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Thursday, 7 May 1987
Page: 2795

Mr CONQUEST(1.29) —In this grievance debate today I wish to highlight the actions of the Public Service Board office for the Queensland region insofar as it has impacted on two of my constituents, a Mrs Margaret Allison Brown and Mr Barry Moulden, both of Bundaberg, who applied for positions as clerical assistants, grade 1. Both undertook the clerical assistants applicants testing in Brisbane on 21 March 1987 believing that they would be included in the Bundaberg order of merit listing for appointment. I say `believing' because, prior to undertaking the test, my constituents inquired on procedure and on two separate occasions phoned the Public Service Board in Brisbane to ensure that the awarding of order of merit for applications would enable them to be listed for a Bundaberg position. On each occasion that was confirmed.

Mrs Brown and Mr Moulden have since been advised that this will not be the case and that they will be required to be tested locally in Bundaberg during November 1987 or wait until then and have their respective current order of merit points gained in the Brisbane test transferred to Bundaberg. I had a staff member direct inquiries to the office and unfortunately the problem was summarily dismissed as one of policy and so the best response he could obtain was:

You'll have to write here to Head Office about it.

It was also suggested that the information my staff member was conveying, in terms of the Public Service Board advice to my constituents, was `very hard to believe'-a rather strange comment in view of the fact that the woman concerned was the officer who had given the advice to my constituents. In pursuing the matter further I wrote to the Regional Director of Queensland. He advised me that it was only possible to transfer scores in certain circumstances, for example, for people who moved from one location to another. I was also told that the Public Service Act imposes a responsibility to manage recruitment processes in a fair and equitable way. However, the Regional Director then said:

I can understand, in the face of the very tough competition for jobs, why your constituents would wish to have their results transferred: It may give them a competitive advantage of a non-merit kind over other people in Bundaberg who either did not see the advertisement in the Brisbane Courier-Mail, could not afford the travel to Brisbane or who had inquired and been told by my staff that we would be conducting a campaign in their town later in the year. It would clearly be inequitable for people to travel to sit the test in other centres in order to have their names incorporated in their hometown order of merit months before others from that location.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I found it incredible for the regional director to say that their motive was to gain an advantage of a non-merit kind over others. I disagreed with that conclusion and told him so in my return letter. The reason for my constituents sitting for the test in Brisbane was that they had acted in good faith on bad advice, advice which I remind honourable members was given on two separate occasions. If the Act imposes a responsibility to manage recruitment processes fairly and equitably, I fail to see that fairness and equity was meted out to Mrs Brown and Mr Moulden. In my response I raised the matter of the Regional Director's discretionary powers, because of the incorrect advice given by one of his officers, with respect to transferring the scores. Unfortunately, I was later informed that transfer is made in exceptional circumstances only, usually where people shift locations and that, because my constituents did not fall into that category, the Regional Director would not agree to it. Regrets and apologies for incorrect advice and people being put to considerable trouble were expressed, but such responses overlook the reason for seeking the advice and the consequences resulting from the fact that it was inaccurate. Neither of my constituents would have incurred the expense, or gone to the trouble, of sitting for the tests in Brisbane if they had been given the correct advice. There would have been no point to it, given their domestic circumstances and location preferences.

Some interesting points are worth raising here: First, is there discretionary power for the Regional Director to transfer the scores? Secondly, given the expenses that have been incurred as a result of incorrect advice, what recourse to reimbursement from those expenses exists for Mrs Brown and Mr Moulden? Thirdly, when does the Board bear the consequences of decisions made by its officers, presumably operating within their sphere of delegated powers? Fourthly, what action is taken to prevent officers from giving advice which is beyond their sphere of delegated powers and, fifthly, is there any requirement for the Board to honour or stand by the advice given by its officers to the public, and acted on in good faith? I appreciate that it would be impractical and virtually impossible to stand by every decision made, or piece of advice given, by junior officers of the Public Service. However, in the matter that I raise now the officer was not a junior and the desired outcome not one which would present any problems to the Public Service Board, given that there are existing discretionary powers available to the Regional Director. With adequate supervision and training, I am sure the likelihood of there being a repetition of this incorrect advice will be minimised. Consequently, the need to set what could be deemed a precedent really does not enter into this debate. What is at stake, of course, is the rectification of a mistake made by an officer of the Public Service Board and not, as was stated by the regional director, the granting of an advantage of a non-merit kind. The fact that he advised me that, because the vacancy-to-applicant rate in Bundaberg is somewhat less than it is in Brisbane applicants in Bundaberg need a higher test result if they are to be competitive for appointment, indicates that there was no advantage of a merit kind. So really there is only one issue: How can the Board rectify its mistake? I would suggest that my constituents be soon transferred to the Bundaberg order of merit.

Another matter about which I wish to raise a grievance is in an area which ought to be of concern to the Minister Assisting the Treasurer on Prices (Mr Barry Jones). Not having a facsimile machine in my electorate office, I regularly utilise the electronic mail facility offered by Australia Post to have my office staff fax a newspaper clipping or other information down to me in Parliament House. The name of the particular facility seems to change depending on which postal official I talk to, but Intelpost seems to be the one most commonly used. The price for this service to a facsimile machine in Parliament House was $3 for a one-page copy. This was highly suitable because newspaper items generally could be sent on a single photocopy page. Should there be need to send more the fee was an additional $3 a page. Because of the urgent need for some information to be transmitted it was not unusual to use the facility more than once on some days and, of course, the charge each time was $3 for a single page. This week I have been advised that the cost for a single page fax transmission is now $6. That represents a 100 per cent increase in the charge. The explanation given by Australia Post officials is that the cost is $6 for two pages so it is really still only $3 a page. That may be true provided one needs to send two pages at a time, but from my experience that happens rather infrequently.

The thinking behind this move seems somewhat akin to that displayed by whoever put the Yellow Pages in the new telephone directories upside down! To get back to Australia Post, what right has it to base its minimum charge for the use of this facility on a number of pages that is greater than one? Is it conceivable that in the future the minimum charge for domestic mail will become 72c for two standard size articles yet still 72c if one wishes to send only a single letter? I appreciate, Mr Deputy Speaker, as you no doubt do also by the smile on your face, that such a comparison is impractical. But it does illustrate the stupidity of the new charging rate that is being used by Australia Post. As it constitutes a 100 per cent price increase for me and others who send a single-page copy, I raise the matter in this Grievance Debate so that the Minister charged with looking after this aspect of the prices and incomes accord will be able to do something about it and perhaps at some time soon advise this House as to the outcome of his inquiries-with, I trust, the same serious attention to detail as he would give to something like the supernova! I have raised some questions in this Grievance Debate which I hope the responsible Ministers will reply to. Like the honourable member for Dunkley (Mr Chynoweth), I say that this Grievance Debate does give us the opportunity and privilege of raising matters in this House on behalf of our constituents so that some action can be taken upon them.