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Thursday, 16 May 1957

Mr O'CONNOR (Dalley) .- The Opposition regards the bill before the House as being good in parts and very bad in other parts. The opposition, in the main, to the bill has been indicated by the honorable member for Banks (Mr. Costa), who has stated that later on, at the committee stage, he will move an amendment on behalf of the Opposition. The bill makes four or five amendments to the Public Service Act. The first one referred to by the Minister for Immigration (Mr. Townley) in his secondreading speech relates to the extra-territorial operation of the act. The Minister has stated that there is some doubt whether public servants who are abroad in the employ of the Government are effectively covered, and that to remove such doubt this amendment is necessary. I. understand also that there is some doubt about the superannuation rights of members of the Public Service, and I would like the Minister to refer to this aspect when answering the citicisms levelled at the bill.

The bill proposes to increase the monetary penalties that may be imposed on public servants for misdemeanours. The Minister disputed a claim made by the honorable member who preceded me in this debate. I should like to read from the Minister's second-reading speech, which, I think, makes it perfectly clear that the penalties to be imposed in the future will be harsher than they are at the present time. The Minister said -

The monetary penalties that may be imposed on an officer upon the commission of an offence have been increased from Ss. to 10s. as the maximum fine for a minor offence, and from £5 to £20 for other than a minor offence.

Mr Townley - That is the maximum. That was the very point that I made.

Mr O'CONNOR - But the fact of the matter is that the range of the penalties is being increased. Therefore, 1 think that it is up to the Minister to give the House a better explanation than the mere statement that the range of penalties is being extended. He admitted that it was being extended, because he continued -

This action will lessen the gap between the monetary penalty that may be imposed and the more drastic punishments of reduction in salary or status or dismissal.

Where the Public Service Board, or its representative, would formerly have imposed a fine of 5s. under this measure, it will impose a fine of 10s. Where the board, or its representative, would formerly have imposed a fine of £5, the fine will, in future, be £20.

Mr Bowden - The cost of living has increased.

Mr O'CONNOR - It is not a question of whether the cost of living has increased. It is a question of giving the Public Service Board power to impose more drastic penalties on employees. I submit that the Minister has not made out a case for giving the board power to impose on employees heavier penalties than it may impose at present.

The Opposition has already intimated that it supports the proposal in relation to the extension of the terms of temporary employees. As the honorable member for Bendigo (Mr. Clarey) has pointed out, the position of a temporary employee in the Public Service is somewhat invidious. I think that the circumstances of temporary employees should be carefully considered, especially in view of the fact that a person who has had 20 years' service as a temporary employee may be faced with the prospect of summary dismissal. That is most unfair, and it should not be tolerated.

There are many reasons why public servants may not become permanent employees, but I do not think that the fact that they are not permitted to become permanent employees should be held against them in determining their rights when they have served the Government for many years.

I propose to deal now with working conditions in the Public Service. The conditions under which some employees have worked, and will have to work for some years to come, are appalling. In many instances, government employees are compelled to work under conditions that would cause a private employer to be haled into court. The Commonwealth should not allow thousands of its employees to work under conditions that are the subject of stringent and scathing criticism. The honorable member for Banks indicated the conditions under which employees of the Sydney Mail Branch of the PostmasterGeneral's Department have to work. They are shocking. It is accepted by every one that the conditions are seriously undermining the health of employees. It is true that plans for future improvements have been made, but the fact remains that the employees have been working under these appalling conditions for the last four or five years. It may be argued that the Public Service Board is trying to improve the situation, but that does not permit the Government to escape criticism.

In all the capital cities, and particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, improvements are planned, but it will be many years before they are realized. At the present time, the Commonwealth is constructing, in Melbourne, a block of administrative offices, the estimated cost of which is £5,500,000, but it will not be completed for a considerable number of years. The Public Works Committee, two years ago, approved plans for the construction of a Commonwealth administration block in Sydney, but the work has been delayed by some difference of opinion between other authorities that are concerned. While these differences of opinion prevail, we shall get no nearer to improving the conditions of Commonwealth employees in many offices scattered throughout Sydney, in which working conditions are appalling. I think that the Government should do its utmost to improve the working conditions of its employees in the shortest possible time.

The honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) stated, last evening, that the administration of the Public Service Board should be reviewed. I have made a similar suggestion on previous occasions. The idea is not new, and it will bear ventilating again. For some reason, we in this country seem to have accepted it to be afact that the principles on which the administration of our Public Serviceis based are the best in the world, and that no other country has a service comparable with our own. The criticisms thatI am making are not intended 'to belittle the Public Service, but I object to the principles upon which the Public Service Board works. I think that it can be truly said that an appeal by an employee to the Public Service Board on a matter affecting his employment is an appeal from Caesar to Caesar, and that, when a department calls in the Public Service Board to put a matter right, it is a case of Caesar calling upon Caesar.

I think that it is about time the Government took into consideration the problems that have confronted other services where conditions are similar. The United Kingdom CivilService provides a good illustration.I think that it is the equal of any inthe world. Indeed, I think that it is due tothe traditions and efficiency of the British civil servants in India that 'that country is making such : astonishing progress, in sharp contrast with the situation in Pakistan.Indiawas fortunate enough to be able toretain the services of almost 90 per cent of the personnel of the public service atthe timethatit attained independence, but Pakistan retained only about 10 per cent. Thishas been of tremendous help in the developmentof India.

The United KingdomCivil Service does not regard itself as being in a position in which it is immune from inquiry. It is the custom in theUnitedKingdom every decade to have independent persons from outside the Civil Service investigate the operations of the service. The authorities in that country have even appointed royal commissions to inquire into the operations of the service, and the investigations that have taken place have been most beneficial. In Australia, as I have pointed out, the final authority in : all matters affecting the Public Service is the Public Service Board, but I, for one, am not satisfied with this arrangement. I. submit that, in view of : the achieve ments in other countries, the Government would be well advised toexamine the functions and methods of the Public Service Board in the interests of efficiency and improved working of thePublic Service generally.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In committee:

Clauses 1 -to 10 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 11 -

Section fifty-five of the Principal Act is amended -

(a)   by omitting from sub-section (2.) the words " Five shillings " and inserting in their stead the words "Ten shillings"; and

(b)   by omitting from sub-paragraph (i) of paragraph (d) of sub-section (3.) the words "Five pounds " and inserting in their stead the words " Twenty pounds ".

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