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Tuesday, 3 December 1935

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES (South Australia) . - Some time ago in the Senate I made some remarks with regard to the number of employees in different branches of the Public Service, expressing the opinion that whilst some departments were over-staffed others were under-staffed. In my opinion the External Affairs Department is an illustration of a department which is understaffed. At present it is a branch of the Prime Minister's Department, although it is under the control of the Minister for External Affairs. Why this branch is not considered of sufficient importance . to constitute a separate department I cannot understand. Provision is made this year for twelve employees in this branch ; that number, so far as I can make out, being the total number of employees, as compared with a staff of nine last year. These twelve consist of a secretary, who is the secretary of the Prime Minister's Department - and who one would imagine would have sufficient work in that position to keep him occupied without also being head of . the External Affairs branch - an assistant secretary, a private secretary, one external affairs officer, who is normally stationed in London, five clerks, three typists and a messenger. This is the whole of the staff which Senator Sir George Pearce has to assist him in carrying out his work as Minister for External Affairs. In times like the present, and particularly during the last year or two, a staff of these dimensions is ridiculously small ; it is totally inadequate to cope with the work of this branch. Presumably the duties of the messenger and the typists, and possibly of some of the clerks, could be carried out by officers transferred from other branches of the Public Service.

Senator Gibson - The work of this staff would be of a confidential nature.

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - That could also be said in respect of the work of most government departments. Disregarding the secretary of the Prime Minister's Department for the moment, the whole of the work of this branch falls upon an assistant secretary, a private secretary and an external affairs officer who is stationed in London. The duties of the last-named officer must be tremendous, as lately he has had to spend a considerable portion of his time at Geneva. It is high time we realized that we have to negotiate and keep in touch with the rest of the world and that an unduly heavy burden is placed upon the few officers who are now entrusted with this work. Of course, the willing worker always has additional work placed upon him. This is always unfair, and, in this instance, I emphasize, unwise. I venture to say that, at times like the present, Major Keith Officer, in London, should have at least one or two juniors under him, who could be gradually instructed in the special work of this department, and qualify, if necessary, to discharge his duties when he i3 absent on duty abroad, on leave, or on account of ill health. It, is only proper and wise that we should train young men to qualify for such jobs in the future.' I invite the attention of the Senate to the discrepancies between the total number of the staff of this branch and the totals of the staffs of other branches of the Service. I have extracted figures for the purpose of making such comparisons. This year the High Commissioner's office has only 78 employees, compared with 79 last year. I would imagine that the High Commissioner's work during the last year must have been prodigious ; he himself must be doing something like the work of ten men during times like the present. I point out that the majority of those under him at Australia House, good as they may be at their particular jobs, are not men to whom he could delegate any of his personal work. The total number of employees in the Audit office is 180 this year, as compared with 178 last year, and the Public Service Board has S9 employees this year, as compared with S6 last year. There are 255 employees in the Invalid Pensions Office. I ask honorable senators to note the discrepancy between this number and the twelve who are employed in the External Affairs Department, and to consider whether such discrepancy is justified in view of the relative importance of the work performed by the staffs of these two branches. Honorable senators "will not be surprised to find a very large number of employees in the Taxation office; these total 961, as against 958 last year. I applaud the Taxation office on the fact that its staff has been increased by only three this year. The total has not yet reached the 1,000 mark, although it is very close to it. The staff of the Postmaster-General's Department is of tremendous proportions. Of course, it might also be said that the staff of the Defence Department is very large. A total staff of 23,919 members is provided for this year in the Postmaster-General's Department, as compared with 22,941 last year, or an increase of nearly 1,000.

Senator ALLAN MACDONALD (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - Many honorable senators are always pressing for new post offices.

Senator Herbert Hays - Does that figure include temporary employees?

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - No. There are approximately 9,000 employees in the Postmaster-General's Department in New South Wales alone.

Senator Gibson - And nearly 1,000 in Tasmania

Senator DUNCAN-HUGHES - Yes. I stress the point that the strengths of the staffs of the various departments should be studied in the light of the relative importance of their respective duties. I put it to the Minister that my suggestion to transfer employees in branches which are over-staffed to branches which are under-staffed, is particularly applicable here. The staff of the External Affairs Department should be strengthened in order to give responsible officers in that branch an opportunity to do their work properly. It is ludicrous to have a staff of only twelve to deal with the work of this department, particularly when half of this staff consists of typists, messengers, and -clerks. Contrast this number with the total of nearly 24,000 persons employed in the Postmaster-General's Department; there is no sense of proportion' here at all. I raise this matter because for a considerable time I have felt that, in our dealings with foreign countries - and this applies particularly to the External Affairs Department and the High Commissioner's office - we do not provide sufficient staff to cope with such work, whilst altogether too many are employed in other departments.

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