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Wednesday, 30 November 1960

Mr BURY (Wentworth) .- I have one thing in common with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell); I was for a time a permanent public servant. The remarks of the Leader of the Opposition do point up one matter which probably deserves further consideration, and that is the medical requirement for entry into the permanent Public Service. We look at the Leader of the Opposition now and see a robust, healthy man. He has lived a life which would probably have killed most public servants long ago, and he is still with us. Yet, had fate decreed otherwise, he by now might well have been Secretary to the Commonwealth Treasury. Instead of cheer chasing and running round the place in a demogogic fashion, he would probably be persuading successive governments of whatever political party they may be to pile financial misery upon the people. The Commonwealth Public Service, being such a large employer, I suggest it is not reasonable to the community as a whole to set medical standards which are higher than those required by other employers. There are obvious limitations upon those whom the Commonwealth Public Service can admit to pension rights, but, on the whole, the medical standards should be set out in such a way that most people can understand what they are and applicants for appointment should not merely receive, as they sometimes do, the blank wall answer that they have been rejected on medical grounds, without those grounds being specified.

The Leader of the Opposition said that he proposed moving an amendment to provide for equal pay for the sexes in the Public Service. He stated - and it is true - that the Liberal Party has accepted the principle of equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value. But l»t us examine this matter closely. First, the basic rates in the Commonwealth Public Service are fixed and regulated by a complex of industrial awards. My understanding is that the Government has discretionary power to decide whether margins over and above the minimum rates determined by the ordinary conciliation and arbitration machinery shall be equal for both men and women in the Commonwealth Public Service.

While dealing with this question of equal pay for men and women for work of equal value and the amendment foreshadowed by the Leader of the Opposition, it will be interesting if following speakers on the Opposition side will indicate the Labour Party's attitude towards something which is not covered by this bill. I refer to the treatment of married women in the Commonwealth Public Service. The Governmen has postponed consideration of that matter for a while. Is the Opposition prepared to give married women the same right as they enjoy in other professions and occupations? In other words, is the Opposition prepared to allow these people to continue to be employed if it is considered that they are efficient, instead of allowing them to continue to be arbitrarily dismissed under the law? Another matter which has been postponed for the time being is the employment of physically handicapped persons. Although those two matters are not covered by the bill, it is important that everybody's attitude towards them should be made known because the conditions of recruitment to the Public Service ought not to be made a political football. This is a matter upon which both sides of the House should be united. Both sides should endeavour to evolve the best possible system under which the Public Service can serve successive governments, irrespective of political colour, without political considerations entering into the matter.

There are two principles involved in connexion with the employment of married women. One is the right of the individual. 1 know there are some who, while professing to support the rights of individuals, actually believe that those rights should be restricted to only one sex. It is only reasonable and logical that those women who get married and wish to rear families should have the right to work for a year or two until their families arrive if they so wish. It is only reasonable and logical that, while awaiting the arrival of a family, these women should have the opportunity of providing for that family's future.

It must be remembered, too, that not only the Public Service proper is affected by this question. Governmental and semigovernmental agencies of one sort or another must also be considered because their staffing conditions run on lines parallel with those of the Commonwealth Public Service. Let me give an example of one government instrumentality about which I know something. I refer to the Commonwealth Bank. This bank employs girls for only a limited number of years because most of them enter employment with it at seventeen years of age and, by the time they are 21 or 22 years old, they get married. After marriage, many of them would be willing to serve the bank for another year or two if they were permitted to do so. There is a tremendous waste of talent when girls and women who are trained to do a job are obliged by statute to leave their employment as soon as they are married.

Then there are the women who marry at a much older age than those about whom I have been speaking. When men and women leave the Public Service before the statutory retiring age, they receive a refund of only the exact amount of money they have contributed to the superannuation fund. They receive no interest on their money, nor do they enjoy any share of the contributions which otherwise would have been made by the Commonwealth Government. Again, this matter is not covered by the bill, but it is one that affects Public Service recruitment and should be given proper consideration.

I join with the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to the work of the Boyer committee. If there is any fault to be found with the Boyer committee's report, it is that if anything, it is too academic. That was only to be expected, because the committee was comprised of people from outside the Public Service who asked questions about existing practices. The recommendations have to be measured in terms of what is practicable. It seems to me that on the whole the Government has produced a very good bill. We appreciate the fact that it has had to decide which of the committee's recommendations were practicable and which were not. I suggest that no one can accuse the Government either of being hasty or of bringing the bill forward at a time when adequate consideration cannot be given to it.

