Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Thursday, 7 December 1911

Senator NEEDHAM (Western Australia) . - I listened very attentively to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition in opposing the second reading of this Bill.

Senator McGregor - He is not opposing the second reading.

Senator NEEDHAM - I can only judge that he is from his own statements.

Senator Millen - The honorable senator is a good judge this time.

Senator NEEDHAM - Senator Millenbased his attack on the allegation that the party of which I have the honour to be a member made certain promises on the hustings to do certain things if returned to power. I have had considerable experience on the hustings; but, throughout the electoral campaign, I never heard any member of this party make any particular promises to the Public Service. I deny that they did so. The only promise we made was that if returned to power, we would endeavour to put our platform into operation. That is the reason why this Bill is now before Parliament. We on this side are attempting to redeem a pledge, and I welcome the attempt to do so. I will give one or two reasons why I think .the Bill ought to be supported. The public servants of Australia are to-day cursed by the system of confidential reports. A public servant may be pursuing the even tenor of his way, but, without his knowledge, reports are being piled up in the Public Service Commissioner's office as to breaches of regulations, or alleged acts of misconduct, without the knowledge of the officer. All of a sudden, like a bolt from the blue, the Commissioner comes down upon him. What is his remedy ? All that he can do is to appeal from Caesar to Caesar, because the representative of the Commissioner in the State where the officer works is the principal member of the Appeal Board, and adjudicates on the very decision that he himself has given.

Senator Vardon - Does this Bill do away with, that?

Senator Henderson - I consider that it does ; because, under it, if the decision of the Commissioner is not satisfactory, the officer can appeal to a Judge of the High Court.

Senator Vardon - As an individual?

Senator NEEDHAM - He can appeal as a member of his organization. The tendency in Australia to-day is for all people, whether they are public servants or not, to organize. During the past two years, we have been establishing records in the formation of organizations. These officers, through their organizations, would have a right to appeal to the Court, which will hear evidence on both sides, free from the dictation of any representative of the Commissioner. The Judge would be able to demand those secret files which very often the public servant does not get an opportunity to see when he is put upon his defence. I candidly admit, however, that there are some weak points in the Bill. Time will find out what they are. It is a piece of experimental legislation. But a fair trial ought to be given to it. It marks a step in the right direction. The Leader of the Opposition fastened his criticism upon clause 15 of the Bill, which gives this Parliament power to review any decision of the Court in the event of that decision contravening any law of the Commonwealth. I recollect that only a little while ago honorable senators opposite raised a great storm of indignation because the Government attempted to take power away from Parliament. Now, when it is proposed to retain to this Parliament some tittle of power, their protests are equally loud. On this occasion, therefore, as upon others, they are discharging their duties as Oppositionists. A great deal of emphasis has been laid upon the fact that civil servants importune members of Parliament. Personally, I think that "importune" is the wrong word to use. I say that every public servant should have the right at any time to approach his representative in the National or a State Parliament. At present he has riot the right to approach members of Parliament freely. He must do so under cover. Should it be known that he is doing so, he is liable to a penalty for a breach of the Public Service Act. But whilst our public servants do not enjoy the right to freely und unreservedly approach members of Parliament with their grievances, the Public Service Commissioner is at liberty to approach Parliament at any time. His reply to certain witnesses who gave evidence before the Postal Commission after their lips had been, closed, is conclusive testimony of this. At that time they dared not approach Parliament, even by circular, for fear of being charged with a breach of the regulations. I have been a member of this Parliament for four and a-half years, and during that period civil servants have met me and made representations to me. I have welcomed those representations because they came from citizens of Australia. As regards the 4,000 public servants who have petitioned Parliament not to pass this Bill. I say that they have merely exercised what was their undoubted light. But, because they are opposed to the Bill, it does not follow that the measure is wrong. Time and again when the Tariff was under consideration, miles of petitions were presented against certain of its provisions. But the Tariff, nevertheless, became law. It is for this Parliament to determine whether the Bill under consideration will inflict injustice upon any citizen of Aus- tralia. Personalty, I consider that it will give our public servants an opportunity to free themselves from any injustice under which they may be labouring to-day. In conclusion, I merely wish to add that the present Government have done more to relieve our civil servants of their grievances than has any other Government which has held office in Australia. But, notwithstanding that circumstance, I say that our Public Service is too vast a concern for any one man to control. Consequently, I desire to relieve the Public Service Commissioner of some of his powers without parting with any of our own. This Bill provides a better means of enabling civil servants to obtain justice than exists to-day.

Suggest corrections