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Wednesday, 27 April 1921

Senator PAYNE (Tasmania) .- Portion of the Bill before us was fairly fully discussed at the end of last year, and I am glad' that the Government have brought forward a consolidating measure early this year so that we may have ample time to give it the consideration it deserves. No honorable senator can doubt the importance of 'the Bill because it must be patent to every one that the Commonwealth Public Service has been very dissatisfied for a considerable time. I have no doubt that in many instances there has been good reason for dissatisfaction. Towards *he end of last year honorable senators were 'brought into closer contact with 'the organizations of the Public Service than ever bef ore, when circulars were issued by the different organizations in the Service in an attempt to bring pressure to bear upon members of Parliament in order to secure, that the public servants considered, was a fair deal.

Before discussing the Bill I consider it my duty as a senator to express my regret at any section of the Public Service writing to public men appointed by the people as representatives of the various States in a manner which suggests that those elected by the popular vote of the Common-wealth should .be amenable to threats issued by any .section of the Public Service. I have with me a copy of a communication, which I presume -was sent as a circular letter to honorable senators, and which reads -

That, owing to the increased -unrest in the Federal Public Service, consequent upon the continued1 failure of the Commonwealth .Government to adjust salaries in conformity with the decreased purchasing power of the sovereign, the Tasmanian members in the Federal Parliament be informed that, in the event of the Service being compelled to inconvenience the general public in order to bring matters to a head, the history of the case will be published .throughout the State, and the people informed that their representatives must 'be held '-blameworthy for the failure to safeguard the public interests.

Such a letter certainly conveys a threat of a strike in the Public Service. I have no quarrel with the public servants of Australia, because my sympathies are with them, and I am anxious that they should receive a fair deal by constitutional, methods and be placed in a position in which they will receive, in. addition to security of tenure, adequate remuneration for services rendered. I desire to say to public servants that they of all men in Australia should be the last to threaten the convenience of the public, as their1 tenure, above that of all sections of the workers of Australia, is secure. It is unreasonable for them to suggest that the Public Services of the Commonwealth should be interfered with, because they do not feel they have been getting a fair deal, and to me it seems an ill-advised method to adopt. When I received the communication which I have just read, I wrote informing the public servants that threats of that description would have no effect upon me as a public main. I said' that I was prepared to meet them, or any other section of workers, if they could show what could be done constitutionally to improve their condition; that if they could point out anomalies in the existing legislation which could be remedied not only in their interests, but in the interests of the whole community, I was prepared to listen to them. I also stated that I was not prepared to listen to the threat of a strike in the Public Service, and I deplore that they should have attempted anything of the kind. I am very anxious indeed that our Public Service shall be a contented Service, and it oan only be made contented by compelling those engaged therein to recognise that their representatives who frame the laws are actuated by a desire to do their very best in the interests of the public servants, and also by the public servants educating themselves in the adoption of constitutional methods for the adjustment of their grievances. .

There are many reasons why discontent has grown, and I think one of the principal grounds of complaint is that for many years there has been no reclassification of the Service. There is no doubt that injustice has been done through, reclassification not having been adopted' some years ago, and many men to-day feel that they are labouring under a great handicap and have not had the recognition to. which they are entitled. While that may be. admitted,, in other instances there are men who have no occasion to complain. In a Public Service composed of so many units, many of which differ so greatly from the others, a reclassification of the Service would give justice to those who deserve it.

I do not intend to speak at great length on the second reading of this measure, because I recognise, with other honorable senators, that most of the work will have to be done in Committee. I desire, however, to deal with a few of the main principles contained in the Bill, and to say straight out that the measure as a whole will receive my support; up to the second-reading stage. It is my intention, however, to endeavour to amend some of the clauses in Committee. One honorable senator, at the outset of his remarks, said that he disagreed with the portion of the Bill which provides for the appointment of a. Board of Management in place of a Public Service Commissioner. A good deal .could be said in support of the honorable senator's contention, but much more could be said in favour of the proposal before us.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It has been abandoned everywhere it has been tried.

