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Friday, 24 June 1904

Mr WATSON - I have no objection to giving time for the discussion of the scheme, but I do not think that the law by which the Government is bound, which was presumably enacted by Parliament with its eyes open, contemplates the submission of the matter to Parliament, unless the Ministry of the day think that there is some question of policy involved, quite apart from the salary which each individual officer is to receive, a matter which, in my view, is o'f no' concern to Ministers. Section 8 of the Public Service Act, as I read it, very distinctly and clearly protects the Commissioner from outside influence in connexion with this work. It provides that the Commissioner shall receive from his inspectors,when they have inspected each Department,. examined its officers, and inquired into its working, a report for his consideration, and that-

After considering any such report, the Commissioner may propose to the Governor-General any particular disposition of officers and offices, and the division or class subdivision- of class or grade of every officer and re-arrangement or improved method of carrying out any work which appears to the Commissioner necessary or expedient for the more economic, efficient, or convenient working of any Department, and such proposal shall be considered and dealt with by the Governor-General.

If the Governor-General does not approve of

Any proposal, it shall be the duty of the Commissioner to reconsider such proposal, and within a time to be specified by the Governor-General to submit another proposal. Such fresh proposal shall be considered and dealt with by the Governor-General.

Where the Governor-General does not approve of any proposal, a statement of the reasons for not approving and for requiring a fresh proposal shall be laid before the Parliament.

The last paragraph which I have read imposes upon a Ministry which dissents from the proposals of the Commissioner on a question of policy, the duty of stating to Parliament its reasons for not approving, and for requiring, a fresh proposal.

Mr Wilks - This is the only way to keep the Public Service Commissioner free from political influence.

Mr DEAKIN - In this case it is a question of policy, because principles . are being laid down for the first time. It is not section 8, but section 9 which governs the matter. Section 9 says that " The Com-, missioner shall recommend." Section 8 deals with general recommendations. In terms the two sections are much the same, but section 9, which applies now, is mandatory.

Mr WATSON - Though the contention of the honorable and learned member may be correct, the proviso is added to subsection 1 of section 9 that -

Where the Governor-General does not approve of any such recommendation a statement of the reasons for not approving and for requiring a fresh recommendation shall be laid before the Parliament.

My view is that the only inference to be drawn from that safeguarding of the Commissioner, and the obligation upon the Ministry to give their reasons in detail to Parliament is that the ' Commissioner, except with regard to the general policy involved, is free from the suggestion of the Ministry.

Mr Deakin - I quite agree with that; but this is the first recommendation.

Mr WATSON - In either case, sections 8 and 9 of the Public Service Act contain similar provisions. On the matter of policy the Ministry have agreed with the Commissioner. The classification scheme, when accepted, will mean an actual disbursement of an additional ,£i 1,000, but it is expected that in each of the four succeeding years there will be a reduction until the scheme will give us the same number of officers as are now in the service at a smaller expenditure than is now being incurred. In any case the Government have taken the responsibility of approving the general policy of the scheme put forward by the Commissioner. As to the details, every officer affected will have an opportunity to appeal, as provided for in the Act, to a special board, and afterwards the Commissioner will have to decide the matter in view of the recommendation of the board.

Mr G B EDWARDS (SOUTH SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Those rights are not waived at all.

Mr WATSON - No, not at all. . The Government have not interfered with them. I may say, further, that of course in this as in everything else the Appropriation Act must be passed before the money can be made available. The simple matter of policy put before the Government amounted to this : Did we think that the country was justified, in order to arrive at some scientific method of arrangement with regard to the service-

Mr Deakin - That is the whole point - what is the scientific method ?

Mr WATSON - Apart from the matter of the money involved, I do not pretend to be able to say whether or hot the present arrangement is a scientific one, and I do not think ' that Parliament ever expected that the Ministry would pronounce its opinion on that matter.

Mr Deakin - But Parliament expects to have an opportunity to pronounce an opinion.

Mr WATSON - Parliament may still pronounce its opinion.

Mr Wilks - But the Government are expected to take the responsibility of approving of the policy.

Mr WATSON - Yes, and we have already done that. As regards the other matter, Parliament has laid down a certain procedure, under which the House has divested itself of the general supervision which it might otherwise exercise, and has handed it over to a non-political Commissioner.

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