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Wednesday, 6 July 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I followed the utterances of Senator J. D. Millen . and Senator Keating with a good deal of interest. The Minister in charge of the Bill, however, never attempted to reply in any way to the points I raised.

Senator Russell - The honorable senator asked me to define the functions of the proposed Board, and I did so.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I endeavoured to show that it was impossible for a Board constituted in this way to do what is intended. The Minister for Defence (SenatorPearce), in discussing a similar measure some time ago, said it would require the ablest business men in Australia to undertake the duties outlined in clause 15 of this measure; but, in addition to those duties, the proposedBoardwill also have other matters to control. A Board such as Senator J. D. Millen suggests would be absolutely hampered if it had to carry out the duties enumerated in this measure. We have been informed that it is practically impossible for Ministers to deal in detail with the multifarious duties they are expected to perform; but their duties are nothing when compared with those of a Public Service Commissioner. The Vice-President of the Executive Council (Senator Russell) said that up-to-date methods were required in the Service, and that calculating and adding machines have been of inestimable value in compiling the census. I had the pleasure of introducing adding and multiplying machines in the PostmasterGeneral's Department in 1911, and, shortly afterwards, Mr. Fraser recommended the purchase of some more, so that eventually close on £4,000 worth of machines were introduced in the Department.

Senator Keating - They have had them in the Statistician's office for years.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Surely we should not have to wait for the appointment of a Board to recommend the use of such machines.

Senator Russell - We have had them in limited numbers.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It may be desirable to have an Efficiency Board consisting of three members, as suggested by the Economies Commission.

Senator Pearce - The Economies Commission approved of the appointment of a Board such as that provided for in the Bill.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the Minister for Defence will refer to page 20 of the report of the Economies Commission he will see what is recommended.

Senator Pearce - Will the honorable senator accept my assurance that the members of the Economies Commission, when asked for their opinion, said that they approved of the appointment of the Board with the duties which we have suggested?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am prepared to accept the Minister's assurance; but at the same time it is very strange that they should make one recommendation, and later express a totally different opinion. If such is the case it shows that they do not know what they are talking about, and their report is, therefore, of little value.

Senator Pearce - The Bill was drafted subsequent to the publication of their report, and they were then asked for their opinion.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The final report was brought in after the Bill had been introduced, which contained almost word for word the provision which is now in this measure.

Senator Pearce - The Government had the report for several months before it was laid on the table, and during that time' a Bill was being drafted.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not the final report, because the Board replied to certain criticism in Parliament which had been hurled against their recommendations. The Economies Commission recommended the appointment of an Efficiency Board, and if we are to have efficiency in the Service a Board of Control must not be part of the machine. Senator Earle has said that he does not believe in autocratic rule, and favours a Board consisting of three members. Are the three members to have equal voting power?

Senator Earle - I assume so.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then two will out-vote the other.

Senator Earle - The honorable senator's arguments would apply in this Chamber, where the majority rule.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - There are times when one ventures to say that votes are weighed, and not counted.

Senator Pearce - The report in which the Commission recommended the Board was signed on the 17th July, and was printed as a parliamentary paper on the 17th October. We had the report in hand for three months before it was laid on the table.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I was referring to the final report, in which the Commission replied to criticism. If, under the Government proposal, the chairman of the Board is paid more than the other members, we may have two inferior men outvoting the superior chairman. If the members of the Board are of equal ability, and are equally paid, they will differ amongst themselves. I strongly object to the proposal, especially if the amendment suggested by Senator Earle is carried. I would have no objection to a direct representative of the public servants occupying a seat on the Board, but he should not be the nominee of any executive. He should be appointed as the result of a straight-out vote in his favour by the whole of the members of the Service.

Senator Earle - I prefer to leave that to the organizations. I would let them decide it.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is a matter of opinion, and I would not leave it to the organizations. If a member of the General Division, as the result of a vote of the whole of the Service, is appointed to the Board, he may have been a man previously in receipt of a salary of £220 per year, but he will then be given the position of a member of the Board and will have an equal vote with the chairman, who will be selected, it is assumed, because he is the best and ablest man that the Government can find in Australia for the position. No mining company or big corporation desiring to secure efficiency in carrying on its operations would think of appointing three general managers who must discuss every proposal made until two out of the three are. of the same opinion. The Government proposal has been tried in Australia again and again" and has been abandoned everywhere it has been tried.

Senator Elliott - Why not provide that the chairman of the Board snail be paramount?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That would be autocracy. If one member of the Board were made supreme and the other two were merely his assistants, I should not have so much objection to offer, though I think that, in that case, we should be paying one assistant, practically, for nothing. If all three Commissioners are to have equal voting power and equal pay, the same man should not be chairman of the Board all the time. A big conference takes place every three or four years in America, known as the Methodist Episcopal Conference. There are only thirteen Bishops at the Conference, and each is allowed to occupy the chair for only one day.

The CHAIRMAN (Senator Bakhap - The time allowed the honorable senator under the standing order has expired.

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