Senator PAYNE - In some of the States it was thought that an alteration from a Board of Management to a Commissioner was advisable. But why? Because they found, under a Public Service Board: as constituted in some States, that the Service was not giving of its best fib the public, and as a result an . experiment was made by appointing a Commissioner. I have not known of any case where it has been proved - there has not been sufficient time - .that the1 change was a good one. The Commonwealth Government are satisfied that the time has arrived for an amendment of the law, because Public Service matters generally have not been as satisfactory as they ought to have been under a Public Service Commissioner. The Government are aware that there is much unrest in the Commonwealth Departments, and they consider it advisable to alter the system and to create a Board of Management. . Senator Thomas stated that he had .no objection to the appointment of an Efficiency Board, and' I claim that the- whole object of the particular provision in this measure relating to the appointment of a Board of Management is to provide a more efficient Service,' so that the people who have to find the money will receive fair value for the expenditure incurred.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Economies Commission says that that is not workable.

Senator PAYNE - Let us consider the duties that will be imposed upon the Board if this Bill becomes law. It will be an Efficiency Board as well as a Board of Management, 'because clause 15 provides -

1.   In addition to such duties as are elsewhere in this Act imposed on it, the Board shall have the following duties : -

(a)   To devise means for effecting economies and promoting efficiency in the management and working of Departments by-

(i)   improved organization and procedure ;

(ii)   closer supervision;

(iii)   the simplification of the work of each Department and the abolition of unnecessary work;

(iv)   the co-ordination of the work of the various Departments;

(v)   the limitation of the staffs of the various Departments to actual requirements, and the utilization of those staffs to the best advantage;

If the Board, when appointed, can carry into effect the concluding portion of what I have read, it will have accomplished a great deal. It will have accomplished something that up to the present has been practically impossible!

Senator Senior - The honorable senator must not lose sight of the other duties which might preclude it from performing those which have been mentioned.

Senator PAYNE - Does the honorable senator suggest that the duties are too multifarious for the Board to handle?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Economies Commission says so.

Senator PAYNE - At present we have a Public Service Commissioner,and the Bill provides that in his place there shall be a Board of three.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Three to do what one can do.

Senator PAYNE - But one man cannot do it. It has not been done, and every honest man will admit that there is room in a majority of our publio Departments for greater efficiency and economy. One cannot close one's eyes to the fact that expenditure is incurred which, with proper supervision and management, could very often be avoided. From time to time duplication of work is brought under our notice, which with the co-ordination of Departments could be avoided. When a Public Service Bill was under discussion last year -I am speaking from memory - I believe the personnel of the Board was altered by the Senate.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is not so.

Senator PAYNE - I was under the impression that provision was made for the Public Service to be represented on the Board.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - We threw that out.

Senator PAYNE - It was a suggestion.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - They will be asking for it now.

Senator PAYNE - Exactly, and I have no objection to giving the Public Service representation on the proposed Board, because Public Service matters only will be dealt with, and on a Board of three I think the Service is entitled to representation.

Senator Duncan - Such a representative could not be regarded as independent.

Senator Russell - The regulation of wages and conditions in the Service is only a part of their functions.

Senator PAYNE - Exactly.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Especially if you are going to have this wonderful Efficiency Board.

Senator Russell - We are going to give the system a trial.

Senator PAYNE - I do not know what honorable senators' ideas are in connexion with this matter, but I believe it is possible, in regard to either Commonwealth or State Departments, for a Board to be appointed which will insist, especially in the more important Departments, on business methods being adopted. That is undoubtedly the position, and the principle could be adopted with great advantage in many Departments.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Economies Commission advocates that.

Senator PAYNE - Does not Senator Thomas recognise the possibility of constituting a Board of three members, one of whom might represent the Commonwealth Public Service, whilst another might be a competent business organizer, and the third, a gentleman, who, by virtue of his great experience in handling large bodies of men, was a very efficient administrator? Might not such a Board effect a great improvement in the efficiency of our Public Service?

Senator Russell - That is the general conception of the proposed Board.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - How much would the honorable senator pay these marvellous men? ,

Senator PAYNE - That is a matter which we can better discuss in Committee. The time is ripe for some change to be effected. I had not an opportunity of hearing many honorable senators speak upon the proposals which are embodied in the Bill. I claim, however, that every honorable senator ought, as far as possible, to express his candid opinion as to how the desired change should be effected. The Government have evidently given a great deal of consideration to this matter, and I am prepared to extend a trial to the proposed Board of Commissioners, unless it can be clearly shown that a single Commissioner' of exceptionally high qualifications can be found for the post - a man who would be able to shoulder all the responsibilities that 'will be imposed upon the Board.

Senator Senior - -No one man would be able to do that.

