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Thursday, 3 November 1921


Senator RUSSELL (Victoria) (VicePresident of the Executive Council) . - Honorable senators will agree, that the Board to be constituted under this Bill will be unable to attend to all the detail work in connexion with appointments and transfers. We do not want to overload the Board. Hitherto the Public Service Commissioner has beenimmersed in a great deal of this work from one end of Australia to the other-, with the. result that the Acting Commissioner disavowed any responsibility for lack of economy in his Department.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When didhe say that?


Senator RUSSELL - In his evidence before the Economies. Commission.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It is only fair to him. to say that he has denied that statement again and again, and that I have mentioned it twice in the Senate.


Senator RUSSELL - If the Acting Commissioner has denied the statement, then, of course, I am sorry I mentioned' the matter.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If. the Minister has read his reply to the report submitted by the Economies Commission he will find his denial of the statement. It was a private conversation between him and' Mr. Templeton, one of the members of the Commission.


Senator RUSSELL - I have too much respect for the Acting Public Service Commissioner to attribute to him any statement that may be doubtful, and,, therefore, I withdraw it absolutely. My experience is that the permanent head of a Department is. the best judge in the matter of promotion. The Board will not be- sufficiently in- touch with all the detail work of a Department to discharge this duty satisfactorily.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Not with their inspectors?


Senator RUSSELL - I do not know just what form the inspection will take, but I presume it will be more or less specialized, and in this matter the Board will have a power of delegation. However, the head of the Department will not make permanent promotions. There will be promotion on probation for six months, during which time any officer of the PUb.die Service will have the right of appeal to the Board on the ground that he is better fitted for the position.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is that in the Bill?


Senator RUSSELL - Yes.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Then all officers promoted will be acting for six months?


Senator RUSSELL - Not necessarily. They will be performing the duties of their new office, but for a period of six months it will be open for any officer of the Public Service to appeal to the Board if he thinks that he possesses higher qualifications.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If you think that will lead to greater efficiency, well and good. I do not.


Senator RUSSELL - I think it will. A common complaint, and one indorsed by Senator Thomas, has been that officers in the Post Office, equally capable of discharging important duties in other Departments, have been unable to secure transfers. They feel that they are at a dead end. We want the Service to be treated as a whole. If, in the Post Office, there are men capable of filling vacancies in the Department of the Prime Minister, or any other Department, they should have the opportunity of applying for them.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Under- the Act they can do so; otherwise how did Mr. Box transfer from the Post Office to the Prime Minister's Department?


Senator RUSSELL - If the head of a Department thinks that in another Department there is an officer more .fitted for a vacancy in his Department he should have the right to ask for that officer's transfer.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - So he can now, under the Act. There was the case of Mr. Whitton, who was transferred from the Auditor-General's Department to the Customs.


Senator RUSSELL - Hitherto transfers have been allowed only in exceptional cases. When positions become vacant every eligible officer in the Public Service should have an opportunity of applying. Senator Thomas referred to Mr. Box and Mr. Percy Whitton, and I think it will be admitted that the latter gentleman is one of the most capable men in the Service. These and other instances could be quoted to prove the necessity of some freedom being allowed in the selection of officers.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is possible under the present Act; but this Bill curtails the rights of officers in that direction.


Senator RUSSELL - It does not. The honorable senator, when PostmasterGeneral, was, apparently, quite prepared to allow Mr. Box to be transferred to the Prime Minister's Department.


Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I could have prevented it.


Senator RUSSELL - Possibly, so. Ministers should have secretaries whose ability is undoubted. My secretary has had more to do with the commercial activities of the Government than, possibly, any other public servant, and, although the Defence Department would like him to be transferred to that branch where he was previously employed, I cannot consent, because he has had special training in connexion with wheat, wool, and metals. Exceptional opportunities may sometimes present themselves; but certain officers should not be appointed without the claims of others possessing similar qualifications being considered. Senator Thomas complained of lh,e present "water-tight" system: but this Bill is framed with the idea of improving it, and an appeal can be made to the Board against what may be considered an unfair appointment. . It has been the practice in the past for appeals to be made to the Public Service Commissioner who was responsible for the appointments, and, although the work may have been conscientiously performed, it is undesirable for a man to consider an appeal against his own decision. Under the proposed system appeals will be made to an independent body, which should result in more contentment and increased efficiency in the Service. The provisions of this measure have been perused by the Acting Public Service Commissioner, representatives of returned soldiers' organizations, and of the public servants, and the measure is considered to be one that will give general satisfaction. It is not contended that the Bill is perfect, but a sincere attempt has been made to remove some of. the difficulties which at present exist.







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