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Ch 5 Post-war adjustments, new paths


In his final report as sole Commissioner, Thorpe had alluded briefly to the problems facing the Service in returning to peacetime operation, and the heavy demands which this had already placed on Board and departmental staff during 1946. Temporary staffing arrangements to meet wartime demands had to be readjusted and provision made for newly emerging or expanding post-war activities of the type mentioned in the preceding section.

In the particular context of this history, however, the periods now to be addressed in Chapters 5, 6 and 7 are ones during which the Act was to be amended with increasing frequency. This is illustrated by the Table of Acts at the end of the last official reprint (No. 6) of the 1922 Act in 1996. Between 1922 and 1946, there were 18 amending enactments. In the 1947–87 period, up to and including the legislation abolishing the Board, there were 63 such enactments, with 19 of those occurring in the 1980s. While the latter totals included numerous ‘tidying-up’ amendments in Statute Law Revision Acts, and relatively minor consequential changes stemming from amendments of other legislation, major changes were to occur also in fundamental Act provisions dealing with, for example, recruitment and appointment, discipline, officers’ mobility, and redeployment and retirement.

As previously noted, the 1931–46 period had produced changes which contributed to increasing complexity of the 1922 Act. The frequency and scope of amendments in the 1947–87 period were now to increase significantly that complexity.

As before, this history does not attempt to document the detail of all the amending legislation in this period, but seeks rather to identify what are considered to be the more significant changes.

This chapter looks at the 1947–72 period.

Significant Public Service Act amendments 1947–72

In the immediate post-war period, few major changes occurred to the Act. Amendments were directed essentially to regularising a number of structural and staffing arrangements which had evolved during the war years, along with some changes to basic staffing provisions, as follows:

  • The Commonwealth Public Service Act 1947 provided for transfer to the Service of staff of the Repatriation Commission (numbering 8619) and the War Service Homes Commission (totalling 355). These transfers occurred in November 1947.
  • The Commonwealth Public Service Act (No. 2) 1947 made provision for the Board to grant extended unpaid leave (up to three years) to allow officers to undertake courses of study, relevant to the duties of their respective offices and to meet post-war reconstruction needs (presumably a measure allied to the wider community-related Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, although this is not referred to directly by the Board at the time). The legislation provided also for other measures impacting on Service management, including provision for leave for an officer appointed to a full-time executive office of a registered staff organisation and dismissal appeal rights for certain temporary and exempt employees.
  • The Commonwealth Public Service Act 1948 provided authority for bringing under the Act more than 8000 staff (predominantly temporary employees) from the Defence group of departments (Defence Central, the separate Armed Service departments and the Supply and Shipping, and Munitions departments). These changes took effect from 1 September 1948. Large numbers of ‘industrial’ wages staff, however, continued to be employed under the Supply and Development and Naval Defence Acts.

No further significant legislative change was to occur until passage in December 1960 of the Public Service Act 1960, which implemented changes flowing from the recommendations of the Boyer Committee on public service recruitment, discussed further below. While major changes were made to the recruitment and appointment provisions of the Act, its basic structure (and overall complexity) remained unchanged.

Major changes to the Act were not then to occur until new discipline and officers’ mobility provisions were legislated in 1978. Two significant changes did occur, however, in the interim:

  • The Public Service Act 1966 introduced provisions for the grant of leave to officers and employees required to undergo compulsory defence service (National Service), including protection of their promotions appeal rights and provision for confirmation of probationary appointments during such service. It extended existing special (returned soldier) entitlements to persons already attracting such entitlements under repatriation legislation, including persons with operational service in Vietnam. Separately, it provided authority for the temporary employment of foreign nationals without requiring them to take the oath or affirmation of allegiance to the Queen, where the Governor-General was satisfied that such employment would not be prejudicial to the national interest.
  • The Public Service Act (No. 2) 1966, proclaimed to operate from 18 November 1966, allowed for the permanent appointment of married women to the APS and removed the requirement for existing female permanent officers to retire from the Service on marriage. It also introduced provisions for the grant of maternity leave. Both issues are discussed further in the following sections.

