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Wednesday, 12 October 1921

Senator DE LARGIE (Western Australia) . - This is a very opportune time, as we are not overburdened with business, to bring forward a matter which has already been before the Senate, and has been dealt with up to a certain point by a Select Committee. I refer to the matter of the officers of the Senate. We have a Public Service

Bill on the business paper, and I think the evidence taken by the Select' Committee will be very useful to honorable senators when they are considering that measure. When I brought the matter before the Senate on the first occasion, very few of us had any great knowledge as to the kind of regulations those officers were working under. All we knew about the matter was that they were under the Public Service Act. Apart from that, neither the Senate generally nor the House Committee know very much .about the regulations governing our servants., I thought the matter would be discussed without trouble, and that honorable senators would be glad of the opportunity to clear up the doubt surrounding the position, but to my surprise a great deal of hostility was encountered. We were wrongly told that I was proposing the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the working of other Committees. I was informed that the Select Committee could do nothing, and that the Public Service Act would have to be altered. I knew the Act would, have to be altered, and it was in order to get evidence, which would put us in the position of knowing what alterations were necessary, and give us something to work upon with some degree of certainty, that I put that aspect of the question as clearly as I could. In spite of all I did, however, a personal element, for which I was not responsible, crept in. Had I known that there were so many obstacles to be thrown in the way, I would certainly have moved in a direction other than I did. I thought all I need do was to put a motion on the business paper, and that would be the end of it until the matter was investigated, but all kinds of obstacles were placed in the way. Even after the Select Committee was created no end of difficulty cropped up. I was sorry for that, because there was ample justification for an inquiry, and the position of ignorance in which the Senate found itself, was the very best reason for the appointment of a Select Committee. Another very suspicious aspect of the question cropped up. After the notice of motion to appoint the Committee had been discussed, there suddenly appeared a recommendation from the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. A most extraordinary communication was unearthed. We had not heard a whisper of it before. There had been no mention of it in debate, and no hint of its existence in the House. This document was put in very suddenly, as a paper, to be printed. It was a recom.mendation to the Government to provide that the control of the officers of the Senate and of the Parliament generally should be handed over to an outside body - the Public Service Commissioner. It was a most extraordinary volte face in connexion with parliamentary affairs. I should have thought that a proposition of that kind would have come from the President and Speaker to Parliament, and that we in this Senate would have been the first to be communicated with. There was no earthly reason why the Government should first be informed of these things. It was a matter for Parliament, and for Parliament alone. The officers of Parliament are not under the control of the Government, but of Parliament. Every Parliament in this country is undoubtedly in the same position. One would have expected that, if there had been any necessity for a change, there would have been less hostility to my proposition to have an inquiry. In spite of the recommendation which you, Mr. President, made, you gave my motion every possible opposition. You tried to prevent an inquiry being held upon a matter on which, it was evident, a great deal of ignorance prevailed. Later on, when we set to work on the Select Committee, and were taking evidence, we found that one officer after another was being prevented from coming before the Committee and giving evidence.

Senator Duncan - That statement refers to officers under the control of the Joint House Committee, and not to those under the control of the Senate.

Senator DE LARGIE - I shall be able to show, later, under whose control they were. It is evident that the same "game" was going on all the time, and was being pushed to an extreme. Any other President who knew that his administration was being challenged would have been the last to take such action. He would have remained neutral, instead of trying to intimidate the lower-paid officers, and to scare them against giving evidence. These officers were threatened that if they did give evidence they would have to take the responsibility of their action.

Those tactics made me all the more determined to get to the bottom of the thing. I am sorry that in consequence of what was done the evidence was unduly circumscribed and forced into a narrow channel. The facts that have been disclosed, however, will be valuable to the Senate in framing future regulations or laws for the control of its officers. I do not know why any effort should have been made to hush up this business. It is a public matter on which Parliament and the public have every right to be fully informed. We know that unlimited criticism is hurled from time to time at the various Departments of the Government. One may attack the Government in any way in regard to any of its Departments, such as the Post Office or the Customs Department. Any charge may be made, and free criticism indulged in, against the Defence Department, and, perhaps even more so, against the Repatriation Department. These are all public Departments which are open to criticism, by any one, and rightly so. Then why, in the name of common sense, should this one Department of Parliament be excluded from criticism or inquiry? The Select Committee was treated as if it were a hostile body, and was told by the President, in a brusque sort of way, " So far as these officers are concerned I stand in the place of the Public Service Commissioner, and the whole of the duties of Commissioner devolve upon me." That may have been a satisfactory answer up to a certain point; but when we came to inquire into =the working of the Public Service Act as it affects the Senate officials, we found that about the only thing that the President had done to carry out its provisions waa to call himself the Public Service Commissioner. All the duties in connexion with the office were ignored. There was no scheme of classification, which is a very prominent feature of Public Service administration. No regulations had been issued for the control of the officers, so that they would know what their duties and rights were. They received no guidance from the President at all. During the regime of the three farmer Presidents, the House Committee occupied a position of responsibility, and was allowed to control the affairs to which I have referred. Had that practice been continued, there would not have been any need to raise this question. The President arrogated to himself a position that no other President had sought to occupy. He was the dictator, the autocrat who controlled everything. Neither the House Committee nor the Library Committee, as far as he could prevent it - which was not very far in the case of the Library Committee - was allowed to interfere with him in any way. He was the Public Service Commissioner as far as the Senate officials were concerned.

SenatorWilson. - The powers are vested in him.

Senator DE LARGIE - Theyare.

Senator Wilson - Then why complain? If I were President, I would do the same if I had the authority.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am not complaining that he had the authority. I am complaining that he did not carry out the duties, although he arrogated to himself the powers.

