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Wednesday, 27 April 1921

Senator SENIOR (South. Australia) .-Unlike Senator Thomas,I think this measure is a great improvement on the existing Act.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I said that it was.

Senator SENIOR - I also believe that thepowers foreshadowed in the Bill are too drastic to be placed in the hands of one man, as Senator Thomas suggests. Looking very carefully through the measure, and comparing its clauses with the sections of the Act now in operation, I have come to the conclusion that the Bill is more in keeping with the well-being of the Public Service than the existing Act. Any one who has been brought into contact with the Public Service will readily admit that there has been a good deal of friction, and that public servants have felt thattheir conditions have not only been irksome, but really unjust. For a long time they have been endeavouring to have those objections removed, andI am pleasedto see. that the Bill has been drafted to. overcome many of. the disabilities which now exist. Honorable senators will recognise at once the difficulty confronting the Government, not onlycontrolling thedifferent branches of the Service as they exist to-day, but in managing Departments which were not in existence, when the Public Service Act was framed. During recent years the activities of the Government have been considerably extended, and until amending legislation is passed those activities have to be controlled by an old Act.

The measure before the Senate is, in ite arrangement, an improvement on the present Act, and it is also wider in its scope. The fourteen divisions have been increased to eighteen, and it will, therefore, be seen that there is a desire on the part of the Government to meet the growing needs by legislating for the different Departments or divisions as the case may be. I notice that the provisions of the Bill passed by the Senate in 1920 for the appointment of a Board of Management instead of a Public Service Commissioner, have been embodied in the Bill, that the scope of the proposed Board in connexion with the promotion of officers has been widened, and that it stands in a different position in regard to appeals. This is really a machinery measure, and there is comparatively little scope for discussion, by way of comparing its provisions with" the existing Act, during the debate on the second reading. It is a Committee Bill which will require the closest of supervision, and the keenest of analysis. There are some instances in connexion with the Board of Management where the power given is undoubtedly . power that should rest with the Arbitrator and not with the Board of Management; otherwise the appeals made will be from Cæsar to Caesar. .1 am sure it will be apparent to many honorable senators that some of the powers conferred upon the Board of Management should rest with the Arbitrator.

Senator Thomas referred to the definition of "Chief Officer." I have searched very - carefully through the Bill, .and have been unable to ascertain who that gentleman is. The description in one instance answers definitely to that of. an. administrative officer in a particularbranch or Department, but in another it may mean some one else. In the. Electoral Branch under the Home and Territories Department' the chief officer is Mr. Oldham; but when we consider the duties - I am using this as an illustration - -ascribed to a chief officer,- we discover that "the deputy- chief is the- gentleman referred to in a division or in a State. In the Department of Works and Railways there is- a chief officer, apart from the financial branch of that Department, to whom the duties outlined here apply.

Senator Benny - The Bill defines "" Chief Officer" in clause 6.

Senator SENIOR - That is so; but if we refer to another portion, we find that the chief officer does not answer to that definition. The definition reads - " Chief Officer " means tlie chief officer, in a State or part of the Commonwealth, of {he Department in connexion with' which, or wherein is employed, any officer in connexion with whom,' the term is used or is applicable.

That is a fair definition, and would apply, for'instance, to chief officer in the Taxation Department.

Senator Benny - In a State.

Senator SENIOR -Yes, to the chief officer.

Senator Benny - In any Department ?

Senator SENIOR - The matter needs explanation, and that is why it will bo necessary to give the Bill very close attention in Committee, so that we shall know what a chief officer really is.

Senator RUSSELL (VICTORIA) - The chief officer in the Land Tax Department, for instance, cannot bo expected to be constantly visiting the other States. .In minor matters he has the power to delegate -some of his functions to others to- act for him.

Senator SENIOR - The heads of De partments are clearly indicated in the second schedule. They are not chief officers ; but the chief officers are actually - the administrative heads. .The heads of Departments in most cases are represented by their chief clerks.

Senator Russell - Sometimes the head of a Department requires to delegate certain of the functions that rest with him in his chief clerk, or to other officers. He should have -power to do so. For instance, in the - Treasury Department there are about half a dozen different branches, each with its chief official.

Senator SENIOR - Quite so. Who will say that the -head of the Taxation Department is not, to all intents and purposes, the chief officer of that Department ? Or that the head of the Pensions Branch is not, similarly, its chief officer ?

