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Thursday, 19 July 1906

Mr CARPENTER (Fremantle) . - There is a matter to which I wish to direct the attention of the Government and the House. A short time since I referred to certain changes recently made inthe post and telegraph service of Western Australia, and I asked the Vice-Presidentof the Executive Council, who was then acting for the Postmaster-General, what method had been adopted in dealing with the officers who had been punished for alleged incompetence. In view of the importance of the case, I wished him to request the Public Service Commissioner to furnish a special report, giving reasons for the manner in which these officers were dealt with.

That has not been done; but I have obtained the papers in the case, and, having spent some time in perusing them, Tam now compelled to take grave exception to the method adopted in bringing forward the charges preferred against the officers concerned, and the manner in which those charges were dealt with. I am in no way affected by personal consideration for the officers who were punished, nor do I wish to make charges against the Public Service Commissioner for anything which he may or may not have done. If I suggest that the case might have been treated differently, I shall do so without wishing to reflect upon the Public Service Commissioner or his judgment, since I know that he holds a position of enormous responsibility, and that there must be times when it is almost impossible for him to determine which is the best course to take, and when he must be guided entirely by the officers acting under and for him. Briefly, the facts of the case are these: Last year Mr. E. J. Young, of the Post and Telegraph Department, Sydney, was sent to Western Australia to inquire into the working of the Department in that State, and, as the result of his report, certain charges were made against the manager of telegraphs in Western Australia, Mr. Snook, and the electrical engineer, Mr. 'Stevens. There were other charges affecting other officials ; but I wish to deal with these cases in particular. A Board1 was then appointed, consisting of Mr. H. W. Jenvey, who acted as chairman, and is the electrical engineer for Victoria ; Mr. A. A. Dircks, the assistant electrical engineer of New South Wales; and Mr. T. J. Beatty, the superintendent of mails in Perth. As the result of the Board's inquiry, Mr. Snook has been degraded to the position of postmaster at Bunbury, and has suffered a reduction in salary of ^200 per annum. He is now fifty-three years of age, and, in seven years' time, will be entitled to retire on an allowance. In the interval, he will, in addition to the humiliation attaching to the transference, have had to pay a penalty, consequent upon his reduction in salary, aggregating ,£1,400. Mr. Stevens, in his turn, has been appointed comptroller of Government Stores in Western Australia. I do not know whether these officers were or were not blamable, or. if blamable. whether they were blamable to an extent warranting the punishment inflicted on them. Honorable members will agree that that punishment is severe, and such as should not be administered to any officer except for the gravest misdoing. The method by which the charges were made and investigated is not entirely above suspicion.

Mr Conroy - Doe's the honorable member suggest unfairness on the part of the Board ?

Mr CARPENTER - I think, from my "perusal of the official papers, that there is reason to take serious exception to the method in which the charges were made and investigated, since one of the members of the Board has since been appointed to one of the offices rendered vacant as a consequence of the Board's determination.

Mr Conroy - Probably he did not know that he would be appointed to that office.

Mr CARPENTER - That is what I wish to find out, and, therefore, ask for a report from the Public Service Commissioner. While we have a right to demand from our officials the best service obtainable, we should not allow them to suffer injustice. In my opinion, a junior officer should never be allowed to report upon his senior, knowing that the condemnation of that senior's methods may lead to his own' promotion. That would be a very dangerous system to establish. I do not know whether Mr. Dircks had any idea-

Mr Ewing - In point of fact, both officers undertook the work under protest.

Mr CARPENTER - That is not the point. The question is whether Mr. Dircks was in a position to know that if he condemned his superior officer he would have a chance of being appointed in his place.

Mr Ewing - The Postmaster-General informs me that if Mr. Dircks could come back from Western Australia he would be only too glad.

Mr CARPENTER - I am- not dealing with the ability of the judges, or of those who are judged, but merely with the method adopted in pronouncing judgment and bringing about condemnation and punishment. If in any private or public employment it became known that the bringing of certain charges against an officer would probably lead to the promotion of his junior preferring them, no person holding a high position would feel secure. I question very much whether the method of " appointing a Board to inquire into charges such as I have referred to is the best; that could be adopted in the interests of the Public

Service. I consider that the appointment of certain officers to look through the Departments under the charge of other officials, and prepare reports which inferentially condemn the administration, without regard to the difficulties under which the work may have been conducted for some years past, is calculated to create suspicion in the minds of some of our best officers, and convey the impression that thev are not being fairly treated. I am not here to urge any excuse on behalf of the officers in Western Australia ; but I would point out that for the past fifteen years events have marched so rapidly that a great strain has been imposed upon the resources of the Department. Towns have sprung up in a few days, and an immediate demand has arisen for postal, telegraphic, and telephonic facilities. It has therefore been almost impossible to meet the demands in the same satisfactory way that would have been practicable in other States, where the development has been more slow. It is an easy matter where the growth is normal to prepare to meet demands as thev arise ; but when a new gold-field' is discovered, and men rush by hundreds and thousands into a locality hitherto uninhabited, it is useless for the heads of the Department to protest that thev cannot grant postal and telegraph facilities because they have not the necessary appliances. They are called upon to do the best they can. and it may be that in many cases the responsible officer has not been to blame because he has not provided1 facilities in keeping with the requirements of the case. That is one possible explanation of the complaints that have been made, and have led to the charges against the officers to whom I have referred. However that may be, the one point to which I wish to direct the attention of the Minister, and which relates to the whole service, is whether some better means could not be devised of raising the standard of efficiency, and of pointing out defects and suggesting improvements in the service. During the last day or two a paragraph has appeared in the newspapers to the effect that the secretary to the Post and Telegraph ' Department. Mr. Scott, will possibly be appointed as genera] inspector of the Department.

Mr Wilkinson - He is a good man, too.

Mr CARPENTER - I think that the proposal is an excellent one. The practice of appointing inspectors is adopted by our large banking institutions, and, to some extent, in other Departments of the Public Service. No officer, in public or private service, is perfect and there are few, ,if any, who would not welcome suggestions with a view to effecting improvements in their methods. It would be a good thing if we could appoint an expert in each divi- sion to occasionally visit the various States and look round, not as a spy, or as an » enemy to the officers in charge, but as a ' friend, and suggest any improvements that he may consider desirable. It would be preferable to do this rather than to send officers out to do the work in such a way that those in charge, instead of being helped towards the adoption of a better system, are at once singled out for punishment or removal from office. Speaking from my own experience in the industry which I have followed all my life, I contend that there is not a man in any workshop in the world who would not walk about and find' fault with the methods adopted bv his fellow workmen, and perhaps suggest improvements. The looker on sees more than the player or worker. A man who for many years has been doing a certain thing in a certain way frequently omits to notice where improvements could be effected, whereas valuable suggestions could readily be made by persons looking on from the outside. If a method such as I have suggested were adopted, it would conduce to greater confidence in our public service, and a better feeling among the officers. I have mentioned this matter again, because I think that the Minister has hardly appreciated the importance of the subject, or the effect it may have upon every branch of our service, if it becomes! known that there is a possibility of a junior officer being brought along to inquire into the work of a superior, and, perhaps, to condemn him, with a knowledge that he will be able to profit by such condemnation. That is the crux of the whole matter. I believe that the Public Service Commissioner would himself admit that a grave danger attaches to such methods of inspection, and I hope that we shall receive from him at least some assurance that it will not be continued.

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