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Wednesday, 10 April 1957

Mr TOWNLEY - I lay on the table the following paper: -

Public Service Act - Public Service Board - Thirty-second report on the Public Service for year 1955-1956.

I ask for leave to make a short statement. Leave granted.

Mr TOWNLEY - In presenting the thirty-second report of the Public Service Board covering the year ended 30th June, 1956, I have thought it desirable to make a statement which will, I hope, help to clear up some current misconceptions. The principal personnel authority for the Government is the Public Service Board which directly controls staffing and conditions of employment for all people engaged under the Public Service Act and which also has general power of approval on conditions of service for a number of statutory authorities. Overall Commonwealth employment at 30th June, 1956, was 209,648, of which 153,600 is directly under Public Service Board control. The board is an instrument of Parliament and makes its reports to Parliament. The report now presented is the thirty-second since the board was constituted under the existing Public Service Act in 1922.

It has, I regret to say, become a popular practice to criticize the Public Service, but those of us who are closely associated with its work know how far removed from reality much of the criticism is, and it is important, I think, Mr. Speaker, that we in this House should have an up-to-date picture of the Public Service. May I, as a first point, traverse the essential stability and traditions of a public service. It is common for critics to refer to the protections which Public Service employment provides. This is no accident and requires no apology. On the contrary, it is proper that the institution which must serve successive governments of different political views should be protected by a well-formulated code of conditions such as are provided under the Public Service Act and its regulations. It is proper, too, that the code should be in the hands of a trustee independent of the Government to ensure that the terms of the code are justly administered. That trustee is the Public Service Board, and I am sure that honorable members will agree with me when I say that the board has, over the years, carried out its onerous trusteeship in the most commendable manner. In exchange for its protected position, the Public Service itself accepts very real responsibility to the Government and the public - a responsibility which includes loyalty to the Crown, unbroken maintenance of the functions of the Public Service and, very importantly, loyalty to the government of the day in carrying out the policies of that government. I have had first-hand experience right through my political life of this non-partisan loyalty of the Public Service, as indeed have many members of both sides of this House who have served as Ministers of the Crown. I am sure that I speak for them as well as for myself in acknowledging it. I might perhaps be permitted to go further and quote what the Prime Minister said on one occasion -

Should this great tradition falter, the very fourdations of democracy will be shaken.

Not infrequently the Public Service is included in criticism directed against the diversity of government activity and the number of departments into which it is organized. Let there be no mistake on these important issues. Final responsibility for all policies rests with the Government and with Parliament. They and they alone, within their respective spheres, determine what shall be done. Officials of the Public Service may be called in to advise on certain aspects and consequences of policies, but they have no part in the final decision! which bring the policies into being. Such decisions rest solely with the Government and, where legislation or financial appropriations are involved, with Parliament. The creation of departments is a government responsibility and although, here again, the advice of senior officials is frequently sought, it is by government decision that departments are created or abolished, and legislative and other functions allocated to them.

Let me now pass to the charges frequently made that the Public Service is inefficient and over-staffed. In my experience of the working of the Public Service, I do not find these criticisms to be established in fact. I would not pretend, of course, that in such a vast organization there is no room for improvement. Of course, there is; but approach to efficiency requires much more than a precise performance of a routine function. In its highest form, efficiency in management requires awareness of changing thoughts and technique, and their absorption and adaptation to the requirements of the enterprise for which management is responsible. It is an inside job in the main, and particularly so as the largeness of scale of any enterprise increases. Possibly, the most striking feature of recent reports of the Public Service Board is the clarity with which the awareness of the need to change and adapt processes in a rapidly changing world has been expressed through such things as method review, including mechanical developments, training, close association with progressive bodies, such as the Institute oi Management, and the like. Many nf the major private enterprises in Australia have associated with the Public Service Board in these developments and have expressed their appreciation of the forward thinking of the Public Service in its approach to management problems.

Requests frequently reach the government for staffing and efficiency reviews from outside of the Public Service. As I have said, I think that this, in an enterprise as vast as the machinery of government, is an inside job, but it is worth examining just what a full-scale staffing and efficiency review by an outside body could mean. The Hoover Commission, which inquired into the organization of the machinery of government in the United States, is frequently referred to. There were two such inquiries and the reports are extremely Interesting and have been very carefully reviewed by the Public Service Board. It is necessary to say, however, that the inquiries were into the way in which the machinery of government was organized. They were not into the detail of staffing and work processes of the United States civil service. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that the first Hoover Commission, in spite of its limited terms of reference, took sixteen months to make its inquiries; that, outside of the members of the commission itself, it employed some 300 people organized into 24 task forces; and that its reports covered 2,500,000 words.

In the United Kingdom, over recent years, there have been a number of inquiries by committees set up to examine particular aspects of the civil service system, for example training, recruitment, and, during 1955-56, pay. Staffing and efficiency checks within the British civil service are covered Internally by the Establishment Division of the Treasury and the departments, and by Treasury and departmental organization and method reviews, as is done by the Public Service Board and the departments in the Commonwealth Public Service.

I feel that we have been provided with all the evidence which we need to convince us that the Public Service, through the board and the departments, is alive to its responsibilities and is generally efficient in carrying them out, but 1 think that we must ask ourselves whether the machinery under which the Public Service is required by legislation to operate is all that it should be and that it aids and does not hinder efficient administration. Inquiry by informed people on such matters can be of very real value and the Government hopes to be able to assemble such a committee to examine one most important section of Public Service machinery. 1 refer to its recruitment standards and processes.

Finally, let me deal with the over-all strength of the Public Service. The board's report shows employment at 30th June, 1956, to be 153,600. When the Government took office at the end of 1949, it immediately set about reviewing Public Service staffing both from administrative and economic necessities. Early in 1951. a direction was issued that the strength of the Service, then 161,714, was to be reduced by 10,000. Functions were overhauled and some risks were taken in shortcutting procedures. As a result, the Public Service was reduced to 149,129 by 31st December, 1951. There has been some growth since then, but that is inevitable with expanding population and developmentAnalysis shows that the increases have been in those departments giving vital service to the public and where new policies require implementation. The increases which have occurred since the 1951 cuts were imposed have been substantially less, proportionately, both to population growth and to the increased business turnover of the departments.

Too frequently, Public Service critics tend to infer that there is such a thing as a businessman who exists outside of the Public Service and that the public servant himself knows nothing about business. 1 do not find that opinion shared by the people who have responsibility for the direction of big private enterprises and who know at first-hand the quality of the senior officials and effectiveness of the administration which they control. In fact, they are frequently so impressed that they attract officers of the Service into their businesses. There have been many examples of this in recent times and we have lost staff as a result. Others, fortunately. have stayed with the Public Service notwithstanding attractive offers which they have received from private enterprise.

When we can see from the reports of the Public Service Board that sections of administration such as the Taxation Branch and the Department of Social Services have been able to reduce staff in the face of dramatic increases in the volume of their business, and that the Post Office staff increase is very substantially less than the increase of its business turnover, we in this House have little cause, I suggest, to worry about the management aptitudes and attitudes of our Public Service. Few businesses could show better performance. I conclude, Mr. Speaker, by expressing my great regard for the integrity, steadfast purpose, efficiency and loyalty of the Commonwealth Public Service - a sentiment which I confidently feel will be shared by all honorable members of this House.

Mr Leslie - This statement contains debatable matter. I should like to know whether the Minister has moved that the paper be printed. If lt is to be debated, I suggest that the Minister should do that.

Mr Calwell - We are not asking for it.

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