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Friday, 26 May 1972
Page: 2198

Senator GREENWOOD (VictoriaAttorneyGeneral) - I regret the attitude which has been expressed because I think it ignores certain realities. I think it reveals - I say this with some hesitation - a concentration upon the position of members of Parliament to the execution of what are the needs of the community and the rights - and I repeat the word rights' - of other people.

Senator Withers - That is not my attitude at all.

Senator GREENWOOD - I appreciate that there is a variation of view and I note the interjection by Senator Withers. I noticed, for example, that Senator James McClelland stated that it was quite wrong that, when members of Parliament have not had an increase for 4 years these people should receive an increase. That is the wrong approach. It expresses a personal resentment about the position of members of Parliament which is to the detriment of people who obviously are entitled to some increase. A remuneration commensurate with the obligations people in these positions carry out must be paid if we are to get for these positions people who will do the job properly.

Let me indicate to the Committee that the current salary of a Commonwealth conciliation commissioner is $11,850 a year. The salary of a commissioner in the Commonwealth jurisdiction at the present time is substantially below the salaries for equivalent positions in all the State jurisdictions. In New South Wales a conciliation commissioner is paid $15,063 and receives an allowance of $150. In Victoria the chairman of a wages board - there are a number of wages boards - receives $15,600. In Queensland a commissioner receives $16,450. In Western Australia a commissioner receives $16,100. In South Australia a commissioner receives $14,000. In Tasmania the Chairman of the Wages Board receives $13,602. I repeat that a Commonwealth commissioner is paid $11,850, and the increase proposed will take his salary to $16,250.

I should point out that there has been no increase in the salaries of conciliation commissioners since 1968. When comparison is made with the recent increases in other areas, one does not look at an increase which occurred before 1968; one looks at an increase which has occurred much more recently. I remember Senator James McClelland saying how terrible it was that, whereas we approved a national wage increase of $2 a week, we are proposing this increase for conciliation commissioners. But it should be recognised that the $2 a week increase was an increase in the national wage and that the national wage was last fixed in late 1970. Also, the amount of $2 was fixed because of the above award increases which had occurred in the intervening period. These matters are relevant. Senator Bishop, as I recall, referred to the proceedings before Mr Commissioner Taylor-

Senator Bishop - No, Mr Arbitrator Chambers.

Senator GREENWOOD - I am sorry, Mr Arbitrator Chambers. That was a case involving Third Division officers in the Public Service. They received an increase last November and at the present time are asking for a 9 per cent increase. All that the Government has done, all that the relevant Ministers have done, is to ensure that that matter is determined by the Public Service Arbitrator, and, of course, we abide by his decision.

But I believe - I can only stress it strongly - that there ought to be a responsiblity in the Senate, as one of the two Houses of Parliament, to recognise that the conciliation commissioners are entitled, as a matter of justice, to have an increase in their remuneration. If the Senate has asserted - it has so asserted, and I agreed with the assertion - that the salaries pf statutory office holders should be fixed by the Parliament and not by the relevant Minister or by administrative action, there is a correlative obligation to ensure that we do justice and do not wreak petty vengenance - if that is what it be - on the Government by denying conciliation commissioners that to which they are entitled. The lower salaries which are paid to the conciliation commissioners in the Commonwealth area place the Commonwealth at a disadvantage in obtaining suitably qualified persons to act as commissioners. The inescapable fact is that the present salaries are too low to attract suitably qualified persons from industry, from employer organisations or from government service to become commissioners. It will be extremely difficult to fill the additional positions of commissioner that will be required to be filled in order to give effect to these new procedures at the current salary levels. Furthermore, the most suitable persons will naturally be attracted to similar posts in the State jurisdictions because of the more attractive salaries which are paid there. As I said, the conciliation commissioners have had no increase in salaries since 1968. They have not even had the benefit of the national wage increases in that period. Indeed, I find the attitude of the Labor Party - I emphasise this to members of the Labor Party now - particularly difficult to understand, because the present salary of the Conciliation Commissioner in Western Australia is $16,100 and the last increase which was granted on 5th March 1972 was granted by the Labor Government of Western Australia. As I said, I find the attitude of the Labor Party in this place absolutely inexplicable.

I know that not so long ago, Mr Clyde Cameron, who is the spokesman for the Labor Party on industrial matters, was reported as having aired before the meeting in Adelaide of the Labor Party Federal Executive a proposal which in effect would deny all increases to persons on the higher salary levels until there had been a tremendous increase in the wages paid to people on the lower salary levels.

Senator TURNBULL (TASMANIA) - What is wrong with that?

Senator GREENWOOD - Honourable senators opposite say 'Hear, hear' and What is wrong with that?' Mr Clyde Cameron did not pursue the matter because he received a pretty emphatic repudiation from Mr Linehan on behalf of the white collar unions, because implicit in Mr Cameron's attitude is a rejection by the Labor Party of the claims of white collar workers, and it shows a prejudice which I regret to see.

I would suggest only that if the Labor Party is going to come out with a proposal, as I have heard Senator Murphy say on some occasion, that no-one in this country should have a salary above a certain level, then let the Labor Party come out and say that. But let us recognise that plain justice entitles persons who have not had any salary increase in 4 years, in a job that was well but not highly remunerated in 1968 and at a level to which no exception was taken at that time by the Labor Party, to an increase over the intervening 4 year period. Over that period, average weekly earnings have risen by about 40 per cent and still members of the Labor Party say that they should not receive one penny increase. I regret it.

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