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Thursday, 30 November 1911

Senator NEEDHAM (Western. Australia) . - I feel it somewhat difficult to bring back honorable senators' minds from the question of the Western Australian railway and Tattersall's Sweeps to that of the report of the Royal Commission on Postal Services. Important as Have been the discussions on the transcontinental railway, and the motion of Senator Gardiner for leave to introduce a Bill, I think that die report of the Royal Commission on Postal Services is equally worthy of our very serious consideration. It is about eight weeks since Senator de Largie moved that it be approved by the Senate. Let me here extend my congratulations to the members of the Royal Commission for the splendid and very able report which they have made, so comprehensive in its nature, and dealing with every aspect of the Postal Service. At the same time, I want to single out those members of the Royal Commission who, despite the hostile and malignant criticism of the press, stuck to their posts. I venture to say that since the inception of Federation no Royal Commission has been subject to such bitter criticism as has the Royal Commission on Postal Services. So bitter was that criticism that we found some of its original members resigning their positions, lest they might be injured in another way. I wish to specially mention the fact that the Royal Commission included men who were determined to see the inquiry through to a finish: We are now in possession of a report so comprehensive in its nature that it has enabled the members of this Parliament to see where the weak spots in the Postal Service are. I might also say that since the presentation of the repot t the Government of the day have endeavoured - and endeavoured successfully - to meet many of the recommendations of the Royal Commission. There are still, however, some defects in the Postal Service which we may be able to rectify, and it is with that intention that I am addressing myself to this motion to-night. Last session, the Vice-President of the Executive Council, in reply to a question I asked, made a promise to the Senate. that ample .time would be given for the discussion of this report. I am aware that he, as Leader of the Senate, has been good enough to extend the time for the discussion of private business by one night. Notwithstanding that extension, I venture to say that the ample time which he promised last session to afford has not been given for the discussion of a report of this nature. Whilst I recognise that the Government have extended the facilities for dealing with private business by a night, I still contend that this report deserves more time for its consideration than has been allowed up to the present.

Senator McGregor - You have had every Thursday night, and the matter has been put off.

Senator NEEDHAM - However, we must content ourselves with the opportunity which is offered. Perhaps it is somewhat unique that the report is being discussed at all. Royal Commissions sit and present reports, but usually the reports are shelved.The Royal Commission on Postal Services has had a chance to get its report discussed by members of this Parliament. There is one feature to which I desire to refer, and that is that when the Royal Commission was sitting evidence was called for. Every, employe in the Postal Service had an optunity of appearing as a witness, and the Public Service Commissioner had a similar opportunity.' The point I want to make and I think it is a just one, is that after; he, and his employes, had that opportunity,' we are to-day presented with a report from him reviewing the evidence given by a section of the Postal Service. I am not questioning his right in one way, but -in another I am. Whilst Mr. McLachlan is todaythe Public Service Commissioner, and whilst to a certain extent he is really the autocrat of the Public Service, he is also an employ^ of the Commonwealth Government. And to give him the opportunity to present this report, while the mouths of his employes were closed, was, to say the least of it, unfair. He gave his evidence on oath, and so did the men over whom he has the ruling hand. I think that the matter should have ended when the Royal Commission presented its report. But, after the evidence had been taken on oath from both sides, and the Royal Commission had drawn its deductions and presented its report, we find Mr. McLachlan coming in with another reply, and no opportunity given to the men whose evidence he, according to this report, entirely condemns. I could understand this being done if 4 chance had been given to both sides. It is well known that, according to the law which dominates the Public Service, it is unlawful for any section of the Public Service to circularize members of Parliament, but the employer of the Public Service can do that ad lib. ' What I want to emphasize is the evidence given in connexion with the sorters. In a memorandum by the Public Service Commissioner relating to recommendations of the Royal Commission, and presented to the Senate on the 15th September, 1911, I find the following paragraph : -

Sorters.- The position of sorter has received careful consideration in the new grading prepared by the Commissioner, Which became operative from rst January, 191 1. The rates of pay previously existing were as follow : -

Sorter -£144 to£156; increments of £6.

Senior Sorter - £162 to ; £168; increment £6.

Despatching Officer - £174 to , £180; increment £6.

The Royal Commission proposals were as follow : -

Sorter - £150 to £190; biennial increments of £8.

Despatching Officer - £200.

In a subsequent paragraph he says -

In making proposals as to rates of pay for Commonwealth sorters, re.iance was evidentlyplaced by the Royal Commission on New Zealand rates, which apparently provide for a maximum of£200.

It was pointed out in evidence by the Public Service Commissioner that while that rate purports to be the maximum attainable by sorters in New Zealand, it is not as a matter of practice paid, and that 45 per cent. of Dominion sorters were receiving less than the minimum of an Australian softer, while the average salary in the Commonwealth was£14 higher than in New Zealand. Despite the definite statement of the actual position of sorters in New Zealand, the Royal Commission reported (para. 383) that " from an examination of the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Departmental List, 1908-9, your Commissioners discovered that a number of sorters now in receipt of£180 will reach the maximum of£200 per annum, in accordance with the Post and Telegraph Classification Act 1907. This Act came into force in April,1908, and provides that officers in the Non-Clerical Division mav advance from £50 to£200 per annum in fifteen years by £10 increments."

