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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs) . - I move -

That the bill be now read a second time. The main purpose of this bill is to amend the recruitment and appointment provisions of the Public Service Act following the Government's consideration of the report of the committee of inquiry into Public Service recruitment. The development of a public service of the highest quality and integrity is clearly a first essential of good government; and the quality of the Public Service itself is closely related to the standards established for recruitment. It follows, therefore, that it is prudent to keep standards of recruitment under review.

The recruitment provisions of the Public Service Act have remained substantially unaltered since the act was first passed in 1922. The Government readily agreed, therefore, with a recommendation of the Public Service Board that a committee of inquiry should be appointed to inquire into and report upon recruitment methods with the object of improving the quality of recruits. This committee consisted of -

Sir RichardBoyer, Chairman, Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Professor Hytten, former ViceChancellor of the University of Tasmania.

Dr. W.C. Radford, Director of the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Mr. R.S. Parker, Reader in Public Administration, Australian National University.

Mr. F.J. Webb, Commissioner of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.

The terms of reference of the committee should be put on record. They were -

To inquire into and report to the Prime Minister on the recruitment processes and standards of the Public Service and to make recommendations for any changes which, in the opinion of the Committee, are necessary to ensure that recruitment is soundly based to meet present and future needs and efficiency of the Public Service at all levels.

I should say at the outset that the Government is indebted to the Boyer committee for its comprehensive and thorough review of the recruitment problem within the Public Service. The committee made a number of recommendations which were interesting, challenging and constructive, and the report is a valuable contribution to the current and future development of the Commonwealth administration. In many respects, also, it will be a continuing document of reference.

It is a general conclusion of the Boyer committee that the Public Service is not obtaining sufficient recruits of the right quality to meet its greatly expanded tasks and that the service is too tightly closed against recruitment from outside to positions at intermediate and senior work levels. In addition, the committee suggests that policies in respect of organization and staff development should ensure that the best use is made of talent available.

The recommendations of the committee, about 70 in all, have been examined most carefully. Many of them have been accepted by the Government, and of these, some are incorporated in the bill before the House and the remainder will be put into effect administratively. In other cases, the Government endorses the objectives sought by the Boyer committee, but prefers to achieve these objectives by means different from those suggested by the committee. In a few cases, the Government was unable to accept the recommendations of the Boyer committee whilst in other cases - for example, the employment of married women - the implications of the recommendations are so far-reaching that much further study of them is required before a final decision is taken by the Government. I do not propose to develop a full analysis of the implications of all the recommendations of the Boyer committee in the course of this speech. The report has been before honorable members, but I shall say a few words about some of the recommendations.

First, I shall deal with the re-casting of recruitment provisions of the Public Service Act. There was a number of difficulties associated with the amendment of the existing provisions of the act in order to achieve the objectives of the committee's report, for clear and flexible recruitment machinery. It has been decided, therefore, to re-cast completely Division 4 of Part III. of the Public Service Act, which deals with recruitment and appointment. There is, nevertheless, no departure in the new provisions from the broad principles on which the present legislation is founded.

Appointment to the Public Service will remain in the hands of the Public Service Board, as an independent authority and within the principle of open competition. The Boyer committee in endorsing this principle has recognized that a statement of it in legislation would need to be qualified by a number of important exceptions. The Government, therefore, proposes to continue to apply the principle of open competition without having it expressed formally in the act. The standards for appointment will be set by the board from time to time and notified in the "Commonwealth Gazette". The Public Service Board will retain authority to conduct its own examinations or to use the standards of education authorities, and provision will be retained for promotion within the service so that the most junior officers will have the whole field of the Public Service open to them, provided they are able to meet the standards which are set for promotion within a division or, of course, advancement from one division to another. There will be a firm standard for appointment to the Third Division of the Service, about which I shall speak presently.

It is intended that there will be two general levels for recruitment to the Fourth Division, which contains 66,000 people. These levels will be at elementary and intermediate standards of education. I use the expression " elementary and intermediate ", because whether it is to be the elementary or intermediate standard will depend on the classification into which a man is to be admitted. It would be ridiculous to impose the intermediate level if a man were to be taken on for relatively unskilled work. On the other hand, if a man enters as a trainee technician, or something of that kind, it may be very desirable that he should have reached the intermediate level. Within the Second, Third and Fourth Divisions of the service, appointments will now be possible, not only to specific positions within a division, but also generally within a division.

