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Friday, 8 July 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I am somewhat amazed at the speech which has just been delivered by Senator Fairbairn, because I had always looked on the honorable senator as one who desired to bring about- efficiency and reform. The only way in which we are likely to have reform is by the Board of Commissioners attempting to do" something. t The Minister for Defence (Senator Pearce) says that Ministers will have to spend a lot 'of their time listening to the Board's recommendations, but no recommendation of the Board can come before the Senate under Senator Elliott's amendment unless a Minister has first dealt with it and refused it.- Therefore, if Senator Elliott's amendment is carried, it will not take -up one single minute more of the over-burdened and over-taxed time of a Minister outside -the House, because he must discuss these things with the Board . before he can disagree with them. Reforms of some importance have been suggested and have not been carried out, because they have not been prominently brought before Parliament. The report of the Economies Commission criticised the Postal Department very severely in some regards. Amongst other thing?, the Commission state that the Government asked Sir Robert McC. Anderson to report upon the Army and Navy Departments and the Post Office, and that he suggested economies running to somewhere from £200,000 to £400,000 a year, but that when the Commission looked into those Departments they found that absolutely no attempt had. been made to see whether the savings recommended by Sir Robert Anderson could be effected or not. Mr. Webster, the ex-Postmaster-General, took considerable trouble to reply to the Economies Commission, and on one point of their report he said : "I am in favour of that, and I have had a proposal ready which is even an improvement on the Commission's recommendation, but I have had no opportunity of bringing it before Parliament." It waa some very great reform - adding 3d. to the charge for telegrams, or something of that sort - but, as Minister, he said he had had no opportunity of putting it before Parliament.

Senator Fairbairn - If this Board had reported, the Minister would have had an opportunity of bringing it forward then.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - But the Minister said he had not an opportunity on account of other Ministers wanting various things done.

Senator Foster - How often in your experience has Parliament had an opportunity of dealing on a direct motion with reports from Commissions or Committees?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not one that I know of. The only chance we usually get is to say a few words on Supply.

Senator Fairbairn - Under this Bill, we are giving effect to the report of the Economies Commission. - .

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not as regards economies within the Departments. When I was Postmaster-General I asked a good business man in Melbourne to go into the Department, and see .if he could' suggest improvements. He told me that" one feature of the Public Service which stag- gered him, and which he could not see is way to get over was this: - In a private business, if an employee showed the owner that certain work could be dome ' with three men instead of four, the owner would get rid of the superfluous man and raise the salary of the man who had shown him the, saving, but in the Public Service it was tie other way about. If you had three men, he said, you looked around to see if you could not find work for four, and then the person in charge asked for an increase in salary because his responsibilities had been increased.

The report of the Economies Commission says -

A number of officers in the records and correspondence section and the mail branch are of mediocre ability, and it is difficult to understand how, with their limited qualifications and their inexperience with such duties as those with which they are at present charged, notwithstanding their relatively unimportant nature, they could possibly have been selected for such positions. In brief, it may be said that the system in operation is a distinct and successful inducement to officers to endeavour to create work to justify their existence. One and all practically concur that there is far too much registration of papers, far too many references, and much unnecessary work.

Has anything ever been done to. meet that criticism in the Department? Not a single economy suggested by that report has been brought about in any Department.

Senator Fairbairn - We are appointing this Board to do it.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - To do something in the distant future, although,- according to the Minister for Defence, the Board may take up all its time dealing with trivialities. The more I see of Senator Elliott's amendment, the better I like it. It will give us a distinct and definite opportunity of dealing with some of the problems, which the' Board will bring before the permanent heads. If it is anything worth while, a permanent head will be careful before he turns it- down, if it can come before Parliament in this direct way. The permanent heads and the staff do- not welcome recommendations from people outside.

Senator Elliott - And Ministers often back them up.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Sometimes, but sometimes a Minister will turn down their recommendations merely for political purposes. Under ordinary circumstances I would just as soon expect the proposed Board of Commissioners to bring about great ref onus as I would expect lightning out of burning incense, but this amendment gives us some hope of something definite being done from time to time. We may be able to help the Board to do its work efficiently, and .to bring about reforms.

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