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Wednesday, 30 November 1960

Mr DALY (Grayndler) . - I wish to address myself to one or two points in the legislation under discussion. At the outset, let me join with other honorable members in the observation that, generally speaking, members of our Commonwealth Public Service are men of high standing, capacity and integrity and render great service in their respective spheres. Naturally, some are not as competent as others, but, in a general sense, I think that we are privileged to have an efficient Public Service which, to best of its ability, gives effect to the decisions of the Government. It was to improve the methods of recruitment, the administration and the general organization of the Public Service that the Boyer committee reported to the Government. Some of the recommendations of the committee have been incorporated in this legislation. It is regrettable, however, that some sections of the report have not yet been considered and are not covered in this bill. There is, particularly, a reference to employment of handicapped persons with which I shall deal later. Naturally, I support the views put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) in respect of the amendments which he foreshadowed and which are thought to be desirable improvements to this legislation.

I wish to address myself particularly to the question of appointments to the Commonwealth Public Service. Proposed new section 34, which is contained in clause 11, provides as follows: -

A person is not eligible for appointment to the Commonwealth Service unless -

(a)   he is a British subject;

(b)   the Board is satisfied, after he has under gone a medical examination approved by the Board, as to his health and physical fitness;

(c)   the Board is satisfied that he is a fit and proper person to be an officer of the Commonwealth Service; and

(d)   he has made and subscribed, as pre scribed, an oath or affirmation in accordance with the Fourth Schedule to this Act.

How is the board to be satisfied that a man is a fit and proper person to be an officer of the Commonwealth Public Service? I should like to know on what basis that is to be decided in future. As the honorable member for Kingston (Mr. Galvin) has stated, there is grave misgiving in the minds of people - as we who come in contact with them know - about the system now adopted, I suppose fairly generally, in regard to recruitment to the Commonwealth Public Service and in regard to the determination whether an applicant is a fit and proper person to be an officer of the service. Evidently it is the practice of the Public Service Board to engage the security service, or special officers, to interrogate people who, it considers, should not be appointed or should not be promoted after having received appointment. This leaves the way open for very grave concern by members of the public, and particularly grave concern by the persons concerned.

Recently I placed on the notice-paper a question directed to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) asking how many persons had applied for appointment to, or promo tion in, the Commonwealth Public Service and had been refused promotion or appointment on the advice or recommendation of the security service. No names were given in the reply to the question, although I had asked for them, but the Prime Minister stated that the number of such cases was very small. The important point is that evidently a number of people have been refused appointment to, or promotion in, the Commonwealth Public Service as a result of reports on them submitted by the security service. There are those who say that that may be all right but, as the honorable member for Kingston stated, a man's future should not depend entirely on a report of the security service unless evidence is produced which the person concerned is given a chance to rebut.

Only a few weeks ago a case came to my notice of a man employed in the Commonwealth Public Service, in a department a very long way divorced from any military or security risk. He was interrogated, on the instructions of certain officers of that department, by members of the security service. A lengthy interview took place, and he was told that it was in connexion with an examination that he had passed in order to proceed to the Third Division. Furthermore, he was told that he had passed the examination fairly well, but evidently some charge or statement had been made against him that he was not a fit and proper person to be promoted. This man is an ex-serviceman, a comparatively young man, and he has a good record. He assured me that there was no reason that he knew of for his loyalty to be challenged, and that in every way he considered himself a fit and proper person to be promoted. I took the matter up with the Minister for Trade (Mr. McEwen), who was Acting Prime Minister at the time, and I was subsequently advised that the person concerned had been recommended for promotion and approval had been granted.

That person had no chance of rebutting the charges against him. If I had mentioned his name in this Parliament he would have been listed in the Public Service as suspect along the lines of those who might be suspicious. No charge was made against this man. He was only interrogated. As I have said, he was employed in a department - as a matter of fact, it wm a financial department - a long way divorced from anything connected with defence. He had passed a qualifying examination with flying colours, but he was subjected to a great deal of worry and concern as the result of a statement by some one with whom he was not connected. That case was corrected, and the promotion was approved, but I have had other cases where the reply received has not been so satisfactory.

It is quite evident that the information supplied by security officers is not always reliable. We all remember the occasion when the Prime Minister came into this House and announced that certain people were Communists, and had to apologize to those people the next day. There should be some way in which people against whom such charges are made are given an opportunity to challenge those making the charges. Every one may not wish to bring his case to me or to some other honorable member, or to have his affairs ventilated here, because of the fear that he would then become a listed person with no prospect of promotion in the Public Service. I should like to know on what basis the board will decide whether a person is a fit and proper person to be an officer in the service or to be promoted. What precautions will be taken to ensure that, for example, an anonymous letter written by some mischievous person will not result in somebody being stopped in his career in the Public Service or being refused appointment?

