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Wednesday, 16 February 1977

Mr E G WHITLAM (WERRIWA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Leader of the Opposition) - The Opposition opposes the Bill. It is a useful reminder that the Fraser Government can be just as irresponsible in keeping its promises as it has been in breaking them. Ostensibly the Bill deals with so-called political appointments to the Public Service. Its real purpose is to give a look of substance and respectability to one of the sillier campaign slogans of the Liberal Party. Any Bill that sets out to correct an anomaly or deal with a particular problem is more likely to be convincing if the Government first explains clearly where the anomaly or the problem lies. The Fraser Government has not done so. It cannot do so. Insofar as the Bill identifies a problem, it identifies the wrong one. Insofar as it proposes a solution, it is a solution which will do more harm than good; a solution which the Government has itself flouted in its own appointments; a solution contrary to the advice and the spirit of the Coombs Royal Commission set up to investigate these very matters.

The Bill had its origins in a piece of singularly empty and specious electioneering- the cry of no more 'jobs for the boys'. Leave aside for the moment the long list of jobs for the boys conferred by previous Liberal governments and by the Fraser Government itself. They are not the nub of the matter. Leave aside the question, to which I shall return, of whether any public servant can be truly said to be impartial. That is not the nub of the matter. The nub of the matter is how to make the best possible appointments to the Public Service, both from inside and, if necessary, from outside it. It is to ensure that the Public Service is as adaptable, as contemporary, as relevant and as efficient as governments can make it. It is to ensure that the Public Service meets the demands and pressures, not only of changing governments, but also of changing times and circumstances. It is to ensure, not only that governments are well serviced by the bureaucracy, but also that the people are well served. Not one of these great and important issues is dealt with by this Bill. Instead we have a gimmicky little measure which will defeat even its own limited objective. It will make senior public service appointments not less politicised, but more. It will make the bureaucracy a more closed and rigid structure than it is now.

What is the objective of this Bill? The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) referred in his grandiose way to concepts of political impartiality, objectivity, neutrality and so on. These notions are commendable enough as far as they go, but they evade the fundamental question: How is impartiality to be achieved? Can it be achieved at all? I do not want to dwell too long on matters of theory, but we do need to be clear on some basic concepts. To begin with, I think it is obvious that any appointment of an establishment figure to a senior position, however strong his political views, will pass more or less unquestioned, but the appointment of anyone remotely connected with the cause of dissent will immediately arouse criticism. How do we define impartiality? It is not at all clear what the words impartiality' or 'objectivity' can mean in relation to either the tendering of advice or the implementation of decisions. A recommendation to Ministers on whether to spend $ 10m on the education of the disadvantaged or not to spend it and reduce the deficit, can be argued in many ways, but the recommendation will always rest upon the values we attach to particular ends. We all know that public servants in different departments, all of them presumably impartial and objective, can arrive at quite contrary recommendations on the basis of the same facts. It is not so much that public servants, like all of us, have human failings and thus have their prejudices, their hidden assumptions and their unrecognised preferences. It is more that the subjects on which senior public servants need to advise, or need to make administrative decisions, concern the distribution of wealth and power. These are not questions of objective fact but of political values.

Sir RobertMenzies said of his experience in 1949 when he took over from a Labor administration:

At the very outset I was told by people in my party organisation that certain men in the Prime Minister's Department were or had been officers or members of the Labor Party. I recall my reply with some satisfaction. 'So long as they are competent and honest men, what of it? Kissing will not go by political favour in my department! '

It must be said that Sir Robert came closer to the heart of this issue than his present successor and admirer has managed to do in the Bill now before us. In short, it is not particularly useful, and I doubt that it is possible, to talk of public servants in terms of their impartiality or objectivity. The main criteria of a man's effectiveness, I believe, are his competence, his qualifications, his experience, his integrity and his character. These are the qualities every government must look for in appointing public servants, for the good of the service and for the good of the community.

With these considerations in mind let us look at the men whose appointments have been subject to contention. I must say that I regret the need to discuss individuals in this context. The issue is one of far-reaching general importance and ought to transcend particular personalities. Besides, any discussion of individuals tends to be futile because it is easy to produce examples of so-called political appointments from both sides of politics. Indeed the list on the conservative side is far longer. In 1974, in answer to a question on notice, I had prepared a table showing the number of Liberal and Country Party members and ex-members, ministers and ex-ministers, senators and ex-senators and past and present party officials appointed by Liberal-Country Party governments to offices of profit under the Crown. The list contained 36 names ranging from Governor-General and Chief Justice to members of the Australian Broadcasting Commission. I seek leave to incorporate the list in Hansard.

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