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Thursday, 9 November 1905

Senator BEST (Victoria) - The leader of the Government in the Senate has assumed a very fair attitude in connexion with this motion. It is not wise to pass a general motion on a subject of this kind.

Senator Trenwith - But we have passed a law to this effect, and by the motion we simply say that, in our opinion, the Government should carry out that law.

Senator BEST - There cannot be the slightest doubt that in some localities men occupying Government positions would be amongst the most desirable men to have as members of municipal bodies. But, at the same time,, it should not be forgotten that there are many municipal institutions in and around Melbourne, and the other large cities of the Commonwealth, that have, unfortunately, and unjustifiably, I think, constituted themselves quasi -political institutions. If there was one matter concerning which the opinion of Parliament was strong when the question was before us, it was that it was desirable in the interests of the service itself that public servants should keep themselves free from party politics. The law we passed on that subject had that object in view. When a motion for its modification was brought before us, it was still provided that public servants should, as far as possible, keep themselves free from party politics. The difficulty I see in the matter is that which I have already indicated. It cannot be denied that many municipal councils are quasipolitical institutions.

Senator Trenwith - They have imprudently interfered with matters outside their jurisdiction.

Senator BEST - That may be, but the fact still remains.

Senator Trenwith - A sufficient leaven of public servants would probably mend that.

Senator BEST - I have not a word to say against them, but I have indicated the practical difficulty in the way. Senator Playford has said that he is more or less in sympathy with the motion, and that he does not agree with the minute to which so much exception has been taken. I think the Senate is entitled to some undertaking that each case will be dealt with on its merits, and no doubt the minute which has proved an obstruction in the past will be withdrawn with that object.

Senator Trenwith - We cannot get that undertaking. One Minister has said that he disapproves of the instruction, whilst the other has said that it will not be withdrawn.

Senator BEST - So far as I can judge from Senator Keating's approval of my remarks, the honorable and learned .senator will have no objection to the withdrawal of the minute in order that each case may be dealt with on its merits. Senator Pearce has stated that in Western Australia! public servants have rendered very important service as members of road boards and such bodies. We have a right, first of all, to see that their duties as public servants are carried out, and that nothing shall be allowed to interfere with them, and where the meetings of local authorities are held at night time, there is very little difficulty about that, but where they are held during the day it is, of course, out of the question that public servants should be members of those bodies. If a strong opinion on the point is expressed it cannot very well be disregarded, and the Senate has a right to press its desire that the minute referred to should be withdrawn. I consider the motion, far too strong, as I believe the whole case will be met by a reconsideration of the minute. To carry such a motion as that submitted to the Senate might prove more or less embarrassing bv reason of its general terms. T cordially approve of the attitude of the leader of the Senate on the question, and after his* promise I think we have a right to be satisfied. I feel quite certain tha': in view of the expression of opinion we have had the Government will be prepared to reconsider the instruction, and thus all that I think is desired will be attained.

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