Quite recently we heard in this Parliament of the case of a man appointed by the Public Service Board to a department in Sydney, and subsequently dismissed because previously he had had some association with Communist organizations. Whether or not that man should have been dismissed is a matter that I do not wish to debate now, but if he was dismissed later for that reason, I say that he should not have been appointed in the first place.

We see that errors can occur. Amazing things can happen with the security service, and I am not satisfied that every case in which a man may have been victimized comes to the light of day. Some of the persons concerned may not know that procedure for bringing their cases to the atten tion of honorable members, or they may not wish to face the publicity associated with the raising of the matter in this Parliament. In the case of the man to whom I referred earlier, the request for promotion was eventually granted. If, however, I had gone about the matter in another way and had raised his case in the Parliament, he would have been a listed person and would have suffered just as much as if the case had never been raised in that way.

This is an important aspect of administration. Whilst I give no support at all to people who are disloyal, and whilst I would not want such people to be appointed to any section of the Public Service, I believe that some safeguards are necessary so that people who are challenged in this respect will have an opportunity of rebutting the charges against them, and of clearing their names, without being listed as persons suspected of disloyalty.

I had an amazing case brought to my notice during the war years. Of course, war years are exceptional times. A person in my constituency sought to buy a house. He had a foreign name. It was necessary at that time for foreigners to seek permission to buy houses. His purchase of that house was held up for two years. I subsequently looked at the file, and I was advised by the Minister in charge of the department concerned that the permission that was sought had not been granted because the house was in Five Dock in Sydney. The security people said, "We cannot allow an Italian to buy a house in the vicinity of docks in Sydney in war-time ". Five Dock is a part of Sydney Harbour where you could not run a 14-ft. rowing boat. It is just a backwater. Apparently the security officer concerned lived in Perth and thought that Five Dock was an important harbour area. That is humorous in the extreme, but it took the man two years to get the permission that he applied for. That man had been 40 years in this country, was a justice of the peace and had sat on juries. Although he had an Italian name he was probably more Australian than I or some other people in this chamber.

Those things can happen. I do not criticize the people concerned. What happened was probably the result of ignorance, but it was tremendously inconvenient to the man affected. That case shows what can happen. Every honorable member could probably cite similar cases. As the honorable member for Kingston said, a man whose official duties took him to meetings of organizations like the Eureka Youth League was subsequently refused appointment to the Public Service because he was said to be a person who had constantly attended such functions. It is terribly difficult to get information from the Government on these issues, and it is disconcerting to the individual concerned, inconvenient and unpalatable in every way. So I should like to know what the Government is doing to prevent many loyal citizens from being condemned to loss of promotion in, or appointment to, the Public Service on the say-so of people whom we do not know. With all due respect to the security service, many of its officers are quite unskilled in the art of detection, in which our ordinary police forces are so skilled.

These are matters that the Government might well look at. I have on my files quite a few cases which cause me great concern, particularly when one knows that when representations on these cases are made by me or other honorable members the result of that intervention is that the people concerned are given clearances. That means that if the cases I am concerned with had not been brought before me, and been raised by me, the persons affected would have been refused their just rights in regard to promotion or appointment. I think it is time something was done by the Government or the Public Service Board to set up some tribunal that will prevent that kind of injustice being done to people.

I turn now to another matter. This year, or last year, the Government had a great deal to say about World Refugee Year and the need for the Australian Government and other governments to assist in bringing to Australia, or other countries, European refugees suffering from disabilities who might wish to take up residence overseas. It is to the credit of the Government and all concerned that certain restrictions were removed and that people in that category came here under that World Refugee Year scheme.

The Government appeals for private industry to employ handicapped people. I believe that private employers responded reasonably well within their capabilities. This brings me to the point that it is all very well to set aside certain physical standards and to bring handicapped refugees here during World Refugee Year and also to appeal to private enterprise to employ handicapped people, but I think that the Commonwealth Public Service Board is failing in its duty to handicapped people. In this measure, the Government does not propose to enable physically handicapped people to be employed in the Commonwealth Public Service. Some months ago in this Parliament, I called for a royal commission into the manner in which handicapped ex-servicemen are treated by the Commonwealth Public Service Board. I do not complain about the idea of asking private enterprise to employ disabled people or at the idea of bringing to this country from other parts of the world refugees who have disabilities. But let us be consistent and see that the Commonwealth Public Service Board, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Service Act, extends reasonable and just treatment to men who have suffered disabilities while on war service.

I mention again a case that has come under my notice. It is that of a man who receives a 50 per cent, repatriation pension for a war disability. He is a big man who weighs, I suppose, 14 or 15 stone. He is a capable person and has passed all the examinations necessary for appointment in a clerical capacity in the Commonwealth Public Service, but the Public Service Board refused him an appointment on the ground that he was physically incapable of doing the clerical work for which he had qualified. By occupation, this man is a plumber and in that trade he engages in the most arduous duties. Yet the board refused to appoint him on the ground that he did not fulfil the physical requirements needed by a man whose job is to push a pen in the Public Service, his disability having been caused by war service and having resulted in his receiving a 50 per cent, repatriation pension. The Public Service Board advised this man to apply to the Repatriation Commission for a substantial increase in his pension and suggested that he was entitled to a 100 per cent, pension. But when he applied, the commission refused to increase his pension and he had to fight like the devil to prevent a reduction.

