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Thursday, 9 November 1905

Senator Lt Col GOULD (New South Wales) - I agree with a good many of the remarks of Senator Best. At first, I was under the impression that an attempt was being made to interfere with the regulations under the Public Service Act. But I find that ,the difficulty with which Senator Pearce is confronted, is that a minute has been issued by a Government, discountenancing any applications from public servants to serve as members of municipalities. I quite agree that it is not reasonable to take away from the public servants any rights which Parliament has expressly given to them. The Public Service Act provides that public servants shall not occupy certain positions without obtaining the consent of the Governor-General in Council. I do not think that any minute should be issued to discourage or prevent any public servant from making his application to occupy a position of that character if he so desires. But the words of the motion are that the Senate expresses the opinion that public servants " should be permitted " to hold elected positions. I admit that there is a qualification - so long as such positions do not interfere with the proper performance of their duties as public servants.

The Commonwealth Public- Service Act provides that except with the express permission of the Governor-General in Council, which permission may at any time by Order in Council' be withdrawn, no public servant shall accept or continue to hold an office under the Government of any State or under ,a municipal corporation. An offi-cer is expressly authorized by the section to make his application to the Government. There seems to be some doubt as to whether the Government will withdraw the minute of which complaint has been made. I think that it is a fair thing that the minute should be withdrawn. An assurance has been given that the Government will consider the question. I feel satisfied that if the Government are assured that the withdrawal of the minute meets with the concurrence of the Senate, they will withdraw it ; unless, of course, they have some strong opinions of their own on the subject. In view of the assurance of the Minister, I appeal to Senator Pearce not to try to force a division on this very drastic motion. Suppose that he was successful in carrying it, and that a similar motion were to be brought before the other House, and to be negatived. The Government would then be confronted with opinions expressed by the two Houses in contrary directions. That shows how undesirable it is to issue regulations, except when they are in accordance with the law, or have been approved by Parliament. I think that, under the circumstances, Senator Pearce would be well advised if he withdrew his motion. He may rest assured that the object which he desires to attain has the sympathy of the Senate, and that the Government, who have already promised that the subject will be considered, will deal with it very much in accordance with his own desires. I do not feel inclined to take exception to Senator Pearce having brought forward the matter. He has done a good service to the public servants" and to the community generally, and what has taken place emphasizes the fact that the Senate is always willing to protect interests that are conferred upon individuals by law. While, strictly speaking, the Public Service Act itself would preclude public servants from occupying positions as committeemen of hospitals, schools1, of art. cricket clubs.

Or similar bodies, I should be very sorry to see it carried out in that way ; because I recognise that very often public servants render very valuable service in such capacities.. I should be extremely sorry to see anything done that would interfere with such work as they are able to do for the public in many country towns.

Senator PEARCE(Western Australia). - I have been very pleased to see that even those honorable senators who are opposed to the terms of my motion are against the action that was taken by a past Ministry. I do not wish to place honorable senators in a false position by calling upon them to vote for or against this, motion, or to make it appear as though they condoned the minute to which reference has been made. The Minister of Defence has made a very definite statement, but I cannot overlook the fact that the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs, with whose Department the Public Service Act has, to do, did not go so far as did the Minister of Defence. If the Minister representing the Minister of Home Affairs will adopt the same attitude as his colleague, and say that, in the light of the expression of opinion in the Senate, the Cabinet will take into consideration- the question of the withdrawal of the minute, I shall be prepared to withdraw the motion.

Senator Keating - I can promise that both my colleague and myself will bring the subject before the Cabinet. It must be remembered, however, that this matter has been dealt with by two previous Governments.

Senator PEARCE - It has been condoned by all the Governments since 1902.

Senator Keating - Personally, I rely upon the Act entirely, and think that everything necessary is therein provided for.

Senator PEARCE - I understand that the position of Ministers is that they are prepared to go back to what is laid down in the Public Service Act.

Senator Playford - Hear, hear; that is my view.

Senator PEARCE - In the light of that statement. I do not feel justified in pressing the motion to a division, and I ask leave to withdraw it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

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