Senator Russell - .There can be only one actual chief.

Senator SENIOR - I will point out an instance in which, under the definition of chief officer, one person is meant in one part of the Bill and quite another is meant elsewhere. The definition of the permanent head of a Department is exactly the same as that given to a chief officer. If I describe two -alleged persons in absolutely identical phraseology, it must be understood that I am really referring to only one person.

Passing to clause 14, I desire to say a few words regarding the delegation of the powers held by the Board. Sub-clause 1 says: -

The Board may, by writing under the hand of each memberof the Board, delegate to any member of the Board any of the powers of the Board under this Act (except this power of delegation),so that the delegated' powers may be exercised by the delegate with respect to the matters or class- of matters specified, or the State, part of the Commonwealth, or Territory defined, in the instrument of delegation.

That is a very wide power. It practically gives to the Board authority to delegate any of its powers except that of delegation. It makes one person equivalent to the Board itself.

Senator Russell - The one individual must report back to the Board. Australia is a big place.

Senator SENIOR - I know that. But, in connexion with this matter of delegation, there is need for the inclusion in the Bill of words to this effect: -

A copy of such act of delegation shall be laid before Parliament within fourteen days, or, if it be not sitting, then within fourteen days after the date of the meeting of Parliament.

With such powers of delegation, one member of the Board may havethe actual task of classification. In such circumstances, if an appeal should be lodged by the person who has been classified, his appeal may be heard by the one distinct individual member of the Board who made the original classification.

Senator Russell - Suppose there is a dispute arising in a branch of the Service in the Northern Territory. Would it not be common sense for one member of the Board to personally investigate the trouble, collect the evidence, bring it back, and lay the whole matter before the Board for its combined decision ?

Senator SENIOR - Where the matter of the delegation of power enters into an appeal we should endeavour, in our legislation, to give the appellant an equal opportunity with the Department which is involved.

Turning now to another point, Clause 18, dealing with excess officers, states -

If the Board finds that more officers are employed in any class or grade in a Department than are necessary for the efficient working ofthe Department, such officers as are in excess may be transferred to some other Department; and no appointment or promotion of an officer shall be made to that class or grade in the first mentioned Department until the number of officers in that class or grade is reduced below the number in that class or grade determined to be necessary for the efficient working of the Department.

That is held to be necessary;' but should there not be a complement? When there are more officers in the Department, who are at the maximum of their grade, and there is no opportunity of promotion withiu the Department, then, if there is power of transfer of excess officers at the direction of the Board why should our Public Service be made so watertight, with respect to promotion, as is hare proposed,

Senator Russell - If an officer has been promoted within the Treasury Department, and there is a better man with longer service available for the position in the Customs Department, the latter could appeal.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Under the present Act such an individual would have every chance, but under this Bill he will have no "show" whatever.

Senator SENIOR - There are in various Departments numbers of officers who have reached the maximum in their class or grade and have no hope of getting further. I ascertained that in one branch there was one vacancy probable, through retirement, within a matter of five years. Yet there were 45 fifth class officers out of 80, who were at the maximum of their grade, and there were only 14 fourth class officers. The members in the fifth class who applied for transfer were refused and so were condemned to remain at the maximum of their class in the one Department with no hope or avenue of promotion and no prospects whatever. The Department was not only watertight, but waterlogged, and these officers had to remain until they were likely, metaphorically, to drown.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - This Bill will make watertight Departments "watertighter."

Senator SENIOR - That is one of the chief faults of the measure.

With regard to classification, this measure provides that as soon as may be after the commencement of the Act the Board shall classify or grade officers other than officers of the first division. These latter are different from all others in the Service. The Board has no power over them ; they are supreme. Others, however, are to be classified as soon as possible after the commencement of the Act. That means that the position of an officer - his salary, his status, generally - must remain exactly where it is today and until after the classification has taken place. In justice to the Service there should be included in this Bill a time limitation during which classification must be completed. If a reasonable period is exceeded great injustice will have been done. Status and' salaries may be hung up, and promotion prevented, for two or three years. We do not know what may intervene in the meantime.

Senator Benny - The Bill says the classification is to be done as soon as possible after the commencement of the Act.

Senator SENIOR - That is a nice little sentence to put in.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Acting Commissioner Says that if he had been made Commissioner he would have classified the Service in two years.

