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Wednesday, 25 June 1930

Senator DALY (South Australia) (Vice-President of the Executive Councils [4.59]. - I sincerely hope that the Senate will not pass this motion. I do not propose to traverse the ground which has already been covered by various speakers or to support the statements of any honorable senator in particular. Any government must regard, as serious a motion by a private member to adjourn the Senate. I therefore propose to confine myself to the subject contained in the motion before the Senate. The adjournment of the Senate is sought on the ground that the Government has discriminated unfairly between its employees in the Defence Force and those in other departments. I remind honorable senators that, at the present difficult time, the policy of the Government is to reduce expenditure to a minimum. In order to do so it has already made considerable reductions in every department. The clerical staffs of the various Public Service departments have already been reduced to a minimum. In dealing with the Defence Department the Government had to decide between dismissals and rationing. The men with whom this motion deals could not be transferred to the Public Service because, as honorable senators know, the Public Service Act ties the hands of the Government in connexion with employment therein. The Minister for DefenceMr. A. Green) has been subjected to some criticism because of his action. I point out that the particular step to which objection is now raised was not taken before the Minister had conferred with one of the leading members of the Opposition in another place concerning it. I am instructed by the Minister that when a deputation met him in connexion with the rationing, he was approached by the Deputy Leader of the Nationalist party in another place (Mr. Gullett), and advised that, if the Government introduced a system of rationing into this particular section of the Defence Department, in preference to dismissing the men, such action would meet with the approval of the Opposition in another chamber. That intimation was made in another place last night by the Minister for Defence to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Latham). I ask honorable senators to look at this question from the point of view from which Mr. Gullett saw it when he spoke to the Minister for Defence. Honorable senators will realize that this statement is not one to which a reply cannot be given. It is my duty to communicate to this chamber the statement supplied to me by the Minister for Defence in this connexion. Mr. Gullett realized that these men were trained for a special class of work, and that, if dismissed, they would find it difficult to obtain work.

Senator Sir William Glasgow - We all agree that rationing is preferable to dismissal.

Senator DALY - Seeing that we all agree regarding the principle, I have no doubt that I shall be able to convince the Senate that it would have been impossible to make room for these men in other departments by dismissing men therein, as suggested by the right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce). The position in the Commonwealth Public Service to-day is that the staffs of the several departments have been reduced to a minimum consistent with efficiency. If, instead of rationing their employment or dismissing them, it was proposed to employ these men in the Public Service-

Senator Sir William Glasgow - The honorable senator must know that the annual wastage in the Public Service would make it possible to absorb them.

Senator DALY - During its seven months of office, the Government has endeavoured to discover wastage. If the honorable senator can show where it exists, the Government will take steps to remedy it.

Senator Sir William Glasgow -i referred to the natural wastage, by which a number of officers leave the Service each year because of death, resignations, and other causes.

Senator DALY - The right honorable the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce ) referred to the system of higher duties allowances as a beautiful system of musical chairs. I remind him that this Government was not responsible for the introduction of that system; that it must administer the Public Service in accordance with the legislation governing it. In administering the Public Service, we must have a sufficient staff to allow for the fact that throughout the year, some men are away, on leave or holiday. It is, therefore, necessary so to arrange the personnel as to fill up any gap and avoid the possibility of destroying the efficiency of any particular .department. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) has not shown that there are positions in the Public Service which the men in the defence forces can fill. There are, of course, certain duties in the Public Service they could perform, and as a matter of fact, wherever it has been found possible to transfer ' to positions in the Public Service any of the men who have been retrenched because of the defence policy of the Government, they have been so transferred. One of them is now working, in the particular department administered by me. . In other departments, too, there are men who have been thus transferred. But the Government is really at its wits' end to know what to do with the staff it has at present. We know that we cannot go on without a defence staff capable of coping with peak periods. We must maintain our defence forces at a point of efficiency; otherwise we might as well hand over our country to some one else to govern. But if we had adopted the policy pursued by the previous Government we would have dismissed all those who were not actually required-.

Senator Reid - The Government has dismissed a lot of men.

Senator DALY - We have been forced to do so.

Senator Reid - :That is what the Government at election time said it would not do.

Senator DALY - Of course we said that we would not do it, and we did not intend to do it.

Senator Reid - Of course not !

Senator DALY - There are times when an honorable . senator's assurance should be accepted. I would accept Senator Reid's assurance, if he gave it to me, that he did not intend to dismiss men. We believed that we could carry on without dismissals and we have dismissed men only when it has been found absolutely necessary to. do so.. The rationing system has been introduced in order to reduce dismissals to an absolute minimum. The Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) asks why it is not being applied throughout the Public Service. Apart from the fact that the numbers in the Public Service have already been reduced to what is necessary to maintain efficiency, the Public Service is covered by arbitration awards. We could not have rationed the men of the Defence Department if they, had been covered by an arbitration award. We would have had to dismiss all beyond the required number. It was because the men in that department were not bound, by an award that .we were able to accede to their request that the sacrifice should be shared among them.

Senator Ogden - That is a condemnation of Public Service arbitration awards.

Senator DALY - It is not. I am not condemning the system that operates in the Public Service. I am answering tie contention of the Leader of the Opposition. Honorable senators opposite may feel that, instead of rationing over a small area, we could have rationed over a large area; and having a majority in this chamber they would be within their rights in attempting to enforce that policy upon the Government; but even if the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Pearce) were in power, he could not do what he has suggested should be done. The Government cannot be condemned for hot carrying out a policy which the Opposition itself could not enforce.

Senator Ogden - Could not amending legislation be brought down?

Senator DALY - The question before the Chair now is the adjournment of the Senate and not the matter of amending legislation. All that I am called upon to do is to defend the Government against the proposed adjournment of the Senate.

If the honorable senator desires an amending bill so that the Public Service may be rationed, there is no doubt that the majority of honorable senators could take action in that respect despite the protestations of the minority representing the Government.

It has been suggested that some of the defence officers might possibly be transferred to the postal service, but I can assure honorable senators that the PostmasterGeneral is already at his wits end trying to keep his present staff in employment. When the principle of preference to returned soldiers was discussed in this chamber some weeks ago, it was shown that the number of returned soldiers in the Public Service was by no means small. Honorable senators must realize on reflection that if the policy they are now advocating were carried into effect, it would mean forcing some men, possibly returned soldiers, out of employment. As we cannot ration the Public Service, it is impossible to bring these defence officers into the Public Service and indulge in a general rationing scheme. There is nothing, therefore, for which the Government can be censured. I can assure honorable senators that had we dismissed men we should still have maintained the defence staff at the efficiency point. For the time being we are now above that point, but, as the Assistant Minister (Senator Barnes) has indicated, the new recruits we expect to receive during the balance of the year will create more work. The Government will maintain the defence instructional staff at the efficiency point and, at the earliest moment, will' rid the Service of this rationing system. I trust that the Senate, in its wisdom, will reject the motion.

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