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Ch 3 Changes and challenges

The history of the 1922 Act and related legislative changes, together with the historical context within which amendments occurred, can arguably be seen to have occurred in a number of relatively discrete, but overlapping, periods:

  • the period commencing with the passage of the Act in October 1922, the subsequent appointment of the three-member board in June 1923, and the implementation of the new legislation (as recounted in Chapter 2)
  • the early legislative history and other significant changes and developments in the public service between 1923 and the commencement of a single Board member regime in 1931, detailed in this chapter
  • the operation of the single-member Board between 1931 and 1946 (Chapter 4)
  • The restoration of a three member Board from 1 January 1947 through to the period when major review and reform programs began to be undertaken from 1972 (Chapter 5)
  • the implementation of a series of major amendments to the Public Service Act, along with the introduction of a range of administrative law reforms which impacted on the public service, through to the time of announcement of the Board’s abolition in July 1987 (Chapter 6)
  • the period commencing with the reversion to a single Public Service Commissioner in September 1987 to the repeal of the 1922 Act and the proclamation of the Public Service Act 1999, with effect from 5 December 1999 (Chapters 7 and 8).

The 1922 Act was amended more than 100 times during its period of operation. Many of those amendments were of a minor nature, consequential on amendments of other legislation with some Public Service Act interface, or as a result of the passage of general statute law revision Acts. Other ‘external’ legislation, however, impacted significantly on the operation of the Public Service Act–for example, the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act 1979.

No attempt has been made in the following chapters to recount in detail the amendments made to the 1922 Act over its 77-year existence. Rather, an attempt has been made to highlight the more significant changes and events over the period and, where pertinent and practicable, to place them in their historical context.

Significant Public Service Act amendments 1922–31

The Act was subject to only a small number of significant amendments in this period, in the following areas:

  • The Commonwealth Public Service Act 1924 reversed Parliament’s earlier decision to retain in the 1922 Act centralised board authority to make promotions. As foreshadowed in the Board’s 1924 report, the Act was amended to devolve promotion powers to permanent heads, as recommended by McLachlan, with an officer having a right of appeal to the Board. If the Board upheld the appeal, it could cancel the original promotion and promote the appellant.
  • The 1924 Act also abolished the complete priority formerly accorded to the Board’s classification pay rates over those determined by the Public Service Arbitrator. This amendment appears to have stemmed from angry union reaction to the release of the first part of the Board’s classification of the Service, and a subsequent determination by the Arbitrator in favour of the unions, in a dispute over a Board decision on the male basic wage in the Service. In its 1925 report, the Board maintained that its classification had been based strictly on the provisions of the 1922 Act, involving the ‘supersession of arbitration awards rates where inconsistent with classification rates’. The Board’s following comments in that section of its report appeared to be directed to putting the best gloss on an Act amendment with which it did not agree, as evidenced by its earlier extensive criticisms of the Arbitrator’s actions and decisions in its first report (PSB AR 1925, p. 5, 84–7). The independent role of the Arbitrator obviously continued to rankle with the Board in subsequent years, as illustrated by the following observations:

The Board believes that the beneficent provisions of the Public Service Act, as adopted by the Parliament in 1922, can never be given maximum effect so long as its working is hampered by the operation of an Arbitration (Public Service) Act under present conditions. In the Board’s opinion urgent need exists for some modification of the law in its present form to establish a proper line of demarcation between administration of the Public Service Act and the maintenance of arbitration rights for public servants of the Commonwealth (PSB AR 1928, p. 1).

  • The then Bruce–Page Coalition Government seems to have had some sympathy with the above Board view and subsequently introduced the Arbitration (Public Service) Bill 1929, providing for abolition of the single arbitrator system and substitution of arrangements under which the bulk of service pay claims were to be decided by a committee comprising a judge of the then proposed Maritime Industries Court, a representative of the Public Service Board and a staff representative selected by the Minister from a union-nominated list. The unions opposed and campaigned against the proposed changes in the election campaign. The proposed Maritime Industries Bill was rejected in September 1929. The Coalition Government was subsequently defeated; the incoming Scullin Government extended the term of the about to retire Arbitrator (Atlee Hunt); and discussions began between the Board and the unions with a view to improving operation of the system as it stood. Atlee Hunt retired in May 1930 but was not replaced until JC Westhoven, then Deputy Director of Posts and Telegraphs for Victoria and an ex-Public Service Inspector, was appointed in March 1931. In the interim, Service arbitration had come to a temporary halt, due to the Depression (Public Service Board 1973, p. 9).
  • The Commonwealth Public Service Act 1930 provided for the Governor-General to be able to defer making an appointment to a Board vacancy, and provided also for provisions for conduct of the Board’s business where there were fewer than three members. In accordance with these provisions, Commissioner McGlinn, who had vacated his position in March 1930, was not replaced and, likewise, then Chairman Skewes, who retired in June 1931. The full three-member Board was not then to be reconstituted until January 1947. Mr WJ Clemens, first appointed as a Board Commissioner in January 1929, continued as sole Commissioner until March 1937, being replaced by Mr FG Thorpe, who continued in that capacity until December 1946.
  • The 1930 Act also inserted a provision allowing officers serving as private secretaries to Ministers, and others seconded to occupy similar positions, to subsequently return to suitable departmental vacancies. In determining the position into which they were then to be placed, the Board was able to ‘pay regard to the period and nature of their employment as private secretaries to ensure that, if avoidable, they will not suffer disability by reason of their absence from ordinary departmental work’ (PSB AR 1930, p. 6). The new s.48A, then enacted, continued to operate along these lines until repealed by the Public Service Reform Act 1984, at which point it was replaced by the then enacted, and still extant, Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984.