Other significant legislation 1947–71

Mention has been made previously of the enactment of the Re-establishment and Employment Act 1945 (R&E Act), establishing various employment preference provisions for returned soldiers. Amendment of that Act in 1952 extended appointment preference provisions for a further three years (and the period of operation was again extended by three years in 1955). Additionally, the R&E Act amended the Public Service Act to extend re-establishment benefits to persons who had served in Korea and Malaya. A further amendment enabled the Board to grant leave to officers who had served in those locations to enable them to pursue a course of reconstruction training, and to grant leave to officers undertaking any other Commonwealth scheme of vocational training. The Re-establishment and Employment Act (No. 2) 1958 ultimately provided for cessation of returned soldier employment preference provisions on 30 June 1960.

The Public Service Arbitration Act 1952 amended the principal 1920 Act to permit ‘public interest’ appeals to the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission against decisions of the Public Service Arbitrator, mirroring similar existing appeal provisions against decisions of Conciliation Commissioners under the Conciliation and Arbitration Act.

Of more general interest, the Statute Law Revision Act 1950 altered the title of the Public Service Act by deleting the word ‘Commonwealth’.

Aside from the abovementioned Acts, there were no ‘external’ enactments during the 1950s and 1960s with major or significant impact on the APS as a whole. That situation was to change markedly in the years following the election of the Whitlam Government and through to the time of the Board’s abolition, as recounted in chapter 6.

Other changes and developments 1947–71

Legislative change during this period had occurred against a background of many other changes and developments following World War II.

The nature of the post-war Service

The Board’s January 1948 report included a retrospective on developments in the Service in the World War II period, which had not been practicable to address in the abbreviated reports during the war years. It outlined the principal changes in the departmental structure from 1938, and contains a summary of changes in the more important (Secretary and other) positions from 1939 to 1947 (PSB AR 1948, p. 19). The listing includes the names of a number of notable figures, including some who were to play a significant part in the post-war development of the Service, such as HC (Nugget) Coombs, Roland Wilson, WE (Bill) Dunn and Kenneth Bailey.

The dimensions of the changes which had occurred in the structure and staffing of the Service were starkly illustrated in the report. Between June 1939 and June 1947, the number of departments increased from 12 to 25, and total number of staff from 47 043 to 100 881 (60 566 of these being temporary and exempt staff compared with 14 614 staff in these categories in 1939).

Returning to an old familiar theme, the report also noted that many important agencies (for example, the Commonwealth Bank, the now CSIRO, significant commissions and the various primary production commodity boards) were not subject to the pay, conditions and establishment controls exercised by the Board in relation to departments of the Service. As previously argued, it contended that consequent ‘anomalies and inequalities’ required coordinating machinery, and stated that it was pursuing that objective.

In 1939, around 75 per cent of total Service staff was in the Postmaster-General’s Department. While still the biggest single component by far in 1947, the proportion in that department had fallen to about 53 per cent, with major growth in numbers having then occurred in the Defence Group of departments and in Treasury (reflecting Commonwealth acquisition of income tax staff). Commonwealth staff in Canberra in 1947 comprised about 6 per cent of total Service staffing (or something over 12 per cent if the Postmaster-General’s Department is excluded). The various Board reports do not provide a 1939 figure for Canberra staff.

A further commentary on the size and growth of the Service between 1939 and 1948 was provided by the Board in 1949 (PSB AR 1949, p. 6–8). A more extended summary presentation of changes which occurred in departmental structures from Federation to June 1953 was provided by the Board in 1953 (PSB AR 1953, p. 8–9).

Some 18 000 Service staff enlisted or were called up for service in the Forces over the period of the 1939–45 war.

Other matters canvassed in the 1948 report are of varying historical interest, but are instructive in the sense that they set the agenda for many of the significant issues addressed by the Board in later years. A number of those issues will be picked up in more detail later, but the following paragraphs provide a brief, selective summary of topics covered.

Temporary and exempt employment

The Board noted that exceptional wartime circumstances and their immediate aftermath had generated a huge growth in temporary and exempt employment in the Service (reflected in the above statistics), but believed that the return to normal civilian employment conditions and the appointment of large numbers of returned soldiers would contribute significantly to increased permanent staffing, with consequential reductions in the non-permanent components. The latter were to remain, however, a long-term problem for the Board, with many temporary employees continuing in employment on an indefinite basis and, in later years, attracting entitlement and tenure rights similar to those of permanent staff.

New demands on government workers

The nature and growth of Service activities necessitated improving the speed with which government business was transacted, without sacrificing accuracy and essential controls. The Service needed to ‘be alive with initiative and constructive ability’.

