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Wednesday, 16 September 1936

Senator Sir GEORGE PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister for External Affairs) [8.45]. - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time.

The bill has a two-fold object. First, it provides for the appointment of returnedsoldierstononclericalpositions in the Commonwealth Public Service and. secondly, it contains a number of formal, amendments of the principal act. A perusal of the measure will convince honorable senators that thelast-mentionedamendmentscan bedealtwithmoreeffectivelyincommittee.However,itwillassisthonorable senatorsifIoutlinebrieflytheproposals containedinthevariousclauses.

Clause 2, -which amends section 11 of the principal act, merely confers the title of " The Public Service Board "on the Board of Commissioners. Subsection 1 of that section provides for the appointment of a Board of Commissioners and while the title "The Public Service Board " is generally used in reference to the Board of Commissioners, it does not appear in the act itself. It is deemed advisable, for the sake of convenience and to accord with the usual drafting practice, to make provision in the act for the recognition of the board by its popular title.

Clause 3 is designed to clarify the procedure in connexion with the creation and abolition of offices in the Commonwealth Public Service. Thereis some ambiguity in the language of existing section 29 which it is hoped will be cleared up by the proposed amendment.

Under clause 4, it is proposed that eligibility for appointment under section 42 of the principal act be extended to members of the police force of the Federal Capital Territory. This section empowers the board to appoint on probation, without examination, any officer of the Territorial Service or the. Commonwealth Railway Service to any office in the Commonwealth Service. The clause, if agreed to, will merely confer eligibility on members of the police force of the Federal Capital Territory for appointment to the Commonwealth Service, but, before any such appointment is actually made, it will be necessary for the Public Service Board to satisfy itself that it is desirable in the interests of the Commonwealth that the appointment should be made.

Clause 5 relates to section 47 of the act, under which appointment of persons from outside the Public Service may, in special cases, be made to a division, other than the Fourth Division of the Service. The Governor-General only makes such an appointment on the recommendation of the board upon report from the permanent head. It is now proposed that section 47 be amended to make clear the procedure to be followed prior to the board making a recommendation to the Governor-General under that section. The amendment is similar to that embodied in clause 3.

Clause 6, which amends section 48 of the act, and is complementary to clause 4, provides that service in the Federal Capital Territory Police Force shall, in the case of the appointment of a member of the force to the Commonwealth Public Service, be reckoned as service in the Public Service.

Section 62 of the act provides for certain action to be taken in the event of an officer being convicted of a criminal offence against the law of the Commonwealth or of a State. I understand that a criminal offence against the law of a territory of the Commonwealth is not a criminal offence against the law of the Commonwealth within the meaning of section 62. It is obviously desirable that appropriate action should be permissible in cases where officers are convicted of offences against territorial laws. Clause 7 of the bill is therefore intended to enable action to be taken under section 62 in respect of criminal offences against laws of the territories of the Commonwealth.

Clause 8 contains an amendment designed to facilitate the leave arrangements of officers desiring to engage on post graduate and other studies. Under section 71 of the principal act, not more than twelve months leave without pay may be granted to an officer, except in the case of those officers who intend to enter into the* service of the League of Nations or of certain governments specified in the act. Instances have occurred where the period of twelve months leave has been found insufficient to enable an officer to complete the course of study or research work for which the leave was granted. It will be admitted that reasonable facilities should be granted to officers to complete their studies. Further, it must be borne in mind that the Commonwealth would eventually benefit by reason of the knowledge acquired by the officers during their advanced studies and research work. In the circumstances, it is considered desirable that provision should be made for leave to be granted in such cases up to a maximum of three years. An amendment to give effect to this has been included in clause 8 of the bill.

Clauses 9 and 10 contain amendments of sections 73 and 74 of the act. Several instances have occurred where officers, eligible under these sections for long service leave or pay in lieu of leave, have, for some reason, ceased duty without giving notice of their intention to do so. Although they cannot be traced, there is substantial reason to believe that they are dead. In the ordinary course, a considerable time would elapse before a court would grant leave for the death of such an officer to be sworn. Meanwhile, the officer's wife and dependants could not be paid moneys due to them under the act in the event of death being established. In some instances, the dependants have been in necessitous circumstances. The amendments embodied in clauses 9 and 10 are intended to enable the Public Service Board, without waiting for the leave of a court to presume death, to authorize payment to the dependants in such cases when, in the board's opinion, it is reasonable to assume from the facts that the officer is deceased.

Senator Grant - Could an officer who re-appeared claim the money even if it had been paid to his wife?

Senator Sir GEORGEPEARCE.Ho. The law authorizes payment to bis wife.

It is also proposed that returned soldiers who have given satisfactory continuous temporary service in a nonclerical capacity for at least two years should be eligible for appointment to positions of a non-clerical nature in the Public Service, notwithstanding the fact that they have not passed the prescribed examinations. Under the existing law returned soldier appointees must have been temporarily employed for a continuous period of not less than two. years. This provision has been interpreted to mean that the period of two years must he completed immediately prior to appointment. As a result of this interpretation, many returned soldiers who had served at least two yean continuously, but who, by reason of the financial depression, had their services terminated, would be required under the existing law to serve for a further period of two years before they would again become eligible for appointment. In view of the recent general increase of departmental activities and consequential expansion of staffs, the Government feels that action might reasonably be taken to restore the eligibility for permanent appointment of those soldiers, still within the prescribed age limit, who had lost such eligibility merely on account of the termination of their employment during the depression years. Clause 12 contains the requisite amendment of section 84 of the act which, if agreed to, will make it possible for the Public Service Board to consider these mon for permanent appointment as opportunity offers. It is estimated that about 150 roturned soldiers are affected.

Debate (on motion by Senator Collinos) adjourned.

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