Senator SENIOR - Two years ago applications were called for officers in the 4th Class in connexion with a Department that I know of, examinations were held, and a number of persons applied, but no appointment was made, and no appointment has. been made yet, although many applicants were eligible for the position. If a classification is begun now it may take another four years before it is completed, so that the officers who applied for that position two years ago may have to wait for another four years, and still get no advance.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And you have to satisfy three men instead of one.

Senator SENIOR - Yes. Senator Benny knows that it took two years to classify the Public Service of the State of South Australia alone. How long then will the classification of the whole Commonwealth Service take?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And the Minister said they are going to do away with the Public Service inspectors.

Senator Russell - The Minister denied that statement. He said the inspectors would exist in another form, as there would be an expert in each Department. Is not that equivalent to having inspectors ?

Senator SENIOR - The Minister says the Government are not going to do away with the inspectors.

Senator Russell - We are going to do away with the system of asking an inspector to be master of forty or fifty different branches of the Service. We intend to get the specialist to do the special job.

Senator SENIOR - What is in the Minister's mind is certainly not in the Bill, and if it is not in the Bill we shall have nothing to bind any future Government should the present Ministry happen to ?o out of office, which Heaven forbid. There is certainly nothing in 'the Bill to provide for the appointment of some one who shall be ' ' equivalent to an inspector." There is no provision even for the type of officer that the Minister has foreshadowed. In the place of one Commissioner we are putting three; but we are making no provision to fill the vacancies which will be caused, by the abolition of the inspectors who are now stationed in the different States.

Clause 29 provides -

Increments of salary which are prescribed within the limits of a class dr in any respect to any particular office shall be annual, except where otherwise prescribed. , . .

I should like honorable senators to examine that provision carefully i There is one prescription with one set of regular tions and rules at the beginning of that sentence, and then the words " except where otherwise prescribed " are added. Why the second prescription ? Surely one set of regulations would cover the lot?

Senator Russell - Because in another part of the Bill it is provided that the only way in which increments can be prevented from being given annually is by an adverse report by the head of the Department. It is quite a sound principle that if a man is not efficient he should not be recommended for an increment.

Senator SENIOR - Surely the regulations prescribing increments of salary could cover all that? Sub-clause 2 of clause 29 provides -

The right to receive an increment in any year shall depend upon the good and diligent conduct and efficiency of the officer.

No mention is made there of prescription or statutory rule or regulation. The question of what efficiency is or of who is to determine efficiency is not settled.

Senator Benny - The Board will do that.

Senator SENIOR - Will it ? - Senator Russell. - The Bill says that unless there is an adverse report from the head of the Department to the effect that a man is not efficient or is not a good worker, the increment shall be annual. It would take an order from the chief officer to prevent the. increment going on annually.

Senator SENIOR - That may be so in theory, but it is not so in practice. We have to legislate for facts and not for theories, however good our ideals may be. It has happened in the past, and is likely to happen in the future, that an officer, although he has the- recommendation of the chief officer of the Department, and of two or three men under whom he has immediately worked, . has been deprived of an increment through a verbal statement being made about 'him to an inspector or some one else in touch with the Commissioner, by some intervening officer in whose opinion he is-not entitled to an increment. In that way an officer has been deprived for twelve -months, or even for two years, of an increment of £12, and nas had co appeal. A man -who- was fined 5s. for drunkenness would not be put in that position. .1. know these things have occurred. I contend .that where he should be informed of the grounds upon which that action is taken.

Senator Benny - He will have an appeal to the Board under sub-clause 4.

Senator SENIOR - What will he appeal against ?

Senator Benny - Against the order of the chief officer.

Senator SENIOR - Against the fact that he> has not received an increment; that will be. all that -he knows about it.- He is told 'that .he has not received .the increment because he is inefficient, He asks in what way he is inefficient, and he receives no reply. When we are dealing with a matter of this, sort, .which upon the interpretation given. to' a single word, as in this clause, we should -put in the Bill a careful definition of that' word. At present, on- the opinion - of a certain individual as to 'at man's efficiency or inefficiency, that man 'may be fined £12 for one year, or £24 for1 two .years, without the right of appeal.

Senator Benny - Has he not 'the right of appeal against the order of the- chief officer ?

