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Thursday, 9 November 1905

Senator HIGGS (Queensland) - I really believe that if we had it in our power, as members of Parliament, we would say that none but ourselves should take any part in public affairs. We showed that tendency when we decided that no member of a State Parliament should be permitted to become a candidate for the Federal Parliament until he had resigned the former position.

Senator Walker - The States took the initiative in that matter.

Senator HIGGS - We all know what the tendency is.

Senator Pulsford - The tendency is to leave everything to regulations.

Senator HIGGS - That does not come within the subject-matter of the motion. The tendency is to make public servants a sort of serf class.

Senator Dobson - Come, come !

Senator HIGGS - I am afraid that is the tendency.

Senator Millen - Are Judges of the serf class?

Senator HIGGS - Judges are in an entirely different position. We cannot dismiss a Judge without a procedure with which the honorable senator is well acquainted, but we know what may be done in the case of public servants by Ministers in charge of a Department. Senator Keating has stated that a public servant may obtain permission from the GovernorGeneral to hold certain public offices, but on the 1 st November Senator Pearce asked the Honorary Minister the following question : -

Do the regulations of the Public Service prohibit members of the Commonwealth Public Service from becoming candidates or accepting positions on municipal councils or roads boards in any of the States?

To that, Senator Keating replied -

Section 79A of the Public Service Act provides that members of the Commonwealth Public Service cannot accept or continue tohold office in any public or municipal corporation without the express permission of the GovernorGeneral.

A second clause of Senator Pearce's question was -

If not, are any instructions issued by the heads of Departments forbidding public servants from accepting such positions.

The Minister's reply was -

Instructions have been given that it is not considered desirable that public officers should hold positions of this kind.

What public officer would venture to bring himself into conflict with the Government in face of that instruction, by asking leave to hold a public office? Any one who has conversed with public servants knows very well that, for some reason or other, they donot care to bring themselves in any way into conflict with Ministers. I have not heard one argument advanced by Senator Keating against the motion. The Minister cited certain cases in which public servants might find their duties, as members of public bodies, in conflict with their duties as public servants ; but the motion makes provision for such cases. A public servant who is capable of securing the votes of the ratepayers is likely to be sufficiently intelligent to know when the duties will come into conflict; and he would either refrain from taking a public office, or retire from his position in the service, if he found it necessary to take such a stand. There are many duties in connexion with local government, which public servants might very well undertake. The fault I see in the position of many of the public servants is the dreadful monotony of their duties, which become largely mechanical, while they are prohibited, by all kinds of regulations, from taking part in public life. Amongst the public servants there are doubtless many who could do good work in the regulation of sanitation, public parks, and other departments of local government ; and I do not think they ought to be prohibited from so making themselves useful. Public servants will, doubtless, be careful to do nothing likely to bring themselves into conflict with their superior officers, or with Ministers.

Senator Dobson - What about the exception that proves the rule?

Senator HIGGS - If there are exceptions, the Minister or the head qf the Department may easily draw the attention of the officers to the position.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - Who is to be the judge?

Senator HIGGS - The officer, on the one hand ; and if the duties do conflict. I think the Minister at the head of the Department would promptly interfere.

Senator Millen - And when he did so, a motion would be tabled here.

Senator HIGGS - I do not think that would be so.

Senator Millen - It is a fact.

Senator HIGGS - Is it a fact? Outside the Parliament of New South Wales, I do not think motions of the kind have been submitted; at any rate, none have been submitted in this Parliament, which trusts to the Ministers and the heads of Departments.

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