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Wednesday, 6 July 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I have given notice of an amendment which, if agreed to, will alter the whole character of the Bill, and, so far as I am concerned, a good deal depends on the manner in which this particular provision is considered. If this clause is carried, a Board of three Commissioners will be appointed to take the place of the present Acting Public Service Commissioner. I understand that transfers and appointments and a great deal of the work now performed by the Acting Public Service Commissioner will be undertaken by the permanent heads of Departments. Consequently, a certain amount of relief - some of which I do not favour - will be given to the proposed Board. On the other hand, a good deal more than is at present done by the Acting Public Service Commissioner will be undertaken by the proposed Board. As honorable senators are aware, the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) introduced a Public. Service Bill providing for the appointment of a Board of Management, in which he pointed out what the duties of the proposed Board would be. Although that measure is not before us, the provision of the Bill relating to the appointment of a Board of Management is embodied in this measure. We are able to recall, not only the speech delivered by the VicePresident of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) on the second reading of this Bill, but also that of the Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) who introduced the other measure. The VicePresident of the Executive Council has said that he has received suggestions from various sources, and I would like to ask him who suggested the appointment of a Board of Control to .perform the work which is now being done by the Acting Public Service Commissioner?

Senator Russell - I believe the suggestion was first made by the Economies Commission. We have had experience of Business Boards, and one which inquired into the working of the Defence Department was a great success.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The duties of a Business Board and a Board of Commissioners for the Public Service are quite distinct. Mr. Mclachlan, in his report, suggests a Commissioner with an assistant.

Senator Russell - He has subsequently amended that opinion.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am not dealing with private conversations which may have transpired between Mr. Mclachlan and Ministers, but with Mr. McLachlan's report, which was laid on the table of the Senate, and contained these words -

The establishment of a Public Service Board of three perhaps would be unwise, owing to the inelasticity of control and the diminution of personal responsibility.

Senator Russell - I am not referring to private conversations, but to an opinion expressed by Mr. McLachlan before a sub-Committee of Cabinet.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am dealing only with the report laid on the table of the Senate. I have a very high opinion of Mr. McLachlan, whom I regard as a capable public servant, but I am not prepared, perhaps, to accept his opinion on this matter if he stood alone, because he has spent all his time in the Service. But file Economies Commission, which cost, approximately, £6,300, was opposed to the appointment of a Board, and in its final report denounced the provision which has been embodied in this clause.

Senator Keating - In regard to the three Commissioners?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was of the opinion that'' if we are to have economy in the Service we must not have a Board of Management. The last report was prepared after certain criticism had been made concerning a Bill introduced by the Minister for Defence, and the Commission had the advantage, such as it was, of that criticism. The final report states -

Provision does not exist for the performance of the class of inquiry conducted by this Commission, and it is not done; but we think it should be done by the Board which we have recommended, which would be better termed a Public Service Efficiency Board.

If honorable senators will read page 20 of the report they will find that the Economies Commission were emphatically opposed to anything in the nature of the Board suggested in the Bill. This clause is an attempt to provide for the appointment of a Board to control the Public Service, and also to carry out the numerous duties contained in clause 15. Although honorable senators may not feel disposed to support my contention, perhaps they may be guided by a statement made by the Minister for Defence, who said -

If the Board of Management had nothing to do with the powers of the Public Service Commissioner at all, there would still be sufficient scope for any business man to thoroughly apply himself to, and still occupy all his time.

We are dealing with a' Service employing from 20,000 to 30,000 men, and. with a public expenditure running up to £20,000,000.

Could there be a stronger condemnation of this particular provision than the Minister's statement. I have said, on previous occasions, that any one who endeavoured to conduct the Public Service would have sufficient to do without performing all the duties enumerated in clause 15, and the Minister for Defence said that the appointment of a Board would be justified if it controlled only the business side of the Service. We have been told, on previous occasions, and again this afternoon, that the Board appointed to inquire into the Defence Department rendered good service. The Minister for Defence said that it was impossible for the Minister controlling that Department to deal with contracts ; one had been under consideration for three months.

Senator Russell - I think he said six months; because the same contract was before the- Department in my time.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am so moderate in putting a case that I generally do myself less than justice.

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