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Thursday, 9 November 1905

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) (Honorary Minister) . - As Senator Pearce pointed out in his opening remarks, he does not wish any action to be taken which would cause the public servants of the Commonwealth to neglect their duties - he does not wish them to be placed in such a position that they could not give proper attention to the discharge of those duties.

Senator Dobson - That is simply impossible !

Senator KEATING - The motion provides that the public servants of the Commonwealth shall be allowed to hold these municipal positions, so long as their doing so does not interfere with the proper performance of their duties.

Senator Lt Col Gould - Who is. the judge of that?

Senator KEATING - Exactly. Both the motion and the proviso are in verv general terms, and they practically affirm the right of every public servant to occupy positions of the character indicated. Section 79 of the Public Service Act provides -

Except with the express, permission cif the Governor-General, which permission may at any time, by Order in Council, be withdrawn, no officer shall -

(a)   accept or continue to hold an office in or under the Government of any State, or in or under any public or municipal corporation.

It must be obvious to every honorable senator that there are a large number of cases in which it is quite possible for a public servant of the Commonwealth to hold a public position in such ai way that the duties of that position and his duties as a public servant shall not come in conflict. In all such cases, the practice of this and previous Governments goes to show that an officer has very little difficulty in getting the consent of the Governor-General to allow nomination.

Senator Pearce - The Minister's previous answer is in direct contradiction to the statement he makes now.

Senator KEATING - I say that a public servant may occupy a public office with the permission of the Governor-General. Section 79 of the Public Service Act also provides that a public servant shall- not, without the express permission of the Governor-General, " engage or continue in the private practice of any profession or accept or engage in any employment other than in connexion with the duties of his office or officers under the Commonwealth." Scarcely a week goes by in which express leave is not given by the Governor-General to a number of public servants to accept positions of the kind indicated, and to take fees and emoluments in connexion therewith, particularly as secretaries of lodges and similar organizations. When leave is asked the individual case at once comes under notice, and opportunity is afforded to ascertain whether the duties are likely to conflict. But to lay it down as a general principle that public servants may occupy public positions of the kind contemplated by the motion is, I think, very dangerous. A public servant might be a member of a municipal council which was in conflict in interest, or in a matter of opinion, with the Commonwealth, and that officer, as a councillor, might have to take a certain stand which would be absolutely adverse to his duties as a public servant. Then, again, a public servant, as a member of a roads board, or other municipal" body, in the country, might find it incumbent upon him to take a stand which would give a good deal of offence to a large section of the public, and, under such circumstances, both the Commonwealth officer and the public would be severely handicapped. I could enlarge on the subject, but I do not think it is necessary, because honorable senators will see the danger of affirming such a principle in the general terms of the motion.

Senator Dobson - Do not municipal bodies often meet during Public Service office hours?

Senator Pearce - In such case a public servant could' not be a member of a municipal body, because that would lead to the neglect of his duties.

Senator KEATING - There are a number of ways in which conflict may arise.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - What is the value of the motion in the face of section 79 of the Public Service Act?

Senator KEATING - I think that in that Act adequate provision is made to meet all cases of the kind. Section 79 deals with five different classes of cases in respect of which! it is competent for a public servant to obtain .the express permission of the Governor-General to take part in business other than that of his public office. Under the circumstances, I think that Senator Pearce, after he has heard expressions of opinion from honorable senators, might rest satisfied to leave the discussion to attain the object he has in view.

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