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Thursday, 9 November 1905

Senator TURLEY (Queensland) - Had the instruction referred to not been issued by the Government, there would have been no necessity to submit the motion now under discussion. The information conveyed in the answer given by Senator Keating to Senator Pearce's question, on the 1 st November, has given rise to the present proposal, which, I think, is misunderstood by Senator Walker, when he says he would not be inclined to favour public servants being allowed to take part in the business of local bodies if, by their so doing, their working hours in the Public Service would be interfered with. The honorable senator instanced postmasters, many of whom, we know, are engaged at al! hours. But the motion provides for all such cases ; and- if there be any interference with official duties, a public servant will refrain from taking any part in public life.

Senator Walker - Who is to be the judge as, to the interference with official duties ?

Senator TURLEY - The officers themselves will know whether there is likely to be any interference.

Senator Walker - Then public servants are to be a law unto themselves.

Senator TURLEY - Not at all. If a public servant is engaged officially until 6 o'clock in the evening, it is, clear that he cannot attend a meeting of a local body at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. As a matter of fact, however, afternoon meetings are, in a great number of cases, discountenanced by the ratepayers, who prefer that the business .shall be transacted in the evening, when they may be present. At the present moment, in Queensland, there is an agitation to have meetings of all bodies of this kind held in the evening. I ask Senator Walker where he proposes, to draw the line in the case of the public servants ? In many places there are schools of arts and schools of mines, maintained by public subscription, assisted by grants from the Government. Are public servants to be debarred from membership on the committee of such institutions, to which, it must not be forgotten, they subscribe?

Senator Walker - A school of arts is not a local governing body.

Senator TURLEY - A school of arts is, part and parcel of our system of local government.

Senator Gray - Cannot public servants be on the committees of schools of arts?

Senator TURLEY - Most decidedly they can.

Senator Walker - And there has never been anv interference with them on that account.

Senator TURLEY - But these are elective positionsand I desire to know where Senator Walker draws the line.

Senator Walker - Local governing bodies mean municipal councils, shire councils, and roads boards, and not schools of arts.

Senator TURLEY -- But there are boards of water supplyand committees, for the management of hospitals. In Queensland a number of the hospitals have been placed altogether under the control of local residents,; and I should like to know whether public servants are to be debarred from being elected to the committees in such cases?

Senator Walker - Local government means local government.

Senator TURLEY - All the institutions I have mentioned are part and parcel of our system of local government. In every case the funds, in the first place, are obtained from the people, and, subsidized by the State, are spent for the benefit of the residents.

Senator Walker - Does the honorable senator regard a local cricket club as a local governing body ?

Senator TURLEY - A local cricket club only embraces a small portion of the people, whereas the maintenance of schools of art, hospitals, and s.o forth is contributed to by every one.

Senator Lt Colonel Sir ALBERT GOULD (NEW SOUTH WALES) -Col. Gould. - But the subscriptions are purely voluntary.

Senator TURLEY - In many parts of Australia the subscriptions are not regarded altogether as voluntary, but more as representing a duty to contribute a fair share to institutions for the benefit of the district. In Brisbane the secretary of the Water Board is the Clerk of the State Parliament, and he was appointed to the position by the State Government. There was some objection raised to this gentleman holding the office, but solely on the ground that he thereby enjoyed a second salary; there was no objection to his being a member of the board. This board controls a large revenue and expenditure, and employs a considerable number of servants.

Senator Guthrie - Has the board the power of rating?

Senator TURLEY - Undoubtedly, whether the water be used or not.

Senator Walker - I know that a number of members of Parliament in Queensland did object to this gentleman holding the office of secretary to the board.

Senator TURLEY - That objection, as I say, was entirely based on the fact that he drew two salaries. I am surprised that Senator Walker and others should trench on what they regard as the rights of property by prohibiting a public servant, who may have considerable interests in a district, from taking an active interest in the improvement of the district. In many places there are ratepayers' associations, and I should like to know whether Senator Walker would object to public servants becoming members? A public servant, as I say, may own property., and the health of his wife and children is just as important to him as the health of the wife and family next door is to his neighbour.

Senator Walker - A ratepayers' association is not a governing body.

Senator TURLEY - It is an association formed with the object of electing desirable people as members of the local governing body.

Senator Millen - It is more with the object of looking after members when they are elected.

Senator TURLEY - Probably ; but the first consideration is to get the men who are regarded as best qualified, and I should say that Senator Walker, to be logical, must object to public servants becoming members of such associations. In my opinion, public servants should be permitted to accept positions of the kind if they do not interfere with their official duties. A public servant may be the owner of a considerable amount of property in a district, and as such he will be interested in seeing that good roads are made, that the best possible means of communication are provided, and that schools and such other institutions are established. We know that local bodies are often in a position to satisfy such requirements, but the opponentsof the motion contend that, while the public servant holding property in a district may be interested in its improvement and progress, and may be the Best qualified resident of the district for a position on thelocal authority, he should be prevented from taking part in the local government of that district. I ask honorable senators who would be the best men to have as members of local bodies in the back country? In seven cases out of ten it will be found that officials of the Lands Department are the best men in outside districts to occupy positions as members of a local authority. They knowtheir district as a rule better than any one else in it, and understand its requirements. They know where bridges should be constructed, and where, in the interests of the travelling public, tanks should be provided. It cannot be denied that such men could render far more service as members of the local authority than a business man in the town, who from one year's end to the other may not travel five miles from his own door in any direction. Senator Millen must admit that in outside districts public officers, especially of the Lands Department, are the persons best fitted to occupy positions as members of a local authority.

Senator Millen - I know of a case where a district surveyor, as mayor of a town, came into violent conflict with the Lands Department in connexion with the very matters to which the honorable member has referred.

Senator Trenwith - The public servant could only take office with the approval of the head of his Department.

Senator Millen - That is the law today.

Senator TURLEY - That is the law to- day, but a notice has been issued to the head's of Departments, instructing, them to discountenance any such thing. I have pointed out that public servants are in many cases the most suitable men in a district to occupy seats on local boards.

Senator Millen - I interjected merely because the honorablesenator appealed to me for support.

Senator TURLEY - Senator Millenhas a particularcase in his mind, but broadly speaking, the honorable senator must admit that in many districts public officers from the experience and information gained in the discharge of their duties as such, are better qualified to occupy positions as members of local" authorities than townsmen who may never leave the street in which they live from one year's end to the other. I do not think we should interfere with the citizen rights of public servants. I know of many cases in which public servants elected as members of local authorities have been able to render most valuable service to the people who elected them, and they have at the same time taken care that their duties as members of local governing bodies have not interfered with their duties as public servants. I shall certainly support the motion.

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