The basic requirements for appointment to the Commonwealth Service under the existing act are that the applicant is a British subject, medically fit, and has made and subscribed an oath or affirmation. These are retained in the new legislation. Additionally it is necessary to make it clear that the board may reject a candidate who, because of character, including, for example, a police record, or for other good reason, is not considered to be suitable for admission to the Public Service. The board, in the past, has been working on the assumption that it has the ordinary rights of an employer to decide whether a candidate for appointment meets the standard of character and integrity which is clearly essential. But there is some doubt about this and therefore there is included in clause 11 of the bill, in proposed new section 34 (c), a provision to enable the board to be satisfied that a candidate for appointment is a fit and proper person to be an officer of the Commonwealth service.

The Government has adopted the Boyer committee recommendation that the leaving certificate standard should be the firm minimum requirement for entry to the Third Division of the Public Service. This is a most important recommendation. Entry to the Third Division in this context includes leaving certificate entry, appointment of ex-servicemen who were previously eligible for appointment at about intermediate certificate level, and also transfers from the Fourth to the Third Division, which is done at present by internal examination.

It would be difficult to bring down legislation owing to the need to take account of the variation in educational standards as between the States, and, as was pointed out to me by a colleague recently, as between one country and another, because there may be some people here who had the preliminary education in another country. Hence, the Government feels that it would be preferable for the Public Service Board to give effect to this recommendation by administrative action. The legislation therefore leaves it to the board to determine the standards of entry, but it is the clear intention that an examination at the level and standard of the New South Wales leaving certificate will be the firm minimum standard for entry to the Third Division of the Service, with equivalent examinations in other States - for example, the senior public in Queensland. This minimum standard will apply both on first appointment to the Third Division and on transfer from the Fourth to the Third Division, although in the latter case one recognizes that the new idea may not be put into effect for a period, because it is not easy to put down a cut-down point of promotion from the Fourth to the Third Division.

The Boyer committee has made recommendations which are designed to facilitate recruitment of university graduates who have had work experience outside the Public Service, as well as graduates fresh from the universities. The committee has also recognized the need for persons, whether they are graduates or not, with particular qualifications and experience to meet special needs both in individual positions and specialized employment categories. The Government supports these objectives and provision is made in the legislation to give effect to them. Entry at university graduate level will be freely used for recruitment of professional or technical officers, but the existing 10 per cent, limit will be retained for recruitment of graduates to other posts in the Second and Third Divisions of the Service.

It is proposed to retain the provisions of the principal act which permit the board to make appointments from outside the Commonwealth Service, subject to certain safeguards and to the established selection procedures. However, the new section 38, which re-enacts the old section 47, will be limited in the future to the appointment of persons of exceptional ability and experience. A new section 37 will be used for most of the appointments of persons with professional and specialist qualifications. Under both these sections the rights of officers will, as at present, be protected.

The Boyer committee recommended that seniority as a criterion for promotion should be dropped entirely from the Public Service Act and Regulations. I would like to make it plain that we are on common ground with the committee that seniority should not be the sole, or even the principal, basis for promotion in administrative and senior clerical posts within the Commonwealth Public Service. The Public Service Act, as it stands now, prescribes that the criterion for promotion in the Second and Third Divisions of the Service is efficiency. It is only in a case of equality of merit that seniority is applied. In examining this suggestion, the Government was impressed with the fact that the Boyer committee's recommendations would extend not only to the Second and Third Divisions of the Service, but also to the Fourth Division, which comprises approximately 66,000 officers, and which covers a great variety of employment including skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled operations, typing staff, general office assistants, minor clerical workers, and so on. The application of a pure efficiency test throughout the Fourth Division would present, we think, very great, and perhaps insuperable, difficulties. The Government is not convinced that there is a need to depart from the existing provisions and procedures.

In the Government's view there must be a continuing quest for greater efficiency and the most efficient officers should be preferred for promotion. The bill provides, in clause 13, for an extension and a more flexible application of the principle that in considering officers for promotion to certain positions, regard is to be had to qualifications and aptitude to perform duties of higher positions. Just to make clear what is meant by that, let us assume that there are two officers of equal merit eligible for promotion to a post that is vacant. It may be that one of them gives much greater promise of being a useful man in a higher position when that higher position becomes vacant. In other words, this is a forward looking operation.

Mr Peters - It will take a bit of working out.

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