However, infallibility was not expected—‘the public servant must be conceded the human tendency to occasional error’ (PSB AR 1948, p. 7).

Wages and taxation systems

Increasingly complicated wages and taxation systems would add heavily to overhead costs.

Single Commissioner or Board

Revisiting the debates on the original 1922 Act, the Board claimed to reflect the then government’s view that the increased size and scope of the Service, with its diversity and complex problems of policy and management, required the attention of a composite Board.

Recruitment problems

Recruitment to the Service had been affected adversely by the circumstances of the Depression. The second half of the 1930s had seen a progressive, but slow, recovery which was to prove short-lived as a consequence of World War II circumstances. Thus, in 1948 the Board was reporting that wide-ranging recruitment difficulties still existed, leading to a government-approved Board policy to maintain a balance between youth and ex-Service recruitment, taking account of the R&E Act preference provisions.

Particular attention was directed to restoring appropriate levels of school leaver and graduate clerk recruitment. The problem was exemplified by the fact that the majority of recruits during 1947 had been of mature age, and reflected substantial entry of returned soldiers to the Service as clerks, at the then concessional, lower educational level of the Intermediate Certificate. The resultant imbalance in the age profile of the then Third Division, and the accompanying dilution of educational standards continued through the 1950s, despite increasing levels of school leaver recruitment. It remained as a key issue at the time of appointment of the Boyer Committee on Public Service Recruitment in December 1957.


To help meet the new demands on public servants, the Board placed heavy emphasis on non-technical training. The need was reflected at all levels—there was a shortage of officers with proven executive ability, and administrative experience and induction training needed to be provided for base-grade entrants to the Service. The Board had moved, therefore, to establish the Central Training Section in Canberra to plan and coordinate training activities throughout the Service and to provide systematic training for clerical and administrative staff. Although the nature and scope of training changed significantly in later years, the Board had established for the future a firm foundation for its own, and departmental, training and staff development programs. The then Brassey House was opened as a Service residential training centre in December 1958, for use both by the Board and departments.


The Board emphasised the importance for all departments of adequate attention to staff welfare, extending from already established practice in industrial undertakings in the Service, where its importance had been recognised particularly during the wartime years. Designated welfare officer positions were subsequently established in many departments, but tended to persist as separate entities only in the larger departments, and to be subsumed elsewhere under the part-time responsibilities of other staff with personnel functions.

Retirement of Thorpe

The 1948 report marks the retirement of Thorpe after ‘an honourable career of public service extending over half a century’. His service with the Board had lasted for 24 years, the last 10 of which had been almost entirely as sole Commissioner. The report further notes that his service had been characterised by ‘the very highest standards of personal integrity and loyalty to the Public Service and its traditions which he did much to shape’ (PSB AR 1948, p.18).

Appointment of Dunk

Thorpe’s successor was WE (later Sir William) Dunk, who was appointed as Commissioner and Chairman with effect from 27 March 1947. He was to remain as Chairman until his retirement on 31 December 1960.

Dunk had been Secretary of the Department of External Affairs prior to his Board appointment. His early background in the Service (some 25 years) was in the audit field, but in 1941 he became head of the new Defence Division of Treasury, after holding an appointment with the newly created Business Board of Administration, following the outbreak of World War II. In 1942, he assumed additional responsibility as Director of Reciprocal Land Lease (Public Service Board 1973, p. 13).

Significant issues and events in the evolution of the post-war Service

In light of the major growth in number and diversity of government functions which had occurred during and subsequent to World War II, it would be too simplistic to maintain that the Board’s reports adequately addressed all the significant issues and events affecting the Service in this period. Nonetheless, the Board continued to operate as a powerful central management agency, exercising wide-ranging controls over Service structures, staffing and conditions of employment, and its range of activities increased and diversified significantly in the post-war period.

Employment of women

The World War II years had seen a significant growth both in the numbers of women employed in the Service and the diversity of their employment. Jobs, which had been largely or exclusively male preserves to that time, then needed to be filled by women to maximise workforce participation under wartime conditions. The role of the Women’s Employment Board in this context has been referred to previously.

The wartime circumstances served to highlight longstanding constraints on employment of women in the Service. While that employment related to a wide range of designations in the then Third and Fourth Divisions, as well as extensive temporary employment, women were precluded from permanent Third Division status—a situation which had existed in the Service, for the most part, since the federal public service was established in 1902. The barrier had existed, not by way of legislative prohibition, but as a consequence of a restrictive application of the conditions for entry to that Division (and to the predecessor Clerical Division), whether by permanent appointment or transfer from within the Service.