There are one or two points which I believe should be given further consideration now. One is that in prescribing academic qualifications it must be remembered that the basic need of the Public Service, as elsewhere, is primarily to recruit people of brains and energy. You get them in different ways; there is no golden rule in this matter, educational attainments are a very useful embellishment of basic requirements, but, of themselves, they are not sufficient. I wonder whether the country is quite ready yet for making the Leaving Certificate the basic requirement for entering the Third Division, if the Third Division of the Public Service is to stay as it is at the moment, because, whatever might be the cause, the fact is that very large numbers of our bright and energetic children now leave school before they qualify for the Leaving Certificate. A large number of recruits of the type of those who now come into the Commonwealth Public Service will be lost to it under the proposal that possession of the Leaving Certificate is a prerequisite to appointment. From inquiries I have made, I am quite sure that many of the good bright children who leave school at the intermediate stage in practice prove better material than the less able children who are able to pass the qualifying examination for the Leaving Certificate. I am sure, too, that most of those who do very well in the Leaving Certificate examination take Commonwealth scholarships and go on to the universities. Whereas, no doubt, in the fulness of time, the raising of the educational requirements would be a sound provision, there is at this juncture still a possibility that we may lose a certain amount of good material which, under the present practice is recruited to the Public Service. I was not quite sure from his speech exactly where the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) stood on the question of graduate entry. But why should if be limited to 10 per cent.? In fact, I imagine it would hardly be as high as 10 per cent, in present circumstances. Why was it suggested that there should be this statutory limitation upon it. Here again, a boy or girl with a good pass in the Leaving Certificate examination who enters the Public Service may be better material than some one who goes to the university and just gets past his examinations and who, although nominally educated to a higher pitch, is not able to produce the energy and initiative of some one educated to a lesser degree.

Important within the field of entry is the attractiveness of the Public Service to the really outstanding graduate, because with the present system of Commonwealth scholarships the brightest in the community, whatever their origin, do go to the universities and obtain degrees. Now, because the Public Service is geared to provide the kind of positions suitable for the ordinary folk going to universities, it is not good enough to attract the best graduates. We do not need a very high proportion of the highest types of intellect in the Public Service, but we do need a good many, and the need for the higher quality graduates will increase as times goes on. Our Public Service at the present time is, in most of its grades, a very good and efficient mechanism, whatever criticism may be levelled at it from outside; and it is very often badly informed criticism. It is basically an efficient service, but it is often deficient in the number of people it has of the very highest flight of ability.

I find the measure very difficult to follow in some respects and I would like the Government to re-assure us that there is some provision in the new legislation by means of which we can attract a reasonable proportion of the very best graduates that come out of the universities. I am less concerned whether we attract graduates or anybody else, as such, but at every stage we need to attract to the Public Service a proportion of the ablest in the community and the Boyer report supports this. As is common knowledge at the moment, the brightest people who leave our universities will not go near the Public Service, and this is a very sad thing for the future of the country, because as time goes on it will be more and more important to have the most highly qualified and trained brains to sift the kind of things from which governments have to make decisions.

There are various possibilities ahead, and one of them is that we are now moving into the realm of computers. Technical personnel will have to be recruited on an everincreasing scale. The weakness of our present Public Service Act - and our Public Service Board - is that it is well equipped to cope with the sort of people who carry out ordinary administration, but it is not well equipped to recruit and attract people with higher technical qualifications. In this field, of course, there is provision by means of which the 10 per cent, provision in regard to recruiting university graduates does not apply. Apparently the other field will be fairly wide open. But it will be a sad thing indeed if, in the course of time, we have a number of very good technical people and the administrative wing is not of commensurate quality. That is the current trend of the Public Service. We are not attracting the brightest people to administration, where we badly need them, but we are attracting some of the best people to our technical branches.

There seems to be some lack of balance in the Public Service Act. Perhaps we need separate provisions for recruiting the scientific and other people trained to professional standard. As of now this act does not, to my mind, adequately sift the kind of problems which will arise in this sphere. With that reservation, and as far as they are aimed at general recruitment to the Public Service, the provisions of this bill, as most of us know, are a step forward. They are essentially sound and I hope that when the Government - as it has indicated it shortly will - is considering the type of treatment to be afforded to married women and the employment of physically handicapped persons, it will find itself coming out on the side of general Liberal policy. As I have mentioned, this policy is that there should be equal opportunity for women and men who engage in all civic and political activities in the community; and anomalies in employment which adversely affect women and their freedom to engage in the occupation of their choice should be eliminated. Those seem to me to be important principles and I hope the Labour Party will not come forward merely with its amendment in respect of pay. I hope it will also underline the principle that in the matter of employment in the Public Service the sexes should, as far as is practicable, be treated on a common basis.

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