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Wednesday, 6 July 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I was referring to the fact that a Board had been appointed in connexion with the Defence Department, and it had been used as a strong argument in favour of a Board of Management for the Public Service. We are told. that the Business Board of the Defence Department took six months to deal with a particular contract.

Senator Russell - They did their ordinary work at the same time. They were running our hospitals. The contract was only a special matter with which they dealt,

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I do not know anything about the contract. I accept the statement of Ministers on the subject that the Defence Board took a long time to do most excellent work. ' We have been told that the Minister, having so many documents to deal with, has not the time to pay proper attention to numbers of matters which must be left to the Board. Senator Russell has told us that he has been about three years practically in charge of the Public Service.

Senator Russell - Probably for about five years now.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I ask the honorable senator to say whether any Minister has more papers, to deal with than has" the present Acting Public Service Commissioner. I do not say that the papers dealt with by the Acting "Public Service Commissioner are of the same importance as those dealt with by Ministers. But it must be admitted that the' proposed

Board of Management of the Public Service will have more papers to deal with than any one Minister,

Senator Russell - It isnot the question of the number of papers . Some papers can be dealt with in a second, whilst others take a number of weeks to deal with.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator will agree that the Acting Public Service Commissioner has. a tremendous number of papers submitted to him. I raise the question whether the Board of Management to be appointed under the Bill will have more time to deal with the question of the efficiency of the Public Service than the Minister in charge of the Service has. It is proposed that some of the work now done by the Acting Public Service Commissioner shall not be done by the Board of Management.

Under this Bill a permanent head will be able to appoint an officer, subject to appeal. Under the existing Act he cannot do so. I venture to say that under this Bill there will be many more appeals than there have been in the past. It must be obvious that the Board of Management will have more work to do in connexion with appeals than the Public Service Commissioner has had to do under the existing law. Under the existing Act, if a man was to be appointed to a position in the Public Service, he would be appointed only after the Public Service Commissioner and the head of the Department concerned had talked over the matter. If any one objected, he would have to make good his objections against the combined judgment of the Commissioner and the permanent head of the Department. What may happen under this Bill is that a man may say : " The permanent head has done this, and not the Board of Management. I have a right to appeal to the Board of Management," and he will do so. Under the existing Act, the appeal is from Caesar to Caesar, but under this Bill the appeal will be from the permanent head to the Board of Management.

Senator Russell - It should be an improvement to have the appeal to a new authority.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am talking of the time to be saved to give effect to the economy stunt

Senator Russell - Does the honorable senator not think that the appeal from Caesar to Caesar involves an absolute suppression of the appellant's rights ?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We are talking of two different things. I am contending that the Board of Management will have more of its time taken up with appeals than the Commissioner has under the existing Act.

The Board will have less time to deal with the matters arising under clause 15 of this Bill than the Commissioner has had to deal with matters arising under section 11 of the existing Act. The Board will be unable to give the time required to look into contracts and such work as the Minister anticipates, because it will be fully occupied in other ways, and very largely in connexion with appeals under this measure. In a memorandum which Senator Keating and I had an opportunity of considering some time ago, the Auditor-General did not complain that the Public Service Commissioner occupied an undue time in providing a staff, because he had so many other Departments to deal with. But he did complain that he did not secure the staff he required as quickly as he ought to have done. Although he ultimately obtained the staff he wanted, there was unreasonable delay, and consequently he had to work with temporary hands, to the disadvantage of the Auditor-General's Department.

Senator Elliott - There will be three men now on the Board to deal with these matters.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There will be three men, and it will take them longer to deal with appointments. With one Commissioner, his decision is final, but this clause practically puts the three Commissioners on the same footing. Any question arising will have' to be argued out by three men instead of by one, and they will have to be satisfied.

Senator Rowell - "In the multitude of counsellors there is safety."

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - And sometimes confusion.

Senator Keating - And sometimes delay.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is quite true. There is inelasticity when three have to decide instead of one. The history of the idea of three Commissioners is a history of delay.

Senator Elliott - Will there not be in effect a Public Service Commissioner as chairman, and two assistants?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - No. And why have two assistants? We might just as well have one Commissioner and one assistant.

Senator Elliott - Except that they would get more speedily through the work.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If we give one Commissioner two men tohelp him instead of one, that is another question, but this Bill does not provide for that.

Senator Bolton - It provides for the power of delegation.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It provides that the three men shall be of equal standing, although one is paid more than the others.

Senator Vardon - Will they be on all fours with the Railways Commissioners?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not exactly. In Victoria there are three Railways Commissioners, but Iventure to say that Mr. Clapp, the chairman, overrules the other two. In New South Wales there is only one Railways Commissioner and two assistants, and the Act provides that the Commissioner can have his own way, in spite of the two others. He need not argue a point with them. They can send to Parliament a protest against anything he does, but his administration goes on in spite of it, and the only way that he can be checked is by Parliament indorsing the protest of his two assistants . - At one time, New South Wales had three Commissioners of equal standing, andthe result was that they did not speak to one another except in their offices. That Board had to be abolished by Parliament, although they were three able men. I read with considerable interest the statement made recently in Sydney by Mr. Jensen to the Cockatoo Island. Dock Royal Commission. These were his words, as reported in the press:-

There was an absence of harmony amongst the three members of the Naval Board. They were continually at one another's throats. Sir William Creswell and Sir William Clarkson did not even speak when they were in the street It was owingto the impossibility of getting them to agree on anything that the long delay took place in the slipway for the Brisbane.

In New South Wales,there are now three" members of the Board of Management for the Public Service, but there is only one Commissioner. The other two are only Assistant Commissioners. In Victoria, the system of having three Commissioners was tried, but was abolished. There is only one in Victoria now. Sir Robert Best spoke most strongly in another place against the Board of Management provided for in the. Bill which this Chamber sent down some time ago,' and his criticism had a good deal to do with the action of the Government in throwing that measure under the table. Hansardshows how Sir Robert Best, who had experience of a Board of three Commis-; sioners, spoke.

We should have one man responsible, and we should not mix up two entirely distinct matters - the efficiency of the Departments, which is a very good thing, and.the control of the Public Service. The Economies Commission, in their final report, say that it is impossible for. one body of men to look after those two things. They point out that if. we are to have economy in a Department, we must have people whocan go into that Department, and who are not responsible for the appointments in it. Clause 15 contains proposals for bringing about efficiency in the Departments, but so little confidence have the Government themselves in the ability of the proposed Board of Commissioners to bring about economy, that recently, as I noticed with a good deal of astonishment, Sir Joseph Cook, the Treasurer and Acting Prime Minister , detailed to the press a new economy scheme for the appointment of certain financial authorities to overlook each Department.

Senator Russell - That was to make one financial man responsible for seeing that the proper conditions of expenditure were observed.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The proposalwas very elaborate, and, according to Sir Joseph Cook, had beenforwarded to the other Ministers; but it all tended to show how little confidence, so far as the economy side was concerned the Government had in this Bill. Evidently the new scheme for economy was decided on before this Bill had a chance of being put into operation.

Senator Russell - The object of the Treasurer's proposal was toprevent money being spent by Departments without proper authority.

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