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Thursday, 19 May 1960

Mr DAVIDSON (Dawson) (PostmasterGeneral) . - I do not want to rise too often during this debate, but if a number of points are to be brought up, I think it might be desirable that I deal with them more or less as they come up, because, by so doing, we might avoid repetition of discussion.

It has been suggested that there is some dissatisfaction within the Australian Broadcasting Commission with the provisions proposed in clause 22, which seeks to repeal section 56 of the principal act and to insert a new section in its stead. I think most honorable members will agree that clause 22 is an improvement on the present provision. We are dealing now with misconduct and how that misconduct may be dealt with by the commission. After all, any organization must be in a position to deal with acts of misconduct by its employees. That principle is not new. Even the unions make provision for that. Clause 22 sets out to define exactly what constitutes misconduct. It contains a list of acts which can be considered as constituting misconduct. I do not propose to read them, but the clause says that an officer who does so and so - is, for the purposes of this section, guilty of misconduct.

That is fair enough. Who is going to deny that it is better to specify in an act what constitutes misconduct than to leave it to the determination of the heads of the particular departments concerned?

At this point I wish to reply to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell). I have said that We want to improve conditions. The Leader of the Opposition has stated that it is desirable to improve conditions in the commission. The Leader of the Opposition said something about favouritism, and I do not agree with his remarks there. I point out that, having specified what constitutes misconduct, the clause goes on to provide -

Where a person is guilty of misconduct, the Commission may -

(a)   caution or reprimand the officer;

(b)   fine the officer a sum not exceeding twenty pounds;

(c)   if the officer occupies a position to which a range of salary is applicable and he is in receipt of a salary other than the minimum salary of that range - reduce his salary to a lower salary within that range;

(d)   reduce the officer to a lower position and salary; or

(e)   dismiss the officer from the service of the Commission.

How does that proposal compare with the present position? The act now provides that the commission may dismiss an officer, or reduce his status or rate of pay for incapacity or misconduct. How can honorable members opposite possibly complain about our proposal, which seeks to give the employee much greater protection against summary dismissal by a senior officer? I repeat that as the act stands now, the commission may dismiss an officer or reduce his status or rate of pay for incapacity or misconduct. The proposal that we submit sets out what constitutes misconduct and then provides for a much lower penalty in the lower grades of misconduct than is provided in the act now. In those circumstances, I fail to see that there is any justification whatsoever for the objections raised by the honorable members opposite to this clause.

Mr Bird - There was an objection from a member on your own side of the committee.

Mr DAVIDSON - I do not think there has been any objection to this from this side of the committee, although I think I have been asked why there should not be a right of appeal to a court. I am afraid I cannot accept. It must be appreciated that we have a board to which appeals can be made against any fine or impost. That appeal board is comprised of an independent chairman, a representative of the commission and a representative of the employees. The setting up of such a board is standard practice throughout the whole range of Government institutions. In a case such as this, to allow a right of appeal to a court would be to do something completely foreign to what we normally do, and that would not be desirable. I repeat that there is an appeal board on which there is an independent chairman, a representative of the commission and a representative of the employees. I think that such a tribunal has been generally accepted as being desirable and satisfactory from all points of view.

Mr Calwell - Would you consider providing for an appeal to a body similar to the Public Service Appeals Board?

Mr DAVIDSON - Would it not be better to retain the position under which the commission has its own appeal board? I submit that it is better for the employees to havean appeal board within the orga nization itself than to approach a tribunal such as the Public Service Appeals Board, which has a much wider scope.

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