Senator Wilson - You have just admitted that he had the authority.

Senator DE LARGIE - Yes.

Senator Wilson - Then why say he " arrogated to himself the powers "?

Senator DE LARGIE - He neglected his duties and responsibilities.

Senator Duncan - That was not the opinion of the majority of the Committee.

Senator DE LARGIE -There was a majority of three to two. That did not matter very much.

Senator Crawford - Did you not nominate the Committee yourself?

Senator DE LARGIE - I did.

Senator Wilson - You evidently did not pick them too well.

Senator DE LARGIE - If it is in the minds of honorable senators that I fixed up the matter to suit myself, I think that, instead of chuckling over something as a victory , I ought to be complimented for my fairness in dealing with the matter as I did.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It was bad luck!

Senator DE LARGIE - Not at all.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Bad judgment, then!

Senator DE LARGIE - As far as I am concerned others can have all' the credit they may get from " rigging up " a Select Committee to obtain a certain report. The reports of the Select Com mittee show that the three members opposed to me almost re-echoed what I said, but modified it. It was merely a question of degree, and not of drastic principle. I may have something to say about individual members of the Select Committee later on.

Senator Crawford -Spare us!

Senator Wilson - There is nothing like being candid.

Senator DE LARGIE - I hope that I have always earned credit for being candid. I do not believe in any underhand work in connexion with public business, and I have always tried to do things in a fair and open way. So far as the duties of this position under the Public Service Act were concerned, all that the President did was to control a number of officers and perform various important functions without providing himself for the purpose with the machinery laid down by the Act. In order that honorable senators may grasp the position, I should explain that when the Public Service Act was under consideration in this Chamber, the first President of the Senatewas very insistent that Parliament should retain control of its own household. He desired that, above everything else, it should retain that power. But what could we do if the President failed to carry out the provisions of the Act to the letter, and to exercise the powers reposed in him under the Act? I am sure that the three first Presidents of the Senate recognised thatdifficulty, and they overcame it by leaving full powers to the House Committee.

Senator Wilson - I did not know that the House Committee had any powers.

Senator DE LARGIE - The honorable senator is a new member of the House Committee, but, like some other members of that Committee, he did not know that it had the powers.

Senator Wilson - And I do not know it now.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am not at all surprised at that admission. In the way I have suggested, all friction was avoided, and in the management of the officers of Parliament nothing in" the nature of a scandal ever occurred. Things went on in that way - the provisions of the Public Service Act being ignored and common sense being applied to the management of the officers of the Senate. Had that state of things continued, I dare say that there would have been very little comment about it, or objection taken to it. But we know that in time very grave alterations of practice took place, and very grave injustices occurred. Some officers who were in the service of the Senate for twenty years received practically no promotion, whilst others who had been here for twenty years were still temporary officers. I am pleased to say that since I moved in this matter some of these grievances have been removed, and, therefore, I take credit to myself, so far as the lower-paid officers at all events are concerned, that I have done some little good. There was also injustice done in another way, to which I am very sorry to be obliged to refer, because it reflects very little credit on those responsible. One officer who was employed in this building for ten years as a temporary officer was, perhaps, a little more insistent than others upon his rights according to the wages award fixed outside by the Arbitration Court. Because this officer asked for his rights according to the decision of an institution which this Parliament set up, he was victimized in the most cowardly way. He met the same fate as many members of unions in the past who stood out for their fellows and were the first to complain of their conditions. He was, the first to go. That did not end the matter. In order to build up a case against that officer we had the President of the Senate on the floor of this chamber dragging into the discussion upon the case statements which, according to sworn evidence, were not true.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the honorable senator suggesting that he or any one else may make any statements they please and no one may deny them ? That seems to me the case the honorable senator is putting up.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am putting up the sworn evidence of two individuals, against that of one privileged individual.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable senator is objecting to people coming here and denying statements which they do no believe to be true.

Senator DE LARGIE - I am simply repeating statements made on the floor of this Chamber by the President in regard to this man. When he said that this man carried lies to his mother about the time he was kept at work, his mother wrote to me a personal letter denying that statement.

Senator Wilson - The honorable senator said that an employee was victimized in a cowardly way. By whom ?

Senator DE LARGIE - Surely the honorable senator does not desire that I should speak more plainly.

Senator Wilson - The honorable senator said just now that he was going to be candid.

Senator DE LARGIE - My answer is - by the President. I did not think that Senator Wilson needed to be informed as to whom I meant.

Senator Wilson - The Select Committee did not indorse that.

Senator DE LARGIE - The Select Committee cannot very well do otherwise than indorse it, for the simple reason that the statement is supported by evidence. I shall read for honorable senators the letter I received a considerable time ago in regard to this matter.

Senator Duncan - I rise to a point oforder. I want to askyour ruling on the matter which Senator de Largie is now discussing. Some time ago this question was referred to a Select Committee of the Senate. The whole matter is still in the hands of the Select Committee, and its report will have to come before the Senate for adoption.

Senator de Largie - Not necessarily.

Senator Duncan - From the businesspaper I notice that the Select Committee is still constituted, and has not yet finished its labours. I should like to know whether Senator de Largie is in prder in anticipating a discussion which must arise when the report of the Select Committee is before the Senate for adoption. The honorable senator is prejudicing the whole position, and those of us who have already spoken on the question may be unable to speak again.

Senator de Largie - Where is the matter mentioned on the business-paper ?

Senator Duncan - The honorable senator will find it referred to on page 266 of the business-paper.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Has the Select Committee reported yet?

Senator de Largie - Certainly it has.

Senator E D MILLEN (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then why has not a member of the Committee moved the adoption of the report?

Senator de Largie - That is for members of the Committee to say.

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