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Friday, 22 April 1921

Senator GARDINER (New South Wales) . - In view of the importance of this measure, it would have been as well if the Minister, instead of proceeding with its second reading, had merely introduced it, and allowed members of the Public Service, who certainly are the most interested parties, full opportunity to peruse it and supply honorable senators with information as to its probable effect on the Service. Naturally they possess information which it would be almost impossible for any honorable senator, not closely identified with the Public Service, to have. The Bill is essentially a machinery measure. Frequently in this Senate, I have complained of the tendency to legislate by means of regulations, but, as I scan this measure, it appears to me that in it are to be found provisions for many matters that could very well have been dealt with by regulation, while, on the other hand, more important matters which might well have been provided for are overlooked. Interested people might be justified in saying that they have been deliberately omitted, because the minor matters to which I have referred are mentioned in the measure.

Senator Russell - There is plenty of room in the Bill for regulations to cover many minor matters.

Senator GARDINER - No doubt, but the point I am making is that it contains provision for matters that are amost insignificant, and which could more properly be dealt with by departmental regulation, while more important matters are left out. Apart altogether from this there are one or two clauses to which I desire to refer, and at the outset I direct attention to sub-clause2 of clause 9, which states -

In the making of appointments under the provisions of this section, preference shall be given, other things being equal, to. returned soldiers or sailors.

I should like to ask why the words "other things being equal" are used?

Senator Payne - What would the honorable senator have?

Senator GARDINER - I want to know why there is this back door provision to evade giving preference to returned soldiers or sailors?

Senator Russell - The Government might wish to appoint a wireless expert, and there might not be one among the returned soldiers or sailors.

Senator GARDINER - It is very easy for the Minister to furnish a reason why the clause should stand, but it is so loosely drafted that, given a Minister not favourable to the principle of preference to returned soldiers, it would be wide enough to suit his purpose.

Senator Russell - A Minister will not have that power. Appointments will be made by the head of a Department, and there will be the right of appeal to the Board.

Senator Foster - I take it that " other things being equal " means that the best man gets the job.

Senator GARDINER - As the Minister has stated, the question of appointing an expert in some particular business might arise, and so, on these grounds, the words " other things being equal " may be retained; but I venture to say that there will be no such difficulty about the constitution of the Board of Commissioners, for which men of character, capacity, and fitness, but not necessarily experts in some particular business, will be required. I usually pride myself that there is not much of the hypocrite about me, and so when I say that I think returned soldiers and sailors are being fooled by this pretence at preference in employment they will know what I mean. The sooner they realize that they have to take their chances with the rest of the community, and that fitness alone will be the qualification for a position in the Public Service, the better it will be.' I am not afraid that, given a fair chance, they will not be able toprove their fitness for any post that may be made vacant; but I protest at this pretended preference, for it is only so much pretence so long as this loop-hole for the evasion of the principle is retained in the Bill. In connexion with the appointment of the Board, there is a first-class opportunity to establish this principle, but I have noticed that usually in appointments of this nature, preference is given to returned soldiers for positions that involve a good deal of hard work and little pay, and for positions with large pay and little work it is quite another matter. Everything will depend upon the interpretation to be placed on the words " other things being equal " in the sub-clause to which I have referred.

Senator Russell - Some very fair positions, from Judges down to messenger boys, have been given to returned soldiers recently in Rabaul.

Senator GARDINER - I have no doubt that returned soldiers will be sent to Rabaul, and that they appreciate this preference ; but it is merely a pretence to say that the principle is established while the words " other things being equal " remain in the clause.

Senator Wilson - That is more than your party did in the Sydney City Council.

Senator GARDINER - I invite the honorable senator to go through the parks and other public thoroughfares of Sydney to see what splendid work has been done there by the City Council. They have done far more during the time they have been there than was done in the previous forty years by the old " fogies " who are represented by the honorable senator.

Senator Rowell - And there is a nice overdraft now.

Senator GARDINER - I do not want to be drawn off the track by these interjections; but I may say that as regards this principle of preference, returned soldiers have no better friends than the Labour members in the Sydney City Council.

Let me come back to the considera tion of the constitution of the Board of Commissioners. This will be a highlypaid body, and, therefore, men of great capacity and integrity will he required to fill the positions. I am not an opponent of good pay. I believe that if a man is called upon to shoulder a large amount of responsibility, and to display' marked ability in the discharge of his. duties, he should receive a remuneration commensurate with his services; and here, I repeat, is a splendid chance to establish the ' principle of preference to returned soldiers.

Senator Senior - There is nothing to preclude returned soldiers from receiving those appointments.

Senator GARDINER - Nothing except the social or political pull exerted by candidates, or favoritism on the part of those responsible for the appointments.

Senator Senior - That is not in the Bill.

Senator GARDINER - No ; and it cannot very well be put into it. What I am complaining about is the apparent discrimination in the matter of preference between what may be regarded as the highly-paid posts and the ordinary positions in the Public Service.

Senator Duncan - If you move to exclude the words "other things being equal," I will support you.

Senator GARDINER - I venture to say. that if I did the Government whip would crack, and the honorable senator knows that he would have to get behind the Government. We all know what happened in another place recently.

I turn now to clause 78. Sub-clause 1 provides -

Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, a returned soldier whose name is enrolled in the prescribed register for temporary employment shall, if competent for the work required, be considered for temporary employment in priority to any person who is not a returned soldier.

Senator Russell - That covers everybody.

Senator GARDINER - Does it cover appointments to the Board?

SenatorRussell. - I should say so.

Senator GARDINER - -Because, if it does, we should strike out the words I have complained of in clause 9. Subclauses 2 and 3 stats -

(2)   Upon report from the Chief Officer that a returned soldier temporarily employed has satisfactorily performed his duties, the Board may extend his employment forsuch time as temporary assistance is 'still required.

(3)   Where the employment of a returned soldier has been terminated owing to temporary assistance not being further required, he shall be eligible for further employment at any time after the termination of his previous temporary employment.

Clause 79reads -

(i)   In the making of appointments to the

Commonwealth Service from among persons who have successfully passed the prescribed examination, the Board shall give preference to returned soldiers.

Senator Wilson - That is definite enough.

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