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Thursday, 3 November 1921

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) . - I am afraid the Minister (Senator Russell) has misunderstood me, because I am totally opposed to what have been termed " water-tight compartments." When a man joins the Service he should have- the opportunity of being promoted or transferred to any other branch in which he can perform efficient service. Under the existing Act that is possible.

Senator Russell - Sometimes officers are penalized because their services are valuable, and the heads of Departments do not wish to lose them.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - That will happen under this provision.

Senator Russell - If an officer in a Department is refused permission to apply for a position he is capable of filling he can appeal.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Under the present Act the appeal would be made to the Public Service Commissioner.

Senator Russell - The appointment would be made by the Public . Service Commissioner.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Decidedly. When the head of a Department has an able officer under his control he does not wish to lose him. Under the present system an ' officer in a Department could submit an application to the Public Service Commissioner, and if he thought that he was qualified a transfer would be made, irrespective of the wish of the permanenthead.

Senator Russell - I believe good work has been done in that direction, but I do not think the Public Service Commissioner should be called upon to hear appeals against his own decision.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If a public servant, in an outlying centre, unsuccessfully appeals against the decision of the permanent head his promotion may he interfered with. This measure will make the Departments more water-tight than ever.

Senator Russell - I do not think so.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - If I thought the proposal was an improvement I would support it, but I do not think it is.

Senator Vardon - What does the honorable senator suggest?

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I had framed an amendment somewhat on these lines -

Whenever a vacancy occurs in any office, and it is expedient to fill such vacancy by the promotion of any officer, the GovernorGeneral may, on the recommendation - of the Commissioner-

Senator Vardon - On the recommendation of the Board.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. My amendment was framed before the appointment of the Board was suggested. Do the permanent heads favour the new proposal? I presume they do, because they wish to retain their officers.

Senator Russell - I have received vigorous protests from some permanent heads against the provision. '

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am rather surprised to hear that, because heads of Departments always prefer to deal with promotions and appointments. They say they should be responsible for the selection of the officers who have to carry out the work in their Departments. Some time ago a Bill was introduced to give the Auditor-General the right that is being sought in this measure, and Senator Keating and others opposed it. Is not Mr. Ewing fighting for this?

Senator Russell - He has not been fighting for it, but officers were objecting to him being given the power. He did not ask for it; but we decided to give it to him, because of the importance of his work.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - When the measure to which I have referred was under discussion public servants said that if it were passed there would be little likelihood of officers being transferred from any other Department to that under the control of the Auditor-General. If this provision is adopted heads of Departments will naturally wish to retain the services of the efficient men under their control, and there will be little likelihood of them being promoted to other Departments where progress may be more rapid. The Minister said that the Public Service Commissioner did not know anything of the capabilities of officers in outlying centres, but the Commissioner, through his inspectors, has an opportunity of becoming acquainted with their work.

Senator Russell - I did not say that. I said it was impossible for the members of the Board to know every public servant.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - It would be impossible, for the Board to know, unless there are inspectors.

Senator Russell - The inspectors and the assistants of the Board would have the fullest powers.

Senator THOMAS (NEW SOUTH WALES) - Under the present system, the Public Service Commissioner has a better knowledge of the whole of the members of the Public Service than any permanent head of a Department can possibly have ; but under the proposed system the work of transferring officials from one Department to another would be left to a very great extent to the heads of Departments. The Minister has said that it would be impossible for the Board to make itself acquainted with all the ramifications of the Service. Of course it would, unless there were inspectors, as under the present system. Dealing with the question of the promotion of officers in the Australian Imperial Force during the -war, Senator DrakeBrockman recently stated in this Chamber -

It was therefore found that, on account of the rapid decrease of officers, there -would be left very often only a junior and inexperienced officer in a battalion. It was deemed necessary, therefore, to bring in officers from other units, who were experienced, and in other respects also qualified, to take command of the battalions in question. So the principle became established - and I think rightly so - that the whole of the officers of the Australian Imperial Force should be regarded as being upon one regimental list.

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