Senator SENIOR - The order is not in writing. It is simply the statement of the chief officer's opinion. The order should be in writing, and the 'person affected .should be supplied' with a copy, in order that he may appeal. For some time nast these things have been simply verbal orders. The inspectors or others get their information in conversation, and the Commissioner is apprised, but no written proof of the allegation of inefficiency is submitted. In a Court no verdict is arrived at except upon evidence, and opinions are not evidence. If a man is deprived of an increment - and that is equivalent to his being fined that amount - he should be told wherein he is inefficient. I hope that in Committee we shall make this clear and distinct, so that we may deal justly with all our public servants.

Senator Russell - There will be the right of appeal to the Board.

Senator SENIOR - We should amend the clause in order to make- sure that the person against whom the order operates sees it,, and knows in what way he is alleged to be inefficient.

Senator Foster - Do you not think the Board would compel the production of that evidence to show why the officer was deprived of his increment t

Senator SENIOR - If the honorable senator had had to fight a case of that kind for twelve months, as I -have had to do, he would not be so sanguine. The proposed Board of -Management will not be composed of angels; it will consist of human beings like .ourselves. We must not anticipate that the Board will be above the average of what we have had to deal with in the past. It will he more numerous, but not necessarily more perfect. In .the case- I have mentioned, as the Minister knows, a' mere .verbal statement was taken as evidence, and there was nothing whatever to prove inefficiency. I refer to it in order that we may avoid such things in the future.

There is another point, that has been productive of a great deal of friction. I see that this Bill purports to make an alteration, but it, is more in name than in deed. I question whether the language used will do. what is wanted. 'Sub-clause 3 of clause 44 provides that: -

Where any officer of the Public, Railway, or other Service of a State is, before or after the commencement of this Act, transferred to the Commonwealth Service he shall' preserve all his existing and accruing rights, and .shall be entitled to retire from office at the time and on the pension or retiring allowance which would be' permitted by the law of 'the State from which he was transferred. ...

When the Postal Service was transferred from the States to the Commonwealth, public officers in South Australia and Tasmania were permitted to remain in the Service until they were seventy years of age. In the Commonwealth Service they retire at the age of sixty-five, so to the extent of five years at, least they have lost their accrued rights. And five yearsis an important period for a man at the latter part of his life because, without members of his family dependent upon him, he is very often in a better position than he has ever been in before to. make provision for his old age. In addition to this, officers transferred from South Australia also lose two months cf the longservice furlough, because by retiring at an earlier age they are entitled to only six months' long leave.

Senator Russell - I shall be glad if the honorable senator will quote me a case of a transferred officer being placed at a disadvantage in that regard. I have been connected with the administration of the Service for six yearsnow, and I know that in every case an officer has been paidhis full claim. Some of the States would not pay their proportion, and so the Commonwealth paid it.

Senator SENIOR - South Australian transferred officers were also placed at a disadvantage by the action of some of the States in raising the salaries of their officers just before the Commonwealth took them over.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I think that was the only time they raised salariesin South Australia.

Senator SENIOR - My honorable friend does not know, and so he is making a statement that is absolutely contrary to fact. The South Australian Government did not raise the salaries of their officers immediately preceding transference to the Commonwealth Service.

Senator de Largie - Victoria did, anyhow.

Senator SENIOR - No doubt Senator Thomas has in mind the action taken by the Victorian Government. I was not goingto mention this State because I have no desire to place one State against another; but it is a fact that transferred officers from Victoria were by this means placed in a better position than officers from some of the other States.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But a great majority of the South Australian officers, especially those in the Post Office, had their salaries substantially increased, because they were raised to the standard of the. living wage in the other States.

Senator SENIOR - But the honorable senator forgets, apparently, that certain privileges were taken from them..

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) -They used to get something for the dog licence and other duties, such as those of registrar of births and deaths.

Senator SENIOR - I think it is a fact that notwithstanding the increases in salary paid whenthey came over to the Commonwealth. Service, many of them received less in the aggregate than from their salary and commission while in the State Service.For instance, they acted as agents for the Savings Bank, received commissions on dog licences, and for other services, and, as I have said, when they came over to the Commonwealth Service, their retiring age was fixed at sixty-five instead of seventy years, and they also lost two months of their long leave.

There are other matters to which I might direct attention, but I think that probably they may be better dealt with in Committee. I have said sufficient, I think, to show that the Bill cannot be passed en bloc. It. must be considered carefully if we are to make it a more useful measure than the existing Act.

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