Soon after Federation, entrance examinations for appointment to the then Clerical Division were closed to women, although it remained possible for them to enter that Division on transfer from the General Division. From 1915, however, that avenue was closed off also, as a consequence of the granting of appointment preference to returned soldiers. These restrictions were not relaxed until February 1949, when the Prime Minister announced that, on the advice of the Board, it had been decided to admit women to clerical and professional positions in the Third Division. The relaxation applied both to appointment and transfer examinations.

It is not clear from the record the extent to which the Board’s recommendation was motivated either by gender equality considerations or by the World War II experience. The Board noted that the decision, ‘which [would] bring the Commonwealth into line with other countries with well-developed civil services’, was expected to assist in overcoming staff shortages at that time (PSB AR 1950, p. 13). Initial recruitment was to be mainly to junior clerical positions, but included 20 female graduates (appointed under s. 36A) by 30 June 1949.

The change affected unmarried women only. The legislative requirement for women to resign from the Service on marriage, and the barrier to appointment of married women, were to remain in place until 1966.

Equal pay

Differential pay rates for women remained in place after 1966. As has been noted earlier, the lower rates for women had applied generally since Federation, other than as varied by Women’s Employment Board action, during and subsequent to World War II. However, earlier variations had occurred during World War I, producing equal pay in some areas.

When embarking on its task of determining classifications for the Service under the 1922 Act, therefore, the then newly appointed Public Service Board had to resolve a threshold issue of determining the method that should be adopted in fixing a basic wage for female officers throughout all departments.

Without attempting to traverse all aspects of the Board’s consideration of the issues, it reached the conclusion that lower rates for women had been general practice in the state public services and in private industry, and were seen as appropriate by arbitral authorities.

Implementation of this conclusion produced considerable resentment amongst certain women staff who had, until then, enjoyed higher rates, with strenuous agitation on their behalf. The Board recorded those concerns, but was not persuaded to modify its views:

The publication of sections of the classification including women employees was the signal for protests from relative Public Service Associations because of what were termed "Cruel cuts at women post-office workers". It was urged that they should receive the same pay as men because of their experience, their long service in the Department, and their unquestionable efficiency. Members of Parliament were circularized, and asked to remember the women-folk, to remedy their real grievance, and "do unto these officers as you would have done unto yourself".

The point has generally been lost sight of that the Public Service Act imposes a duty on the Board of Commissioners which cannot be evaded by any considerations of sentiment. The fact that women employees have, in many instances, been overpaid for years past cannot be accepted as justification for continuing indefinitely such overpayment without rhyme or reason. Duty is often unpalatable, but nevertheless must be conscientiously discharged (PSB AR 1924, p. 56–7).

With the WEB exception, the situation remained unchanged until decisions of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission resulted in progressive adoption in the Service of ‘equal pay for equal work’ (later, ‘work of equal value’) from 1969 to 1973.

Training of diplomats

By 1949, a total of 80 graduates (67 men, 13 women) had been selected to participate in the cadetship scheme instituted in 1943, with some 110 cadets being selected by the time of abolition of this particular scheme in 1957. The original short, intensive period of training at the University of Sydney had been superseded by a two-year course at the then Canberra University College (linked to the University of Melbourne), where a special post-graduate School of Diplomatic Studies had been established.

The Board expressed the view that the scheme had generally given good results. It had concerns, however, that reliance on the cadetship as a sole method of recruitment tended to concentrate a high proportion of staff in the lower age groups in the External Affairs department which, by its nature, did not generally fit its officers for transfers to other departments in the Service (PSB AR 1949, p. 14–15).

In later years, trainee diplomats came to be recruited as one element of the variously conducted departmental graduate entry programs.

Personnel cadetships

The Board’s 1950 report noted its introduction of a personnel cadet scheme, directed towards the improvement of personnel work in the Service (PSB AR 1950, p. 14).

By the beginning of 1950, cadets (then numbering 48) were in training, attached variously to eight departments as well as the Board’s Office. The cadets were provided with a combination of part-time academic studies and departmental training in all phases of Service personnel work, followed by examinations, over a period of four years (later four and a half years). The academic training component included eight university courses/subjects in designated areas (generally English, a psychology ‘major’ of three units, political science or public administration and three other units from economics, history and philosophy) leaving the way open for cadets to complete their degree studies in their own time and at their own expense (generally, in arts, economics or commerce). Cadets received guaranteed advancement to the then fourth level of the clerical–administrative structure.

