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Wednesday, 6 July 1921

Senator KEATING - Then I do not see the relevancy of Senator Russell's address, in so far as he dealt with the opportunities that would be given to Ministers to get rid of some of their present obligations, and devote more of their time to study. How is it going to de done any better when there is a Board than when there is a Public Service Commissioner? The honorable senator spoke of the great efficiency displayed in the operations of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company, by reason of the fact that they adopted for many of their processes up-io-date methods. But is the company managed by a Board ? It is managed by one man - Mr. Delprat, the general manager.

Senator Russell - Their expert is Mr. Baker, the manager at Newcastle.

Senator KEATING - He may be their expert, but the general manager of the company is one man, and not a Board. It is quite competent for us to give the Public Service Commissioner .power to engage specialists for the different Departments where special skill, knowledge, or ability is required. Are we to assume that themembers of the Board will travel round, and that one of them will inspect, for instance, dockyards or naval arsenals ? If we are to assume that, we must also assume that he will have the qualifications which Senator Russell's friend did not have. He might not have those 'qualifications. Then there are other activities which the Commonwealth will embark on, and which may require for anything like proper supervision of them, or proper check of their operations, special technical knowledge or skill. Are we to assume that the individual members of the Board, or any one of them, will have those special qualifications? The whole question before the Committee is whether we are to have one man as Public Service Commissioner) carrying out this Act. or "whether we are to have three. If there is much virtue in numbers, why not five? What virtue is there in three?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Seven is a popular number.

Senator KEATING - If we had seven we could have a representative of each State, as well as of the Commonwealth. I fail to see that any justification has yet been given for such a radical departure from the practice and principles of the past. I have kept an absolutely open mind on this matter. Discussing it with honorable senators during the adjournment, I have frankly said that I have not made up my mind, and that I was waiting to hear what justification the Government had "for departing from management by one Public Service Commissioner to management by a Board; and I must confess to a feeling of great disappointment in what has bean put forward by the Minister. What he has said is quite- interesting;, but would have just as much application to the administration of the Public

Service by a Commissioner as by a Board of three. There is one feature in the appointment of a Board which we. cannot overlook. It will need increased cost of administration. The chairman of the Board will, at any rate, receive as much as the Public Service Commissioner has done in the past, if not more, and, I presume, the other two members of the Board will receive as much as the Public Service Commissioner has received in the past, if not more. Are we going to get value for the extra expenditure?

SenatorThomas pointed out that

Boards have been appointed before now in many big undertakings or enterprises in connexion with the Government, but that in most instances the principle of one-man responsibility has been reverted to. It is all a question of responsibility. When the responsibility is divided amongst the members of a Board, there is not the same means afforded to those who are aggrieved by the administration to "sheet it home" to the proper quarter. The system generates discontent. I have little doubt that if we adopted the principle of a Board for the Public Service, before twelve months had gone by we should have from many quarters in the Service urgent demands for the abolition of the Board and a return to management by a Public Service Commissioner. Senator Thomas referred to New South Wales, where for some years the railways were administered by three Commissioners. Those three reached such a stage in their relations with one another that they spoke only when they met officially on the Board. The honorable senator also quoted Mr. Jensen, the exMinister of the Navy, as having recently said in evidence in Sydney, I suppose upon oath, that those carrying on Naval administration - the members of the Naval Board would notsay " Good day " to one another in the street. What sort of organized administration could we expect from discordant units like that, when their normal attitude is one of antipathy and antagonism to one another, and when they work in unison only when they come to the Board table, and then do so under compulsion because they are bound to do it as a matter of duty?. I do not say that the three members of this

Board will necessarily behave inthis way ; but Senator Thomas has given us two concrete instances where such discord and want of harmony existed. There is no means of " sheeting home " the responsibility. Sometimes, in connexion with Boards of this kind, one member takes one division of the work, and another another division, and so on. If a matter concerning a certain branch of the administration is referred to one of the members of the Board who does not take particular responsibility for that part of the work, he may frankly say, " I really do not know very much about that; A attends to it;. I only attend to so-and-so." We have had that arrangement in connexion with railway management. One Railways Commissioner will probably confine himself almost entirely to transportation, while another devotes himself largely to the question of lines and equipment, and a third will deal with the officers themselves or with the general public.

SenatorThomas. - That is so in New South Wales. It is specified in the Act there.

Senator KEATING - There is inthis Bill no specific allocation of divisions of work and responsibility. I have waited to hear what was to be said in justification of this proposal, and I feel that, on what has come before us, we should hesitate before we submit the Commonwealth to the increased expenditure that it will necessarily entail, unless we are satisfied that we shall get from it something that we would not get without the appointment of a Board. I do not think the appointment of two extra men, making three in all, will lessen the employment of the staff of the Public Service Commissioner. I am inclined to believe that the official staff of the Board will be very much larger than the staff of a single Commissioner. I do not think we shall get a proportionate advantage from the new departure. Unless some more solid prospect is presented to us as likely to result from the adoption of the new principle, I shall feel compelled to support Senator Thomas' amendment to leave the control of the Public Service administration in the hands of one officer - a Public Service Commissioner, or whatever he may be called.

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