Public Service superannuation

While the new Act did not come into operation until July 1923, the complementary Superannuation Bill, foreshadowed by Senator Russell at time of introduction of the Public Service Bill in April 1921, was enacted in October 1922, and the new superannuation scheme was initiated on 20 November 1922.

Passage of the Superannuation Act 1922 accordingly signified the completion of the third part of the Hughes Government’s program for major legislative reform of the Commonwealth Service, the Arbitration (Public Service) Act 1920 having already come into operation on 31 March 1921.

The superannuation scheme replaced the less than satisfactory life assurance provisions of the 1902 Public Service Act. The scheme was seen to provide a key ingredient to the total package of public service conditions, in providing for an assured income on retirement. Officers were to contribute according to age and sex towards pension units of £26 each, contributions being paid into a superannuation fund, managed by a Superannuation Board with contributor representation. The government notionally contributed an equal amount to the fund for each officer, but opted for a system under which it would meet half of whatever amount was payable to the officer on retirement, rather than setting aside large contributions each year on behalf of all contributors, as applied in the NSW scheme.

The Superannuation Act 1930 provided for some refinements and enhancements of the 1922 Superannuation Act and introduced a requirement that the contributor representative was to be elected by contributors.

Other legislation affecting the Service 1922–31

The 1922 Act contained no provisions about the rights of staff who went to work for non-APS Commonwealth agencies. General provisions to deal with this matter were first introduced with the Officers’ Rights Declaration Act 1928 (ORDA). The ORDA applied to officers employed under an Act specified in the Schedule to the Act (or under regulations made under an Act and section specified in that Schedule). Additionally, other Commonwealth Acts subsequently made provision for the ORDA to apply to the employment of APS officers in a wide range of separate authorities. By March 1981, authorities covered by that Act numbered 115.

The ORDA was subject to only minor detailed amendments until its repeal by the Public Service Amendment Act 1978, the repeal becoming effective on 15 March 1981. It was then replaced by a new Part IV in the 1922 Act (generally known as the officers’ mobility provisions), which remained substantially in place until the 1999 Public Service Act was enacted.

The only ‘other’ major enactment affecting the Service in this period was the Commonwealth Employees’ Compensation Act 1930. It operated to repeal, and enhance benefits previously available under, the Commonwealth Workmen’s Compensation Act 1912, and placed administration in the hands of a Commissioner.

Other changes and developments 1922–31

The Board’s annual reports over this period document various non-legislative changes of significance to the Service and include also pertinent Board commentary on the changing Service environment. The following are of particular interest in that broader context.

General Orders

The 1926 report records completion by the Board of a volume of General Orders relating to administration and interpretation of the Act, Regulations and Arbitrator’s determinations (PSB AR 1926, p. 4). The General Orders continued to be published and updated into the 1970s, being then replaced by the issue, progressively, of a series of volumes of the new Personnel Management Manual.

Melbourne to Canberra relocation

In 1928, the Board noted that the transfer of departments from Melbourne to Canberra, consequent on the transfer of federal Parliament to Canberra in May 1927, was causing accommodation and other problems. The Board’s enthusiastic endorsement of the new capital was not one that can be seen to have received universal and rousing affirmation, by parliamentarians and public servants alike, up to the present day:

It may be fairly assumed that the opening of a new life in the inspiring and healthy surroundings of a new city will not only make for contentment and happiness of the service, but will result in development of an even higher degree of efficiency and a keener desire to render valuable service to the public than was hitherto practicable (PSB AR 1928, p. 25).

It appears that the Board itself had not entirely practised what it preached. Chairman Brudenell White, who had arranged the departmental transfers to Canberra in 1926 and 1927, in preparation for the opening of Parliament in May 1927, ‘promptly resigned when his turn came to move’ (Sparke 1988, p. 82).

Living accommodation for public servants coming to Canberra was to remain a problem until well after the Second World War, resulting amongst other measures in the construction in the 1960s of the relatively low-tariff Gowrie and Macquarie hostels (as they were then called). The tide began to turn with the first significant cutbacks of Service recruitment in Canberra in the 1970s and the virtual cessation of large-scale transfers of staff from Melbourne to Canberra. Living accommodation has now become more readily available, but at market prices.

Classification of the Service

The 1929 report advised of the completion of the Board’s classification of the Service in November 1928 (PSB AR 1929, p. 5). It noted also that much attention was being given to curtailment of departmental expenditure, in the light of the overall financial position of the Commonwealth (PSB AR 1929, p. 6).

Graduates

The 1929 report records commencement of recruitment (to Canberra) of a small number of graduates, a course of action previously precluded by the need to give recruitment preference to returned soldiers (PSB AR 1929, p. 21).

Temporary employment

The 1929 report returns also to a longstanding concern of the Board about abuses of the temporary employment provisions of the Act, those concerns then having been vindicated in the findings in the report of an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts (PSB AR 1929, p. 24–5).

Staffing consequences of the depression

The effect of the Depression led to curtailment of recruitment and temporary employment along with the retrenchment of temporary and exempt staff (PSB AR 1930, p. 5). By the end of 1930 also, examination entry to the Service had once more been suspended, and the Board was making full use of its authority to transfer excess officers to severely short-staffed areas, in an attempt to avoid laying off permanent staff (Public Service Board 1973, p. 10).