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Thursday, 9 November 1905

Senator MILLEN (New South Wales) - The Government are to be congratulated on the stand they have taken in the interests both of the public, and the public servants as a class. Senator Higgs would lay down a general rule that every member of the Public Service shall have the right to accept positions on. municipal bodies, unless prohibited by ' his superior officers, whereas the Government, by their regulations, provide that if a public servant desires to hold such a position he shall first obtain permission. I cannot help thinking that all the advantage is on the side of the course adopted bv the Government. What would happen if the proposal were given effect to would be that every public servant would be at liberty to aspire to, and to attain one of these public positions, and every now and again it would be the duty of the Public Service Commissioner, or of the Minister, to call upon him to resign it. It would at once set up invidious distinctions, because it would be said that while some were allowed to continue to hold suchpositions, others were prohibited from holding them. The proposal would throw upon the heads of Departments a very unpleasant task. No possible injury can be done to the public servants by refusing to accept the proposal, because if any member of the service desires to enter a municipal council, he can obtain permission to do so it the public interests are not likely to be jeopardized.

Senator Pearce - Instructions have been issued to discountenance that.

Senator MILLEN - And very wisely so, in my opinion, but it is not prohibited. I desire to show why it is desirable that it should be discountenanced. If I can judge public movements at all, there is a growing sympathy and connexion between municipal and general politics. It has become, perhaps, more apparent in Great Britain than it is here, but it is growing here.

Senator Stewart - Let us Hope so.

Senator MILLEN - The honorable senator's interjection is an assent to my general proposition. Let us assume that a public servant takes an active part in such a centre as Broken Hill, where municipal politics are 'fought out on the labour ticket. We may suppose that the public servant is postmaster of the town, and also electoral' registrar. He takes an active part in a bitter municipal contest, and is immediately afterwards called upon, under the Electoral Act, to administer a law affecting Federal Politics. It is only human nature to suppose that in such circumstances a large number of people at Broken Hill would assume that this postmaster would be a partisan in the discharge of his duties under the Electoral 0Act. It is impossible to avoid such a conclusion. If there is one thing which makes me appreciate the basis of the Public Service of Australia and of Great Britain, as compared with that of the United States of America, it is the fact that our public servants, partly as the result of their own volition, and parti v because their participation in public affairs has been discountenanced, have stood apart from politics, with' the result that we hear nothing of the system prevailing in America of " the spoils to the victors." The evils of that system arise distinctly from the association of public servants in the United States with electoral matters, and the same evils might be expected to follow the adoption of a similar system here.

Senator Stewart - What spoils?

Senator MILLEN - I leave Senator Stewart to determine that. I admit that I have not seen any. I say that it is impossible to avoid the suspicion that a public servant taking an active part in support of a particular party at an election would not to some extent, Chough perhaps, unconsciously, influence the feeling of the elected candidate towards him. In the interests of the public servants themselves, it is desirable that they should stand altogether outside of* the conflict and turmoil- of politics in which we are necessarily engaged. It is in the interests of the public servants particularly, as well as in the interests of the general community, that I feel called upon to oppose the motion.

Senator STEWART(Queensland).This is a very important subject, and deserves a good deal more consi'deration than it is likely to receive this afternoon.. I hold the opinion that it is high time we applied1 a little common sense to our treatment of the public servants in regard to elections generally. Honorable senators appear to forget one important consideration which, to my mind, stands out prominently before all others, so far as the civil servant is concerned : He is a citizen of the State before he ?s a public servant. He i.°. a citizen of the municipality of the local division, in which he lives before he is a public servant. He lives that life apart altogether from his life as a public servant. I should very much like to hear some of our constitutional authorities on the point of whether it is competent for Parliament to deprive a man- of rights which' have been conferred upon him by the Constitution. I do not know whether that point has ever been discussed. "

Senator Mulcahy - Parliament has done it.

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