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Wednesday, 11 December 1912

Senator SAYERS (Queensland) . - Before the Senate adjourns, I have a matter to bring under the notice of honorable senators. It affects the interests of certain employes in the Post and Telegraph Department. Under departmental regulations officers employed in the tropical portions of Australia have been granted a tropical allowance of 20 per cent, in the case of those whose salaries do not exceed £100, of 10 per cent, on salaries from £100 up to £200, and of 5 per cent, in the case of those receiving salaries of over £200. According to information supplied to me by persons whom I know, I find that at Herberton the scale of tropical allowances has been reduced. Officers who were enjoying the benefit of a tropical allowance of 20 per cent, on their salaries have had the allowance reduced to 15 per cent. Those who were getting an allowance of 10 per cent, have had their allowance reduced to 7^ per cent., whilst no reduction has been made in the tropical allowance given to officers in receipt of salaries of over .£200. I should like to know why this action has been taken. It is a hardship on the officers whose allowances have been reduced, and I feel sure that it was not the intention of this Parliament that such a reduction should be made. I have here a price-list showing the cost of living at Herberton as compared with the cost of living in places further south, or on the coast. I am informed that in the Herberton district, under an agreement between the Miners Union arid the mine-owners, miners are paid an extra wage of is. 8d. per day to cover the extra cost of living. By the reduction of the tropical allowances the Post and Telegraph authorities have taken a course which, if it were taken by private employers of labour in any part of Australia, would arouse the indignation of honorable senators opposite. I do not think that the course followed will be approved by the Senate. A salary of £100 a year in the North can only be regarded as a starvation wage. It must not be forgotten that officers of the Post and Telegraph Department cannot wear any old rags as men may do who have to work in a mining shaft. It would not do for a Government official to go about in that way. Yet we find that, in one case, this allowance of 20 per cent, is reduced to 15 per cent. The tropical allowance of an officer in receipt of a salary between £100 and ,£200 is reduced from 10 to 7 2f- per cent.; but in the case of an officer who is receiving a higher salary no alteration is made in the allowance.

Senator Blakey - Has any reason been given for the reduction?

Senator SAYERS - I received a complaint which I gave to the 'Minister last night, so that he might be able to-night to give some information, to the Senate. I did not wish to take him unawares. I desired to afford him an opportunity to be able .to satisfy the Senate and the people concerned that this thing, if done, is not done with the consent or the knowledge cf the Government. I only ask that these officers shall be treated fairly. I ask honorable senators if they think that a tropical allowance of 20 per cent, is too much to give to an officer who is receiving a salary of £100 in a part of the Commonwealth where everything is dear? I believe that if the Commissioner were to send a number of men there from Melbourne at that salary, three-fourths would throw up their billets in twenty-four hours. The present officials hold on. to their billets because they think that eventually they may get an increase of salary and be moved to a more temperate climate.

Senator E J RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - Is this done under the Public Service Commissioner?

Senator SAYERS - I am not able to state who is responsible.

Senator de Largie - Certainly ; it is all done under the Commissioner.

Senator SAYERS - In the communication I received from the officials at Herberton, they say -

We respectfully wish to say that if this injustice is not removed it will impose on us a very great hardship in the struggle for existence. It is not more than a few months back, at a conference between the mine-owners and the representatives of the A.W.A. that it was unanimously agreed, on account of the high price of living in this district, to grant the miners a rise of is. 8d. per day.

That is what the miners are now being paid. When a case is made out private employers voluntarily make a concession ; but that is not the case under the Commonwealth Government, who, of course, are responsible for the action of the Commissioner, though I am not suggesting that it was taken with their knowledge.

Senator de Largie - It is not the Government, but the Commissioner, with whom the responsibility rests.

Senator SAYERS - Surely he is under the control of the Government in some way ?

Senator de Largie - No ; an Act of Parliament controls him.

Senator SAYERS - Has he the power to reduce salaries?

Senator de Largie - He has full power to fix salaries and allowances.

Senator SAYERS - I understand that he is under the control of the Minister of Home Affairs. I think that the Government are in a position to see that this wrong is rectified.

Senator de Largie - They cannot do anything of the kind.

Senator SAYERS - If an injustice is clone, must the Government sit down and do nothing? Of what use will it be to ask the people of Australia to give the Government more power when they are not able to exercise the power which they have over their own servants? This is a case of which I know personally. Last year when I was in the district I received no com plaints, and the reduction must have been made since then. I wish to know why it has been done, and if an officer can be reduced in salary when there is no complaint against him, without the wish of the Government or the Parliament? It is time, when that is done, that the Government got the power to see that justice is done to the employes of the Commonwealth.

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