I desire to point out that Mr. McLachlan's statement replying to the evidence tendered to the Royal Commission is not correct. I have here a statement in rebuttal, as it were, of that alleged evidence.

Senator McGregor - You mean that one of the statements was not correct?

Senator NEEDHAM - Well, in connexion with the sorters I will say - and I say it advisedly - that neither of Mr.

McLachlan's statements is correct. Dealing with the New Zealand position, I have here the reply, which I will quote -

Table of Salaries.

New Zealand(1908 Classification).

Grade, 3. Position, sorter. Salary , £110 to £140 by three annual increments of £10 each.

Grade 2. Position, sorter. Salary,£150 to £170 by two annual increments of £10 each.

Grade 1. Position, sorter. Salary,£180 to £200 by two annual increments of £10 each.

Despatch clerk. Salary,£200 to£220 by two annual increments of£10 each.

Australia asproposed by Postal Commission.

Sorters,£150 to£190, with biennial increments of £8, a period of ten years. (Par. 385).

N.B. - Sorters in Australia have to serve as Letter Carriers or Assistants (generally a period of twenty years) before being promoted to Sorters.

Despatching officers, salary, £200. (Par. 386).

It must be further borne in mind that even since the Royal Commission presented its reportthe cost of living has increased. Even if the Government and the Parliament accepted in toto the report, thai would not meet the situation. I see that, in connexion with the cost of living, it is estimated, from official figures, that the purchasing power of £1 in 1904 was reduced to 16s. 3d. in 191 1. A salary of£190 in 1904 is only equal to £154 7s. 6d. in 191 1. A despatching officer in receipt of£100 in 1911 received an equivalent of £162 10s. in 1904. It may be added that the State of Victoria increased the pay of all members of the Police Force who had had fifteen years' service1s. per day, or £18 5s. per annum; and those who had had less than fifteen years' service were increased 6d. per day, or£9 2s. 6d. per annum. In South Australia, increases were also granted in consequence of the increased cost of living. There, again, I point out that, even if the Commissioner was correct in his estimate, and even if the full report of the Royal Commission was accepted, still, the recommendations fall short of the necessary remuneration to the men employed. The Royal Commission recommended that a board" of control or management should be appointed. That raises a very vexed question. For my own part, I support the recommendation. I consider that our Postal Service is too big for one man to administer it. But, not only has the Commissioner to administer this service, but also the Customs and the Defence Departments. There is no man breathing who is capable of grappling with the various problems that present themselves in. con- nexion with all those Departments. View the matter from whatever stand-point honorable senators choose, we can only come to the conclusion that, unless we adopt the recommendations of the Royal Commission, our Postal Service will not reflect credit upon Australia. It is true that we have reduced the price of telegrams and adopted penny postage. It is true that, in many respects, the Commonwealth Postal Service is exemplary. But it is also true that it is wanting in other respects ; and it -is because of the unwieldly nature of the service, and the fact that one man has to govern it and other services, that there is a weak link in the chain. I do not advocate political control, but I do desire that every one of our services shall be properly and ably administered. I do not reflect, in the slightest degree, on the personal ability of Mr. McLachlan; quite the contrary. He may be a Napoleon in his way, but the Postal Service has proved to be too big for him. That is the reason why I think we should centre the administration in a board of control. We must remember that at present there is no appeal beyond the Public Service Commissioner. No man dare say him nay, be he member of Parliament, Minister, or employe. It is high time that such a state of things was remedied. The only way that 1 can see for remedying it is to accept the recommendation relating to the establishment of a board of control. The Government of the day have brought down a Bill, the intention of which is to give public servants the right of appeal to the Arbitration Court. I welcome that project, and hope that it will become law. lt has been said that the postal servants are not desirous of appealing to the Arbitration Court. That may or may not be correct. But, claiming to have a wide knowledge of the postal servants of Australia, I venture to say that, if their own wishes were consulted, we should find that the majority of them were anxious to have this power of appeal. I refer particularly to the general division. I have no desire to see any privileged class established in Australia; and whilst we have one law tor workers outside the Public Service, we should not have another law for those within it. I believe that the present Government are considering the pensions phase of the question.

Senator Vardon - Pensions, or a superannuation fund?

Senator NEEDHAM - There is a desire to legislate on the subject, which I think will receive favorable consideration from the Government. In conclusion, I shall mention only one other point. It was not fair to a section of the Postal Service that the Public Service Commissioner should have issued a final reply when the lips of the members of the Commission were sealed. I cannot lay too much emphasis on that point. If 1 were to consult the dictionary, the only word which I could find to describe such conduct would be the word " despicable." I am satisfied that, in the hands of the present Government, the intentions of the Royal Commission will be honorably and faithfully observed. So far, the Government have met them, lt is their intention to go further. Our public servants must have the same freedom of thought and speech as the man who is today their autocrat; and I hope that the day is not far distant when the powers vested in him will be taken away, and when more power will be given to "Parliament and to the Minister.

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