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Tuesday, 4 May 1971

Senator BYRNE (Queensland) - While we are dealing with the departments that were examined by Estimates Committee E I take this opportunity to raise matters that are not exclusively germane to any of the departments embraced within the investigations of Estimates Committee E but which are germane to all departments which asked for supplementary appropriations. In the course of discussions with the Minister for Works (Senator Wright), who appeared before Estimates Committee C as Minister for Works and as Minister responsible for various departments, I raised this matter. It deals with the non-appropriation of moneys in anticipation of foreseeable increases in salaries and wages as a result of determinations by arbitral bodies and tribunals, such as in the national wage case or as a result of determinations of the Public Service Board or the Public Service Arbitrator. I notice that in many of the estimates of the departments huge amounts had to be sought as supplementary appropriations because there had been no prime appropriation in anticipation of the determination of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in the national wage case and in anticipation of the Public Service Arbitrator's decisions.

When I raised this matter during the hearing of Estimates Committee C, Senator Wright explained that it was very difficult for the Government to appropriate moneys in anticipation of the decision of an arbitral or judicial tribunal because it might be imprudent or improper in that, according to the amount of the appropriations, some guide or some intimation could be given to an otherwise independent body as to the opinion of the Government or the amount likely or appropriate to be given and in respect of which financial provision should be made. The effect is that now, particularly when there is a national wage case every year or thereabouts, the Estimates are starting to lose their reality because of the enormous sums granted in supplementary appropriations in respect of salary and wage provisions. When these amounts are asked for in supplementary estimates it seems that the original prime estimate becomes totally unreal. I do not know whether there is any way round this. Although it was not the appropriate occasion, I took the opportunity to ask, through the Minister, a Treasury official, who was present at a meeting of Estimates Committee C, whether he could let me have the aggregate figures in relation to such salary and wage provisions. This has been done. Senator Wright has been kind enough to provide me with a copy of the letter addressed to him by Mr Hill, the First Assistant Secretary, Department of the Treasury. That letter was dated 29th April. I will take the liberty of reading it as it is only short. It reads:

Dear Senator Wright,

During the course of the meeting of Senate Estimates Committee C on 20 April 1971 Senator Byrne requested Treasury to supply the Committee with the total amount provided in the Additional Estimates for the item 01, Salaries and Allowances.

You will recall that at the subsequent meeting of the Committee on 22 April a note was handed to you providing this information for the Committee, but you returned it with the endorsement How much of the total budget is represented by increases ordered by Industrial awards issued after 30/6/707'.

As notified to you earlier in that note, the amount included in Document A for Salaries and Allowances is $38,328,000 - this includes all Commonwealth Departments as well as the civilian employees of the Service Departments. There is also an amount of $28,290,400 provided for pay and allowances for the Services.

From information furnished by departments for which additional salary appropriations are sought in Document A, it appears that the cost in 1970- 71 of industrial awards made after 30 June 1970 to civilian employees is $32,924,600, of which the National Wage Case accounts for $15,404,000. This does not include the Post Office because of the different basis on which funds are appropriated for Post Office purposes. However, it is understood that the cost of increased awards affecting Post Office staff is $40.7m in 1970-71. The Post Office has absorbed the bulk of this and sought only $12m in Document B.

If we aggregate the salaries and allowances for all Commonwealth departments at a round figure of S38m, plus the $28m sought in the supplementary estimates for the Services, that gives a total in round figures of $66m. If we add to that the net figure of $12m for the Post Office, that gives $78m. Obviously, when the annual Estimates are presented, and particularly when the Budget is close to stabilisation - that is, the equalisation of receipts and expenditure - it is totally unreal that that position should be presented when in fact there is a virtually known additional figure of dimensions of that character that cannot in the circumstances be adverted to. I do not know what the answer to this is. Senator Wright pointed out that it has been Treasury practice; it is Treasury tradition. I have indicated that, for reasons of prudence, perhaps the situation should not be disturbed. But perhaps there is some way in which we can inject a greater reality into the principal Estimates by in some way, knowing that there will be substantial wage and salary allocations in the succeeding financial year, providing for them in the Budget or at least adverting to them in some way in the statement of accounts. Otherwise a distorted financial picture will be presented to the nation. Nobody can say that the amount of $78m, which is a sum to which reference is not to be made but of which everybody is substantially aware, will be charged against revenue in the succeeding 12 months, and this renders a great portion of the Budget completely meaningless. I should be pleased if this matter could come within the attention of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts, which in turn might present it to the Treasury for consideration as to some way in which the difficulty can be overcome, consonant with the complete independence of operation of arbitral and judicial bodies, and as to some way in which the prime Appropriation Bill might more accurately represent anticipated charges upon the national revenue in the year under review.

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