Where does this sort of thing get us? The Commonwealth Public Service Board refused to employ this man because his health had been impaired by war service - a disability for which he receives a 50 per cent, pension. The Repatriation Commission will not increase his pension and, indeed, takes the attitude that he rs already getting too high a pension. You cannot have it both ways. This man has fought for the country and, as a result, his health has been impaired. He should at least be given the opportunity to work in a clerical capacity, especially since, even to this day, he is fit for and is engaged on arduous plumbing work which requires much more physical effort than is required for the pushing of a pen. Yet the Commonwealth Public Service Board refuses to employ him. I have brought this matter to the attention of the chairman of the board and the Prime Minister. This case is only one of many. I have heard other honorable members on this side of the House raise numerous cases of this kind. I am not at all satisfied that the Commonwealth Public Service is extending the tolerance, leniency and justice that should be extended to ex-servicemen who have applied, in what we may say is a very easy way, for appointment in the Public Service. For the life of me, I cannot see why the man whose case I have mentioned was refused appointment. He had all the required qualifications and is a very competent person.

I believe that something should be done to make provision in the Public Service Act for the appointment to the Public Service of physically handicapped people. Nothing has been done about this so far. Something should be done about it as well as about the appointment of ex-servicemen who have war-caused disabilities. I therefore suggest to the Government that in its deliberations on this measure it sympathetically consider this aspect of the matter. I hope, too, that in the near future the Public Service Board will have a look at its records and re-examine the case which I have mentioned. If necessary, I can give the board further details. I should very much like to know how many exservicemen have been refused appointment by the Commonwealth Public Service

Board because they have war-caused disabilities. I think that people of this country would be astounded to know how many ex-servicemen are apparently not getting from the Public Service Board, solely because their health has been impaired by their war service, the justice to which they are entitled.

Mr Griffiths - A number of exservicemen have left the Public Service for such a reason.

Mr DALY - That is so.

Having dealt with those points, I turn to another aspect of the Public Service. I am not averse to the officers at the top receiving a reasonable reward for the great responsibilities that they discharge and the tasks that they have to carry out. At the same time, like other honorable members on this side of the House, I am not satisfied that those on the lower rungs of the Public Service are receiving the rewards to which they are duly entitled. I think that there has been a tendency to increase the salaries paid in the top ranks of the service extravagantly in some instances by comparison with increases given to employees in the lower ranks. I suggest that the salaries of people doing very effective and important work in the lower divisions of the Public Service ought to be reviewed, because, proportionately, those people have not received increases as great as were those given to the people at the top. I repeat that I do not wish in any way to detract from the officers at the top who carry heavy responsibility. They are entitled to a fair reward for the discharge of their great responsibilities. However, I suggest that the Government and the Public Service Board would do well to adopt policies designed to help those on the lower income scales in the Public Service by giving them salary increases commensurate with those given to the officers at the top.

Mr Murray - Does the honorable member think that those at the top are now receiving fair rewards?

Mr DALY - I think that those at the top are doing exceptionally well. Recently, increases ranging up to £900 a year, or about £18 a week, were given to senior officers. I do not think that those who received such salary increases can be said to be battling. The point that I make is that these were tremendous salary increases. They may have been justified. But they were given to officers on salaries of £5,000 or £6,000 a year, together with all that goes with the occupancy of these top positions in the Public Service. Down the line, in the lower ranks of the service, the situation of the man on a salary of, say, £20 a week is somewhat different. Broadly speaking, I say " Good luck " to those at the top who received the big increases if they can get such treatment. But I suggest that they are not underpaid, and I think there is a feeling that the men at the top are getting a little too much and those in the lower ranks are not getting enough. I have already said that I do not wish to take anything away from the officers at the top, but I suggest that as time goes on, those further down the line ought to have their salaries increased proportionately.

Having made those observations, 1 wish now to take the opportunity to place on record a tribute to Sir William Dunk, who, 1 understand, is shortly to retire from the position of Chairman of the Public Service Board which he has occupied for quite a long time. Undoubtedly, Sir William has discharged his duties to the best of his ability, and has rendered great service to this country. I understand that his successor will be Mr. Wheeler, who is well known in the Commonwealth Public Service. He will follow a capable predecessor. I am sure that Mr. Wheeler, also, with his great knowledge of public affairs in this country, will render great service in this very high office.

Having said so much, Sir, let me say that 1 think the speech that 1 have just delivered is probably one of the most constructive that has been made on this bill. I hope that the Government will duly consider all the points that I have made.

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