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Friday, 26 June 1903

Mr KING O'MALLEY (TASMANIA, TASMANIA) - Why should they not do so, if they feel like it ?

Sir EDMUND BARTON - I have been trying to show why they ought not to do so, but perhaps the honorable member may afterwards be able to show cause why civil servants should be allowed that liberty. In dealing with a matter of the kind, one cannot forget that, although instances of the breach of regulations of which this regulation forms a connected and inseparable part, are not frequent, one breach may be of the most serious character. It is a well-known rule, for instance, that diplomatic correspondence and representations are kept under the seal of confidence until a matter in negotiation is concluded, or until consent to publish is given by one of the parties to the other. Yet I have known a case in the Commonwealth Public Service - whether there have been similar occurrences in other public services I do not know - where negotiation's of the most delicate character, and contained in private papers which had been forwarded to this Government, were published in the press without consultation with, or the knowledge of, the Government, thus giving even a clerk, unless he be detected, a power which does not belong to a Minister. I may be told that such a case comes under another regulation ; but I venture to say that the regulations are a connected whole, and that if we once loosen the obligation placed on civil servants - a relaxation which even in isolated cases may lead to great public disaster - it does not matter which portion of the chain we weaken, because the whole is rendered liable to breakage. In these remarks, I am speaking without any trace of feeling, but with every sympathy for the public service, which, I believe, is too often traduced. The public service is, in my opinion, very often insufficiently regarded in our political decisions, and, further, I believe that the service ought not to be subject to the many fluctuations in its regulations and its pay, which are experienced at the hands of some Parliaments. Therefore; with every sympathy with the public .servants, I desire to impose no restrictions whatever except those which are necessary in the public interest ; and, with one qualification, I believe this regulation to be fully necessary in the public interest. . I understand that elsewhere it has been recommended that this regulation shall bealtered by inserting the word " publicly "' before the expression "promote politicalmovements." What I am arguing against is any licence, which may be created by the abolition of this portion of the regulation, to deal publicly with political affairs. I was 'under the impression that the word " publicly," as used in the first part of theregulation, covered also the words "promote political movements," and that the insertion of the word before the latter was not necessary. But as many people seem to think the word "publicly" is necessary in both places, and as a recommendation to that effect has been made from another quarter, I shall see if I cannot bring about its insertion, so as to make the regulation in this respect less stringent. The regulation would then read -

Officers are expressly forbidden to publicly discuss, or in any way publicly promote, political, movements.

I think a relaxation to that extent is sufficient. I cannot bring myself to agree with, the proposition or the train of reasoning of the honorable member for South Australia, Mr. Batchelor, because I think that the destruction of this part of the public service regulations would not be in the public interest. While I do not wish to discussmatters which go beyond our sphere, I can quite understand that many may say that any proposal to take away an equal right to the franchise and an equal right to representation from the public servants of a country, whether they be employed on the railways or in any other Department, is one which is quite foreign to our notions of public liberty. While I do not wish to unduly discuss these matters, I should feel the very deepest reluctance myself in taking part in imposing any such restriction. But no such restriction is proposed here ; moreover, I doubt whether under our Constitution such a restriction of public liberty in the Commonwealth would be lawful. That question I am not going to discuss, and I have only mentioned it in order that I may not be confounded in any way with those who would go to the extent of interfering with the liberties of public servants - with their exercise of the franchise, or with their movements - except in so far as is necessary to secure loyalty and efficiency in the service. To that extent I go, and no further, and, going to that extent, I am inclined to oppose the motion.

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