Senator PAYNE - I quite agree with the honorable senator. Senator Thomas has complained that, under the proposed Board, considerable delay will be experienced in securing necessary adjustments, because its three members will have to consider any alteration which it may be deemed desirable to adopt in the procedure of a Department. But there is a very old adage, and one which we have forcibly brought under our notice every time that we pass through the main entrance to our parliamentary buildings, namely, "In the multitude of counsellors there is safety." I am of opinion that there would be a. greater measure of safety in a Board composed of three members, than there would be in a single Commissioner.

Senator Benny - But not a greater measure of efficiency.

Senator PAYNE - Surely the combined efficiency of three men will outweigh that of one man.

The powers which it is proposed to confer upon the proposed Board appear to be . all that are necessary. If the Board can effect any of the reforms which appear to be contemplated under the Bill, it will prove of great advantage to Australia. Our Public Service is very ripe for the introduction of business principles. Especially is this the case in regard to some of our Departments. I cannot avoid the conclusion, after a fairly long public experience, that, under the existing system, there is a good deal of unnecessary duplication of work. Only a little while ago I had brought under my notice, in correspondence, one or two instances which clearly disclosed that there was an entire lack of business methods in one of these Departments. I was previously under the impression that it would .be impossible to receive a communication from a Federal Department stating that it had nothing upon record in regard to a matter which I had brought under its notice, when, not only was there something upon record in the way of preliminary correspondence, but also in regard to the acceptance of a tender. That communication revealed to me either that there was an undue absence of business methods in the Department or that there was carelessness on the part of some of the office staff. One might cite innumerable instances of that character.

Senator Russell - The honorable senator should send that case on to the particular Department concerned

Senator PAYNE - I took good care to do so, and the remedy was applied very speedily;

Another cause of dissatisfaction in our Public Service, especially amongst those who have been members of it for a long period is that, notwithstanding that the Commonwealth has now been in existence for twenty years nothing has been done in the direction of providing a superannuation scheme. I do not know whether every State in the Commonwealth has a superannuation scheme, but I know that several of them have.

Senator Vardon - South Australia has.

Senator PAYNE - Tasmania has, and I think the same remark is applicable to Victoria. In view of the huge body of men and women who are employed in our Public Service, the Government are to blame for not having laid the foundation of a proper superannuation scheme years, ago.

Senator NEWLANDS (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - It should follow a compulsory retirement scheme.

Senator PAYNE - Any man in our Public Service will have more heart to do his work if he knows that from the whole of the Commonwealth public servants a fund is being, built up which will make some provision for him when he has reached the age of retirement. Particularly is this so in the case of married men with growing families. It is time that the Government took this matter in hand. This is one of the real causes of dissatisfaction in our Public Service today. Seme of the alleged causes which have been, brought under my notice have proved upon investigation to be absolutely groundless. To my mind, the principal cause of dissatisfaction is the absence of reclassification for many years.

Another matter to which reference has been made by a previous speaker is that under the Bill the control of' officers of Parliament will be transferred to the proposed Board. I quite agree with the observations which have been made under this heading by honorable senators. I do not think it is desirable that our parliamentary staff should come under the Public Service administration. I wish to see the Presiding Officers, who are appointed by the members of the two branches of the Legislature, possess entire control over the officers of their respective Houses.

Senator de Largie - At present they are controlled" by one man and not by Parliament.

Senator PAYNE - A Presiding Officer is appointed here and in another place, and to each is given control of the House over which he presides. I do not wish to see that control transferred to the proposed Public Service Board. . The business of Parliament should be conducted by Parliament itself, and the Presiding Officer of each House should be responsible for seeing that the officers under- him are adequately remunerated.'

Senator de Largie - I believe in Parliament seeing to that.

Senator PAYNE - The honorable senator does not believe in transferring the control of our parliamentary officers to the proposed Board ?

Senator de Largie - -No; but I wish to see Parliament control its own officers.

Senator PAYNE - I am not discussing that phase of the question. The VicePresident of the Executive Council (Sena- tor. Russell) has stated that the staff employed in this Parliament will come within the scope of this Bill. I am not in favour of that course being adopted, and I hope that the matter will be fully debated in Committee. But before we reach that stage I trust that honorable senators will be placed in possession of more information regarding the measure, in order that its various provisions may be dealt with upon their merits.

Question resolved in the affirmative. -

Bill read a second time.

In Committee:

Clause 1 agreed to.

Progress reported.

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