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Wednesday, 25 June 1930

The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon W Kingsmill (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I have received a communication from Senator Pearce, intimating that, in accordance with Standing Order 64 (1), he intends to move the adjournment of the Senate to discuss a matter of urgent public importance, viz., " The rationing of employment of permanent officers and other ranks of the Military Forces."

Four honorable senators having risen in their places in support of the motion,

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE (Western Australia) [3.27]. - I move -

That the Senate at its rising adjourn till to-morrow at 10 a.m.

I submit this motion for the purpose of directing attention to the rationing of employment in the military section of the Defence Department. It will be said, probably, by those who defend this action of the Government, that the alternative to rationing of the military section in the department is dismissal. I think I shall be able to submit to honorable senators a number of facts which will prove that that is not the alternative. The Minister for Defence (Mr. A. Green) in a statement to members of another place yesterday, set out the particulars of the rationing scheme which, he said, was based on the decrease in military activities due to economies that had been effected in that department. I put it to the Senate, however, that if rationing is due to the lessening of military activities, the scheme must affect the whole of the department, for it is obvious that if a certain amount of employment is given on the military side by holding of camps of training, these camps and similar military activities are the raison d'etre ofthe civilian staff. What is the duty of the civilian staff in the Defence Department if it is not to do the clerical work associated with military camps of training, and other administrative matters? Civilian employees are engaged on the administrative work of the Defence Department. From this it is clear that if the reasons given by the Minister are correct and if there is a decrease in military activities, there must ensue a lessening in the amount ' of employment on, not only the" military side, but also on the civilian side of the department. Every one regrets the need for rationing employment as an alternative to dismissal or any other form of sacrifice by any section of the Government employees. But if sacrifices are to be made, they should be made equally by all sections of employees in the department. There should be no discrimination. One section, comprising men who are unable to speak for themselves and defend themselves, should not be called upon to make a sacrifice while another section of employees, who have powerful organizations and associations to speak for them, escape. Employees in the military section in the Defence Department are quite properly forbidden to form or join associations or unions,

Senator Rae - Why?

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Because we do not wish to see repeated in Australia certain happenings that have been reported in Russia. Civilian employees in the Defence Department, on the other hand, are entitled to form themselves into unions and associations, and they have behind them the Public Service Association with which they are affiliated. That, however, should not influence the Government when faced with the stern necessity of having to make savings.

In order to show that it is possible to effect economies, and to maintain something like equality of sacrifice, I propose to place some facts before the Senate. According to the latest report available, the permanent military forces in the Defence Department number 1,718, and their salaries amount to £520,554, or an average salary of £303 per annum. The civilian employees, who, as I have said, are employed almost entirely on military work on the administrative side, number 709 andtheir salaries amount to £257,239, or an average salary of £362 per annum, so that the average annual salary on the civilian side is more than the average annual salary on the military side. Under the British army system those occupying civilian positions in our defence department would be sworn in as soldiers, and would not be entitled to be members of unions or organizations. Those working under that system in England are doing exactly the same work as for the most part is done by these 709 civilian employees. This matter was raised to-day in a series of questions submitted by Senator H. E. Elliott, who asked why any discrimination is being shown. The questions numbered 8 and 9 read -

8.   Is it a fact that a discrimination has been made in reducing only the salaries of members of the permanent forces, and that no attempt at curtailing allowances to public servants has been attempted by amendment of the Arbitration Acts or otherwise: if so. why ?

9.   Will the Government arrange for the absorption into the Public Service in the Defence Department ofas many of the officers and warrant officers as cannot be fully employed, in place of the ordinary members of the Public Service who are there?

The answers were -

8.   Any discrimination is due to the conditions being dissimilar. Thecivilian staff is being adjusted to the requirements of the Service Boards, and any surplus of permanent civilian personnel are being absorbed by other departments. The Permanent Military Forces on the other hand contain personnel in excess of requirements and are, generally speaking, not eligible for transfer to other Government Departments.

9.   Clerical officers of the Commonwealth Public Service employed in the Defence Department have been trained in the duties they are performing, and no advantage would be gained by transferring them to other departments with a view to their replacement by officers and warrant officers.

The policy of the country is preference to returned soldiers, other things being equal.

The great bulk of these men who have been dealt with by this unfair discrimination are, with the exception of a few who were too young to enlist even at the close of the war, returned soldiers. The total number of officers and warrant officers affected by the rationing proposal is 211 officers and 395 warrant officers, or a total of 606. If we are to have a rationing system, and if economies are to be effected that will result in loss to some members of the Service, returned soldiers should not be the first to be affected. I understood that the Government had given an undertaking that in carrying out its policy, the principle of preference to returned soldiers would be observed. Yet this body of men, practically all of whom are returned soldiers, has been singled out to bear the whole cost of the economies to be effected in this department. It is a fact that not all of those employed on the civilian side are returned soldiers, because that staff was necessarily recruited and kept in Australia during the war. A number of them have been on active service; but quite a number did not serve abroad, because their duties kept them in the department. If a sacrifice has to be made it should not be borne by this department only, it could be spread over the whole Public Service. But if it is to be borne only by this department, obviously it should apply to both sections of its employees. If we are to observe the principle of preference to returned soldiers, the rationing system should apply also to the clerical portion, and not only to the military staff that consists largely of returned soldiers. It is said that their duties are dissimilar; but from my knowledge of that department with which I was associated for many years, I challenge the accuracy of that statement. The clerical staff does a good deal of the administrative work in connexion with military camps and home training; but in many places throughout the Commonwealth that work is done entirely by members of the military staff. At headquarters it is more convenient for the work to be done by the civilian staff. Some sergeants-major and adjutants do exactly that class of work as a portion of their military duties, and therefore it is incorrect to say that the duties are dissimilar. The only difference is that while the clerical employees devote the whole of their time to clerical work, the military employees, particularly those associated with the training of the army, occupy part of their time on military work and a part on clerical work. To that extent their work is similar to that performed by civilian employees.

