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Wednesday, 6 July 1921

Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) , - Senator Thomas has asked what the Board of Management is going to do. The Board will be appointed to deal with matters of importance affecting the Public Service. It will have very considerable powers of delegation. It would be useless, for instance, for the, three members of the Board to go across to Tasmania and remain there for a long time when they might be employed in the other States upon duties' of far more importance. There is no reason why the Board should not consist of specialists. One should be a specialist as an organizer. One might very well be an expert in connexion with telephony and telegraphy, and the third might be a specialist in some other line. There appears -to be a general assumption that inspectors of the Public Service will be done away with under this Bill. I do not see why that should be so. In view of the wide area of the Commonwealth, and the many duties which they were called upon to perform, I think it is not too much to say that, in the past, they have not been able to do themselves justice. One of these men might be very suitable to take charge of the Labour branch, and others might undertake work for which they are specially qualified. Senator J. D. Millen has had something to say on the subject of the employment of specialists, and in this connexion may I remind honorable senators that this year the taking of the census has been quite a revelation to a great many people? -This- kind of work is done automatically to-day by machinery; and much of the calculating and indexing was carried out in that way. We have in the past been paying high wages to clerks to make bond slaves of themselves, poring over papers all day long, when a machine might be employed to do the same work in a fraction of the time. I can congratulate Senator Thomas on the good work which he did whilst in charge of the Post and Telegraph Department, but during that time no man was the subject of more bitter criticism than was the honorable senator because of the reforms which he sought to introduce in connexion with the telephone service of the Commonwealth. I have no hesitation in saying that I believe that we are losing thousands of pounds every year in the employment of. useless clerical labour. Only quite recently, Mr. Clapp, the present Victorian Railways Commissioner, has been criticised for sending men to America to investigate the conduct of railway services there. It has been suggested that he has only recently come from America himself, and should know what is done there. But the men whom he is sending to America are young men;, he recognises that they are men of promise who have displayed energy, courage, and intelligence, and he has no doubt that they will return from America in a position to render more efficient service to the Victorian Railway Department as the result of what they will have learned during their visit to the United States on .questions of organization, system, and transportation.

The CHAIRMAN" (Senator Bakhap - I am afraid that the Minister is getting away from the question.

Senator RUSSELL - I -was merely giving illustrations to indicate "the value of specialization on the Board of Management. I have put in ten or twelve hours each day in the public service for a good many years now, and it would be quite impossible for me after such a day's work to take up any particular subject for special study .c-' Our Public Service Commissioner and his inspectors have worked very hard. Amongst our inspectors are some men with brilliant academic careers in law and letters, but if we required to inspect a shipbuilding yard, we must have a man who understands shipping and engineering. If we require to inspect the branch of the Public Service dealing with wheat, our inspector must have a knowledge of wheat, and of up-to-date means of handling it. The members of the Board of Management will not carry out all the necessary expert inspections themselves. They will keep a strong hand on the business side of the Service, and will call for special reports from efficient men who will be called upon to do the actual work of inspection. Some inspection work must be continuous for months in order to bring about a thoroughly efficient system. There isno reason why we should continue to carry out clerical work in Australia by the methods adopted fifty years ago. If the Board of Management, with the co-operation of specialists, gives its attention to the work which has to be done, it will find that there is plenty of scope for its activities in the re-organization of the whole of the Departments of the. Public Service. In myexperience, I have been confronted with many problems to thesolutionof which I should like to have been able to devote a little time, butI was never able to do so. If Ministers were called upon to work not more than four or five hours at the routine work of their offices, they would have some time in which to study methods of modern progress and might be able to initiate valuable reforms. We Want fresh men and new ideas in all our public Departments.

Senator Duncan - That is a good argument for a constant change of Ministers.

Senator RUSSELL - I am free to admit that a Minister may become stale, and as a Democrat I hope I shall always be ready to accept the verdict of the people. I do not believe that Ministers give their best services to the country by slaving over -papers all day and reading untilthey are blind. If a man in the most remote district in 'the Commonwealth is dismissed, it is whispered that it is the Minister who has sacked him, and it is suggested that he has treated him unfairly and that there is something wrong with the moral character of the Minister. These trivial complaints have to-be answered, but Ministers should hot have to come in contact with such matters at all, if they are to give their best services to the country. Senator Thomas made some reference to a contract which it took a Board connected with the Defence Department six months to deal with. The contract was a very important one with the Colonial Ammunition Company, and it covered matters of great complexity. The Board sent accountants and costing clerks into the offices of the company, notbecause of any suspicion, but because the contract was toconver five or seven years, and contained a provision under which the Commonwealth might acquire the works of the company on certain conditions. Costing clerks and experts went through the company's factory. Ifthe factory turned out 20,000,000 cartridges, one year, and only 2,000,000 in another year, the price could not be the same. It is the turnover that determines prices in almost every big undertaking. All these matters had to be carefully analyzed and investigated if the works were to be taken over by the Commonwealth later. It is not desirable that the manufacture of munitions should be in the hands of a private company, because under such conditions there may be a. tendency to bring about war merely for the sake of the manufacturers of munitions instead of to defend the liberties of the people. The contract in question was not an ordinary contract, but one which required- the careful investigationof every detail, and the cost of every cap and grain of powder and piece of copper used inthe manufacture of cartridges. The reports of the investigation are. in possession of the Defence Department to-day and are invaluable. What could the Minister for Defence have done in that matter without the assistance of thesespecialists? I have said that our inspectors have done good work ; but recently the only inspector who could be sent to investigate conditions at a dockyard, though a brilliant man in his own line, admitted that be was paralyzed by the wonderful work he found carried out in the dockyard. He gave a very favorable report, which was of little or no value, because he had no special knowledge of shipbuilding. Any ordinary man visiting a large industrial undertaking to-day will be surprised at what he sees. I frankly admit that my inspection of the Newcastle Ironworks under an expert guide was an eye-opener to me. We do not know everything in Australia, and we should he prepared to adopt the best methods in the civilized world. The Board of Management will have the special function of organizing a good business system for the Commonwealth Public Service. I believe that their work will be beneficial to Australia, and will result in considerable economy. According to their capacity, our public servants have rendered good service, but we desire to help them to attain higher standards. I do not believe that the abolition of the present system will result in dispensing with the services of valuable officers. I have no doubt that if they are qualified for special offices, they will receive every consideration and their claims to employment will be sympathetically entertained.

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) £8.29]. - I listened with interest to what the Minister (Senator Russell) has had to say, but it had no relevance to the question before the Committee. For about twenty years we have had in' the Commonwealth a Public Service administrative system, at the head of which was one man as Commissioner. This Bill proposes to put there three men instead of one. That is a substantial alteration of the past policy of the Commonwealth. It is a radical departure from the existing system, and it behoves the Government who are introducing it to offer some justification for the change. What Senator Russell has said, however interesting .it may be, has no hearing oh the question of whether there should be one man or three at the head of the Public Service. I do not suppose he argues that because we shall have a Board instead of a single Public Service Commissioner the members of that' Board will step into the offices qf Ministers and relieve them of purely administrative work.

Senator Russell - I did not suggest that.

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