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Thursday, 19 May 1960

Mr E JAMES HARRISON (Blaxland) . - I should like to have some information about clause 17, which includes proposed amendments to section 43 of the principal act. The clause relates to the appointment of officers, and it incorporates some important amendments concerning employment of persons by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The PostmasterGeneral (Mr. Davidson), who is a returned soldier, might well give attention to a problem which arises consistently concerning the employment of ex-servicemen. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I refer him to proposed new sub-section (4.) of section 43 under which certain provisions relating to naturalized British subjects will be deleted from the principal act. The bill provides that a non-British subject may be employed by the commission without being naturalized.

I am not so deeply concerned with that, but proposed new sub-section (4.) b) relating to educational qualifications states that a person shall not be appointed to the service of the commission unless -

He possesses such educational qualifications, and such other qualifications (if any), as are determined by the Commission with the approval of the Public Service Board.

In the past, under the principal act, the Australian Broadcasting Commission itself was the determining body. I direct attention now to proposed new sub-section (6.) because I want to see something done about the employment of ex-servicemen. I have already referred to the requirement which is contained in proposed new sub-section (5.) of section 43 of the principal act in relation to the employment of naturalized British subjects. Proposed new sub-section (6.). repeats the requirement contained in proposed new sub-section (4.) (b). It states - (6.) Subject to this Division, the terms and conditions of employment of officers and temporary employees appointed in pursuance of this section are such as are determined by the Commission with the approval of the Public Service Board.

If the Public Service Board is to be given the right to lay down its requirements in relation to qualifications and the terms and conditions of employment, the Minister should have close regard for what happens to ex-servicemen who are employed in some sectors of the Public Service. At present, section 84 (8.) of the Public Service Act relating to returned soldiers is being completely disregarded. It states -

Notwithstanding anything contained in this Act, a returned soldier may be appointed to the Commonwealth Service-

I emphasize the following words for the consideration of the Minister: - although not free from physical defects due to service in the war, if it is certified by a medical practitioner . . . that the soldier is free from such physical defects as would incapacitate him for the efficient discharge of the duties of the position to which he is to be appointed.

Cases are repeatedly being brought to my attention of returned servicemen who have sat for the entrance examination, which is a requisite to permanent employment in the Public Service, being told that although they have produced the strongest medical evidence from doctors in Macquarie-street, Sydney, that they are suffering from no physical defect other than a war-caused disability, they cannot be employed in the service. In most of the cases, the returned servicemen have completed long periods of service without the loss of one day through illness. For those men to be denied their right to permanent employment in the Public Service because they suffer from a war-caused disability is completely wrong.

These cases are occurring too frequently and the Postmaster-General - himself a returned soldier - will surely give the closest attention to this section of the act because the Public Service Board apparently is applying its interpretation to all exservicemen. The board is even taking from the Australian Broadcasting Commission the right to employ returned soldiers who, although they may be suffering from a warcaused disability, are competent to carry out the position to which they seek apointment. This is a tremendously important factor, to which the Minister should give his attention. The commission should have the right to employ its own staff. If the commission wishes to employ in a permanent position a returned serviceman who has a physical disability, it should have the right to do so.

I have on my desk at present representations from three ex-servicemen in relation to this matter. Unfortunately, I have not yet had time to deal with the last one that I received. One returned soldier who has written to me has not lost a day's work in four years, but he has been refused permanent employment in the service. If the Public Service Board has the right in the future to lay down the conditions of employment of ex-servicemen in the Australian

Broadcasting Commission, for goodness sake, if a man is denied permanent employment on medical grounds, let the board inform the man of the reasons why he cannot be employed. Every honorable member on the Government side, particularly returned servicemen, must surely realize the justice of my argument. I deliberately mentioned the Public Service Act when dealing with clause 17 to direct public attention to this problem which is confronting the returned servicemen. I am not a returned soldier for reasons which are pretty clearly defined, but when exservicemen, because of their war-caused disabilities, are denied permanent employment in the Public Service after having been engaged in a temporary capacity for three, four, five years and even longer without loss of any time, an obligation should be placed on the Public Service Board to state clearly in writing the reasons why the permanent appointment has been refused.

If the Minister accepts my proposal, he will direct that if in the future the commission denies permanent employment to a returned serviceman who has suffered a war disability-

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN.Order! The honorable member's time has expired.

Mr E JAMES HARRISON - As no other honorable member has risen to seek the call, I shall now take the second period allowed to me. I have been waiting for a long time for an opportunity to ventilate this problem which is confronting an increasing number of ex-servicemen who are endeavouring to obtain permanent employment in the Public Service. If a returned soldier who is suffering from a war-caused disability is able to pass the necessary examinations, other than the medical examination; if he is in a temporary position from which he has not lost any time for any reason; and if the Public Service Board determines that he should not be appointed to a permanent position, I suggest that the Minister - I know the Treasurer (Mr. Harold Holt) also will view my suggestion sympathetically - should insist that the man be informed in writing of the reasons why he has been refused appointment.

At present, the Public Service Board has refused these men permanent appointment on medical grounds, obviously because of their war-caused disabilities, but it is not sufficient merely for the board or its officers to say to the ex-serviceman, " You have been failed for appointment ". He should be told in writing why he has been failed for appointment. He should be told the basis upon which the board has made its decision. If this were done, the returned serviceman would have the opportunity to take the medical report to his own medical advisers in an attempt to refute the reasons which have been given for his nonemployment. The board has failed in its bounden duty to these men. I thank the committee for giving me the opportunity to conclude my remarks. This subject has been causing me a great deal of worry for a lengthy period. In my view the section of the act to which I have referred has been disregarded by the Public Service Board. Whether that is so or not, it is not for me to condemn, because I have not the full facts. However, I ask the Minister to insist that an ex-serviceman who is suffering a disability and is denied appointment to the commission be supplied with the details of the physical disability upon which the Public Service Board bases its decision.

Clauses agreed to.

Progress reported.

Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.

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