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Thursday, 4 April 1957

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I have a very important, and, in my view, a serious matter, to raise regarding the Department of Labour and National Service. I have received a complaint with regard to an application for a vacancy that was advertised by the department for a research officer in Brisbane. The complaint made to me was that the interviewing officers, instead of restricting themselves to ascertain the academic qualifications of the applicants, were evidently greatly concerned as well to ascertain their political viewpoint. There is no doubt, first of all, that an applicant for such a job has to get a clearance from the security service and then, if he gets through the security service check, he has to be interrogated by the interviewing officers as to his political viewpoint. Members of the Labour party, who shun deceit and lying, and answer the questions honestly are, therefore, disqualified for appointment.

Mr HAROLD HOLT (HIGGINS, VICTORIA) - Does the honorable member really believe that?

Mr WARD - I certainly do believe it, and I can prove it from the communication to me from the Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt). I will read first the original letter I. wrote to the Minister on 22nd February this year. 1 wrote -

I have received a complaint regarding the methods employed by Interviewing Officers of the Queensland Branch of your Department when dealing with applicants for appointment to various Departmental positions.

This particular matter refers to the filling.late last year, of the position of Research Officer, Grade 1, Department of Labour and National Service, Brisbane.

My information is that applicants were questioned, not only on their qualifications, academic and otherwise, but had questions directed to them which could only have been designed to ascertain the political views of the person concerned.

I received a reply from the Minister. He wrote to me on two occasions, and honorable members will notice that the second communication is completely at variance with the first. In the letter he wrote on 8th March, 1956, he said -

It would, of course, be completely contrary to Departmental Policy and Public Service practice for applicants to be asked such questions and. after making inquiries, I am satisfied that there was no departure from policy or practice in this case.

No record is kept of questions asked in the course of such interviews nor of the answers given by the applicants. The three officers who conducted the interviews for this particular position were, however, asked to recall the subjects on which the applicants were questioned. It is clear that the questions were directed to ascertaining the academic qualifications of the applicants, their experience within or outside the Public Service or during war service relative to the work to be undertaken, their experience in the compilation and interpretation of statistics, their general knowledge of industry and commerce in Queensland, their experience in research and investigational work, their general knowledge of current employment trends in Queensland and their knowledge of and interest in current economic problems such as the economic effects of migration and the possible effects of automation. Applicants were also questioned on their knowledge of the White Paper " Full Employment in Australia ". Questions related to these subjects are obviously relevant to the suitability of applicants for a position involving analysis and interpretation of employment statistics and the economic factors affecting employment. Each of the interviewing officers has given an assurance that he does not recall asking any question that would have any bearing on the political beliefs of the applicants, or involve any expression of political attitudes.

Then I again wrote to the Minister, and this time I was able to give him samples of the questions that were asked of these applicants. I ask honorable members to keep in mind the various kinds of qualifications to which the questions to these men, as claimed by the Minister in his original letter, had been restricted. Here is a sample of the questions -

Do you think the present unemployment is the result of deliberate Federal Government policy, particularly recent policy?

What are your views on Government immigration policy? Should it be suspended, should it comprise a greater quota of British or nonBritish?

What are your views on import and credit restrictions and are they necessary and effective?

Can any honorable member claim that questions of this kind should be asked of an applicant for a research officer's job? These questions have no relation to the duties or functions of a research officer. Questions asking an applicant's opinion regarding important political matters were,

I submit, quite improperly put. Let us now examine the Minister's final reply, because it is very interesting. On this occasion, when he is put right up to the hurdle, the Minister does not deny that this kind of question was asked. In his letter to me, dated 4th April, 1957, the Minister said -

My enquiries reveal that the type of questions asked and method of interview to which you have directed attention, have been developed in the Department over a period of years-

He does not say that the questions were not asked, but that they were developed over a period of years. He went on to say - and are regularly employed for that kind of purpose. They are, in no sense, a product of some Ministerial direction from myself-

The Minister, realizing the significance of these questions, now says, " 1 had nothing to do with directing this kind of question to be asked. These questions have been developed over a period of years ". He went on to say - and certainly do not possess the partisan political significance which you have attached to them. While it could be possible for someone in such an interview situation to misinterpret the purpose of questions put to them, it is difficult to imagine the type of person who would make a successful Research Officer in the Public Service, regarding such questions as designed to elicit his political beliefs, when they are put to him by senior and responsible officers of the Public Service.

Does it matter particularly who it is who directs the questions? The important thing is the type of question and the kind of information that the questions are designed to obtain. Whether or not the questions were asked by a public servant and the information later submitted to the Minister, the fact is that these applicants for a research officer's job were asked questions that had nothing to do with research at all but were designed to find out whether the applicants were members or supporters of the Australian Labour party, whether they had radical views, or whether they were opposed to the policy of this Government. If they were opposed to it they disqualified themselves.

Let me tell the Minister one thing before I conclude. It is rather significant that every applicant who answered the questions in the way that a Labour man would answer them did not succeed in getting an appointment. The person who got the appointment was a person who had evidently answered the questions to the satisfaction of the Minister. It is rather interesting, also, to note that the Minister, in order to try to avoid his responsibility in the matter, said that while there were appeals in this case against the appointment, all the appeals were dismissed, and the selection committee's nominee was the man who eventually got the job. What has that got to do with the question? It do3s not matter whether the appeals failed or succeeded. What I am saying is that this Government, in making its appointments in the department in question, has set out deliberately to place a disqualification upon anybody who has views sympathetic to the Labour party and is endeavouring to have a carefully selected staff, based on the knowledge that the individuals who occupy these positions are supporters of the Government and its policy. I am certain that this is a practice that will not be approved by a majority of the Australian people, and the sooner this practice is known to the public, the sooner we can expect some action to have it discontinued.

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