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Friday, 26 May 1972
Page: 2195

Senator BISHOP (South Australia) - The Opposition intends to oppose clause 12 which, in part, provides:

Sections 16 to 21, inclusive, of the Principal Act are repealed and the following sections inserted in their stead:

16.   - (1.) A Commissioner shall be paid salary at the rate of Sixteen thousand two hundred and fifty dollars a year, and the Consolidated Revenue Fund is appropriated accordingly.'

A transitional provision is to be found in clause 57 of the Bill which prescribes in sub-clause (1.):

The rate of salary of a Commissioner to be fixed by section 16 of the Principal Act as amended by this Act shall be deemed to have taken effect on the fourth day of November, One thousand nine hundred and seventy one.

The Opposition opposes this provision and intends to divide the Senate on clause 12. Here is a glaring example of the state of confusion which the Government gets into and the double standard of its attitude to the increase of Commissioners' salaries and that which it adopts to the whole question of wage increases. I remind the Senate that the basic purpose of this Bill, as is persistently advocated by the Attorney-General, is to attempt to stop wage induced inflation and its consequences and to provide further restrictions to that end on trade union organisations. Yet at the same time, under the guise of this Bill, the Government is attempting to introduce a measure which increases by $4,400 a year - that is the equivalent of approximately $84 a week - the salary of a commissioner as well as including this great little package in the form of retrospectivity. Whether this increase has some real connection with the difficulties which may be involved in getting the Conciliation and Arbitration Com- mission to work in its new form is another thing. But it is obvious that this sort of increase is out of all proportion to the action which the Government is taking in respect of its own public servants.

I remind the Senate that only a few weeks ago we were discussing similarly restrictive arbitration legislation which was designed to prevent the Public Service unions from becoming too active in seeking wage increases for their members. Recently the 6 Public Service unions had applications before the Public Service Arbitrator, Mr Chambers, seeking what they claimed to be reasonable salary increases. The Commonwealth Government opposed those applications and made an offer to the unions which was small by comparison with the claim. Not only did the Government oppose the claim but also it asked that the matter be referred to the President of the Arbitration Commission. This request was very smartly rejected. The Government is saying on the one hand that its own employees shall not proceed for increased salaries on a formal basis but on the other hand it is saying that the arbitration commissioners shall be given this very useful hand-out. The Opposition cannot see the need for it. However, we can see the sort of anomaly and inconsistency that could arise. The Government's attitude in relation to national wage claims is rather strange. Previously it has been before the Arbitration Commission and advocated minimum wage increases.

I wish to refer to some relevant facts which illustrate and give more emphasis to the points I am making. I have before me a document which compares the salaries of conciliation commissioners with the salaries of Level 1, Second Division officers of the Commonwealth Public Service and the salaries of parliamentarians. I include parliamentarians in the comparison because it at least gives us a chance to compare the level of our salaries with those of a section of the Public Service whose salaries are adjusted at the same time as legislation is introduced to impose more restrictions on the freedom of unions and organisations to make collective agreements. It will be noted that as at 8th October 1947 a commissioner's salary was £1,500, the salary of a Second Division officer was £1,533, and the parliamentary salary was £1,500. The commissioner's salary was £33 less than the Level 1 officer's salary, which was the same as the parliamentary salary. As at 6th November 1947, a commissioner's salary was £1,500, the Level 1 officer's salary was £1,539 and the parliamentary salary was £1,500. Making the same comparison as at 6th May 1948, the Level 1 officer's salary was plus £51 and the parliamentary salary was the same as before. As at 4lh November 1948, a commissioner's salary was £1,500, the Level 1 officer's salary was £1,563 and the parliamentary salary was £1,500. The comparison at that time was minus £63 for the commissioner in relation to the Level 1 officer's salary and the parliamentary salary was the same.

As at 29th December 1949, the commissioner's salary was still £1,500, the Level 1, Second Division officer's salary was £1,844 and the parliamentary salary was £1,500. Again a comparison with the commissioner's salary shows that the level 1 officer's salary was plus £344 and the parliamentary salary was the same as before. In the next year, on 4th May 1950 the relationship with Level 1 of the Commonwealth Public Service was minus £356. The relationship with the parliamentary salary was the same. On 14th January 1971 the commissioner's salary - in dollars now - was $11,850 and the Level 1 Second Division salary was $12,538. The parliamentary salary was $9,500. The commissioner's salary therefore became, on the basis of Level 1 of the Commonwealth Public Service Second Division, minus $688 but in respect of the parliamentary group it became plus $2,350. On the proposal now before us it would be $16,250, the Level 1 salary would be $14,375 and the parliamentary salary $9,500. So in relation to the Level 1 of the Public Service Second Division salary the commissioner's salary would be plus $1,875 and in relation to the parliamentary salary it would be plus $6,750.

We could debate this matter for a long time. There is no justification for this increase. I mentioned previously how absurd it is to provide for a salary such as this when the Government, in every tribunal, is taking wholesale action to restrain wages. All the declarations by the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr Lynch) which preceded this legislation and which are contained in his second reading speech point to the need to take these measures that have now been proposed in the Commonwealth Arbitration Commission to restrain wages. Yet the Government is at the same time providing for this great handout to the commissioners, probably having in mind, of course, that the new Commission is going to run into some difficulty in attracting staff. I have yet to be told by any Minister the answer to the question we have raised: Did any members of the Commission, in advising the Government, take account of and consider what the proposed measures were and what ought to be done not only with the scheme itself but also with its officers?

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