Senator Barnes - Are they paid for it?

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - It is part of their ordinary duties for which they are paid. Under this system of rationing the Government aims at saving £60,000 a year; but, let us consider the individual sacrifices to be made. An officer receiving a salary of between £500 and £600 a year will be called upon to make an annual sacrifice equal to £80 a year. That is a savage, and, I feel tempted to say, vindictive victimization of such unfortunate officers. Because of the necessity for economy, a military officer with a salary of between £500 and £600 a year is to sacrifice £80 of his salary in one year, while others in the same department are not to make any sacrifice at all.

Senator Hoare - What are the salaries of such officers?

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.I am speaking of civilian employees receiving the same salaries as those received by officers on the military side.

SenatorO'Halloran. - How many civilian officers are there?

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.About 700 civilian officers and 606 military officers are affected. A warrant officer in receipt of £250 a year will have to contribute approximately £40 a year; but a clerical officer who

Bits alongside him and who perforins the same work - the only difference being that he is not in the military section - is not to contribute a penny or lose an hour of employment.

Let me proceed to show the way in which this sacrifice, if it has to be made - and I admit that it probably will have to be made - could be spread over a much wider field. If we are to consider the question of sacrifices, we must explore a much wider field than the one department, and consider whether such sacri fices should not be spread over all the departments, in which case the loss to the individual would be negligible. A perusal of the Public Service Board's report for the year ended the 30th June last, shows that on that date there were 28,764 permanent officers in the Public Service, and 2,591 vacant positions. Certain deductions bring the total down to 30,738 positions. If sacrifice is called for, surely it would be fairer to spread it over the whole Service than to single out 600 men to bear the whole burden.

Senator Barnes - The others are bearing their shave of the burden by being " fired ".

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE - That is not so. Excess civilian officers have been transferred to the Public Service. The report referred to also shows that new appointments to the Public Service for one year represented salaries amounting to no less than £213,063. I suggest that ifwe have this plethora of educated men - and these men to whom I have referred have had to pass a stiff educational examination - they could be appointed to vacant positions instead of appointments being made from outside the Service. They would do as well in those positions as the men who have been appointed to them. Last year, the salaries, wages, and allowances of permanent and temporary officers of the Public Service amounted to £10,160,875. Extraneous payments, which I shall itemize presently, amounted to £573,439. The total salary payment for the year, therefore, amounted to £10,734,314.No great sacrifice would be demanded of the public servants generally to save £60,000 out of that amount. Among those extraneous payments are the following: - Travelling allowances, £162,551; overtime, £91,957; Sunday, duty, £97,348; higher duties allowance - that beautiful system of musical chairs to which I referred when dealing with a Public Service bill some time ago - £92,971. In the previous year, the higher duties allowance was £84,000. Perhaps honorable senators do not thoroughly understand the nature of this allowance. In practice, it works out somewhat as follows: - If a highly paid officer goes on leave, every person in the department below him moves up one position, and automatically receives the salary of the man whose position he takes during the period that the man first referred to is on leave. That is the blissful system introduced by the Public Service Arbitrator which cost the country £92,971 last year. Other extraneous payments for the year mentioned, were : - Away from home allowances, £9,291; district allowances, £46,649; holiday pay, £46,976; travelling time, £25,696; making up the total of £573,439 to which I have already referred. I suggest that even a 10 per rout, reduction of those extraneous payments would effect the saving desired without hurting a single officer. They would still be in receipt of the highest salaries of any government employees in the Commonwealth, and probably in the world. Certainly, their salaries are higher than those of State officers. I emphasize that these payments are merely extraneous.

During the year with which this report deals, 1,764 new appointments to the Public Service were made. If new appointments are to continue at that rate, it would be necessary to suspend new appointments for only six months to absorb these 600 men in the Public Service.

The report also shows that in the Public Service on the 30th June, 1929, there were 8,882 temporary and exempt employees. What is 600 among that number ? Merely by suspending the engagement of temporary employees, those 600 men could be absorbed easily. The Public Accounts Committee has called attention to this matter in a report which has been presented to Parliament. I am quoting these figures in order to show that the saving desired could be obtained without the public servants being called upon to make any real sacrifice. By doing away with overtime payments, the Government could save one and a half times as much as these officers are called upon to give up. Surely honorable senators opposite have no objection to doing away with overtime, seeing that to do so would be to act in accordance with trade union principles.

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