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Friday, 4 November 1921


If Senator Thomas will move the omission of all the words after the word " Whenever,"a test vote on his . proposal can be taken on that motion.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Very well, I shall adopt that course.

Amendment,by leave, withdrawn.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I propose to move -

That all the words after the word "Whenever " be left out, with a view to insert, in lieu thereof the words, "a vacancy occurs in any office, and it is expedient to fillsuch vacancy by the promotion of an officer, the Governor-General may, on the recommendation of the Commissioner, subject to the provisions of this Act - appoint to fill such vacancy an officer of the Department in which such vacancy occurs, regard being had to the relative efficiency, or in the event of an equality of efficiency of two or more officers to the relative seniority, of the officers of such Department; or appoint to fill such vacancy any qualified officer from any other Department whom, on the ground of efficiency, or in the event of an equality of efficiency of two or more officers whom, on the ground of seniority, it appears desirable so to appoint, if it appears that such appointment would result in the work of such office being more efficiently performed than by selecting an. officer from the Department in which such vacancy occurs; efficiency ' in this section means special qualifications and aptitude for the discharge of the duties of the office to be filled, together with merit, and good and diligent conduct."

On this amendment we can discuss the priinciple.

Senator Payne - Of the Board versus the permanent head.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Just so. If my amendment is carried, the Board will take the place of the permanent head in making promotions. I gave reasons yesterday why I prefer that system. I have been looking up a report byMr. McLachlan, which, was made some years ago, and in which this matter is referred to. A Royal . Commission was appointed to deal with the Post and Telegraph Service, and did very excellent work. It occupied a considerable time in its investigations, and went very thoroughly into the matter. I had the honour, as PostmasterGeneral at the time, of being able to carry out quite a number of the recommendations of the Commission. It made one recommendation on lines somewhat similar to those adopted by (the Government in the clause now under consideration. I objected to that recommendation, and it was not given effect. Mr. McLachlan, who was then Public Service Commissioner, was asked to furnish a report on the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Those of us who know Mr. McLachlan, who entered the 'New South Wales Public Service as a young man, rose to be head of a Department there, and was subsequently transferred to the Commonwealth Service, as Public Service

Commissioner, a position which he occupied for several years, will agree with me that there is no one in Australia who understands the conditions of the Public Service better than he does. I quote him as one who was in the Public Service, and was not an outsider. I wish to inform honorable senators of what he had to say about the promotion of officers within a Department in the way proposed by the Government in clause 48. Dealing with the arguments used by the Postal Commission in support of its recommendation on the subject, he said -

The reasons thus advanced for abolition of the existing system of control demand some consideration, seeing that this proposal involves a complete reversal of the policy hitherto existing, and a return to a system of departmental management now considered by all Public Service authorities as archaic and unsatisfactory. From a careful review of the evidence submitted to the 'Royal Commission, it is found that no sufficient arguments had been adduced which would lend weight to the conclusions arrived at. In its recommendation on this subject, apart from the statement that divided control is undesirable and unnecessary, no reasons are furnished for such expression of opinion. It must be assumed that the Parliament, in placing the control of the personnel of the Service and the disposition of officers in the hands of the Public Service Commissioner, had in view the desirableness of some separate authority which would regulate the classification and advancement of officers throughout the Commonwealth, instead of their being subject to the capnice or prejudice of officers in charge in the several States.

As an illustration, it is only necessary to cite the unsatisfactory condition of Western Australian officers subsequent to Federation, and prior to the operation of the Public Service Act, when they were placed in the invidious position of being transferred to remote districts, merely because they happened to have incurred the displeasure of some one in authority, and when cases of manifest injustice towards officers were numerous. And, indeed, the indications are not wanting even to-day that a return to departmental control of staff matters would result in the inauguration of a system of favoritism and patronage. Officers of the Department have frequently expressed appreciation of the fact that their rights and interests are protected under the Public Service Act, and that they have been freed from domineering and unfair local control. It is most desirable that in determining matters affecting the official welfare, the controlling power should not be influenced by close personal association with the officers affected. The Royal Commission lays, the greatest stress on merit as governing promotion; but experience has proved that too much reliance cannot be placed on the opinions of responsible officers coming into direct contact with their subordinates, and, therefore, subjected to the disadvantages of local environment. It follows that under the proposed new system, while efficiency and meritorious service are to be the factors of advancement, all independent judgment as to relative merit is to be removed. Such a condition of affairs would undermine - if not absolutely neutralize - the merit provisions of the Act, and prove disastrous to the morale of the Public Service.

Those are the opinions of one who knows the Public Service. If promotions are to be made by people in the Department, it is feared that favoritism and prejudice will come into play.

SenatorRowell. - They would be subject to the approval of the Board.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I admit that.

Senator Elliott - And officers would have six months in which to appeal.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes; during those six months they would be "only acting officers. In the report of the Commission very great emphasis is laid on the fact that there are a large number of officers acting in positions to which they have not been permanently appointed. I agree with the Commission that the period of probation should be less than six months. There is to be an appeal to the Board, but there is no provision for inspectors, and I do not know how the Board can tell what is the right thing to do without the assistance of inspectors. An officer, in making an appeal, may have behind him the permanent head of the Department, who may clash with the Public Service Commissioner. The official would have great support in having the permanent head of the Department behind him. An officer in the "backblocks " may appeal and have practically no one behind him. The head of his Department may be in favour of another officer, and if there were no inspectors the Board would be in a hopeless position.

Senator Elliott - Why do you suggest that there are to be no inspectors?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If there are to be inspectors, they would be the eyes of the Board, and would enablethe Board to know the relative merits of the different officers.

Senator Russell - There is a clause that will give the Board authority to place full power, under special circumstances, in the hands of its assistants, but the Board will not be able to delegate its powers.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is a very brilliant idea. An officer in the backblocks may appeal, and there may be other appeals from persons in Tasmania and Western Australia. It would be necessary to get three different people to find out all about those officers. Under the present system we have a Public Service Commissioner, whose duty it is to know all the officers in the Service. Inspectors would know more about them than the heads of Departments. A man at the head of one Department would not know anything about the ability of an officer of another Department, but the Public Service Commissioner does.

Senator Rowell - Would not the heads of other Departments recommend their own men for appointments?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - They might, or might not. The Minister stated yesterday - and quite rightly - that the head of a Department would often be very much opposed to an officer, whose services he greatly appreciated, being transferred to another Department.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Buzacott - The honorable senator's time has expired. While I have allowed Senator Thomas to deal fully with the clause, it will be necessary to take the amendments' as they come.

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