to put it in his language, would say that the Government is attempting to snuffle out.

Senator Millen - Is it not both an accurate and picturesque picture of the position ?

Senator STEWART - I do not know. It seems to me to be somewhat applicable to the situation. The Government seems to be ingloriously seeking 'shelter under the wing of the Arbitration Court. The lettercarriers' organization has addressed a circular to the members of this Parliament, and what they want to know particularly is whether it is going to do anything in regard to putting into operation the recommendations of the Royal Commission, or whether they will be dragged before the Arbitration Court just as they were dragged before the Royal Commission.

Senator Givens - We should have to take them from under the control of the Public Service Commissioner before we could do anything for them.

Senator Henderson - Parliament has no right or authority to do such a thing.

Senator STEWART - Parliament can do anything it pleases.

Senator St Ledger - Not now.

Senator STEWART - Parliament is above the Public Service Commissioner and the Arbitration Court. If it can do nothing why was the Commission appointed ? Why have some of its recommendations been adopted if Parliament and the PostmasterGeneral can do nothing? What is the use of having a Postmaster-General if the Public Service Commissioner is the supreme head?

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Commissioner allowed the Government to do it. That is the position.

Senator STEWART - This is something most extraordinary.

Senator W RUSSELL (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) --They dare not act without his consent.

Senator STEWART - If I were an Eastern despot, I would have the Commissioner's head off, metaphorically speaking, of course, in about five minutes. I think that if the Government cannot move without his permission, the sooner it gets out of the way, or he is put out of the way, the better for the people as a whole.

Senator Fraser - Or both.

Senator STEWART - Of course, the honorable senator wants both removed, but I should be content with the removal of the

Commissioner. In their circular the lettercarriers say-

On behalf of the letter carriers of the Commonwealth we desire to ask, that prior to being brought under the provisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Act, that Parliament shall schedule the salaries, hours of duty and conditions of labour generally of letter carriers.

In support of our contention we beg to submit that it devolves upon Parliament to perform this duty, having regard to the fact that the person to whom Parliament delegated this power having signally failed to equitably adjust these matters as is evidenced by the recent report of the Royal Commission on Postal Services. Furthermore, we would direct your attention to the fact that during April, 1904, a majority of the then Parliament determined against placing the Commonwealth Service under the Arbitration Act, and it appears to us an invidious position, having regard to the fact that the Parliament is in possession of an adverse report on the rate of pay and conditions prevailing, for that body to say at this late date that we must haverecourse to the Arbitration Court without Parliament placingon record the fundamental basis of what is a fair and equitable rate of remuneration.

We submit that the method adopted by the Commissioner is undemocratic, inasmuch that it discriminates between the classes and the masses for example the maximum salary of the clerical division (5th class) has recently been increased by the amount of £40 increasing the maximum salary from £160 to £200. Democracy applied admits; of no distinction, we. claim that the general division maximum should be increased by a like sum by which the letter carriers would be entitled' to a maximum of£178 per annum.

The circular contains other matter, but I do not think it necessary to read it to the Committee. What the men want, I suppose, is, in the first place, that Parliament shall give them what they consider a fair thing. They do not want to go to the Arbitration Court unless they are com- pelled. If Parliament will not agree to that, then, of course, the sooner they know their position the better.

Senator Givens - The trouble is that, before Parliament could do that, we would have to rip up the whole position. First, we should have to depose the Commissioner.

Senator STEWART - We could do that easily.

Senator Millen - It is not necessary to do that, because the Public Service Act could be amended.

Senator STEWART - I think that the men ought tobe told exactly how the matter stands.

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