The cadetship proved to be a successful venture, if not entirely in the way which the Board intended. Products of the scheme (who had generally pursued degree studies to completion) subsequently occupied many executive positions in the Service, including positions of departmental secretary.

It is probable that, in their progression in the Service, former personnel cadets did make significant contributions to improved personnel management. However, few remained for any long periods in specific personnel management positions, many moving, quite early in their careers, to diverse non-personnel management and policy-oriented positions, in departments or in the Board’s own office.

The first cadets completed their training in 1953. By that time, doubts were beginning to emerge about continuance of the scheme. Recruitment was suspended in 1955, resumed briefly, with some modifications, in 1956 and ceased after that year, with the last cadet finishing the course in 1961. More than 160 officers had undertaken training over the duration of the scheme.

Review of Public Service Act

In 1950, the Board signalled, for the first time, a review of the terms of the Act, to go beyond the range of specific amendments effected from time to time since 1922. In so doing, it noted that, for the most part, the main provisions of the Act had been left untouched—‘a tribute to their sound initial conception’ (PSB AR 1950, p. 16).

The Board indicated that the review task would be ‘an extensive and difficult one’. In the following year, it indicated that progress on the review had ‘not been as rapid as was originally hoped, owing to the complexities of the task and the difficulty of making trained staff available’. The Board expected, therefore, that it would be some time before it would be able to put amendment proposals to the government (PSB AR 1951, p. 16).

As a matter of general interest, the Board’s ‘Legal Officer’ in the 1949–50 period was Mr JE Richardson, later Professor of Law at the Australian National University and then to become Commonwealth Ombudsman in March 1977.

Review of the Act is not mentioned in Board reports over the next 25 years. It is not clear whether any further work was undertaken in the early 1950s, but no significant reference is made to detailed review plans until 1978 when a ‘comprehensive review’ is foreshadowed by the newly established Legislation Review Section, after it had dealt with any legislative action following the implementation of recommendations from the 1976 Report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration (PSB AR 1978, p. 15). Thereafter, the matter is not canvassed further until after the Board’s abolition in 1987, when it commences to feature in Public Service Commissioner reports, culminating in the passage of the Public Service Act 1999 in October 1999.

The ‘10,000 Staff Reduction’ 1951

In its 1950–51 report, the Board stated that it had been asked, in July 1951, to prepare a report for Cabinet on ways and means of achieving a general reduction ‘of the order of 10,000’ in total government employment. Cabinet directed a cut of the order of 8500 Public Service Act staff after receiving the Board’s report (PSB AR 1951, p. 7).

The Board, after consulting departments, fixed ‘new’ departmental staff ceilings (it is unclear from Board reports preceding this action whether any staff ceilings applied previously). The exercise was largely completed by September 1951 and exceeded the target, due to greater wastage than had been expected in some departments, for largely unrelated reasons. Subsequently, the Board elaborated on those reasons and noted that, apart from targeted discontinuance or reduction in the performance of certain functions (notably, in the Commonwealth Office of Education and the then Departments of National Development and Labour and National Service, accounting for some 1000 staff), a general cut of 5 per cent was applied to the rest of the service, other than the specifically exempted Defence group of departments. This resulted in a total reduction of just over 14 200 staff. Reductions were concentrated in the temporary employment area and very few permanent officers were affected, and then only by transfer action (PSB AR 1952, p. 7–8).

International training activities

By 1951, the Board had begun to have a significant involvement with the provision of training for Asian nationals under the then Colombo Plan and the United Nations Technical Assistance Scheme. Those two schemes included provision for training in government administration, and the Board provided assistance in handling individual applications for training in Commonwealth departments and instrumentalities, and by conducting special seminars in higher government administration for selected groups (PSB AR 1951, p. 14–15).

The Colombo Plan Training Subsection of the Board’s Office continued to handle large numbers of overseas nationals through to the early 1960s, by which time assistance was being provided for non-Asian as well as Asian countries, under various internationally sponsored programs. Thus, in 1962, the Board reported that nationals from 45 countries had ‘studied’ in Australian government institutions—from Europe, the Middle East, Africa and South America, as well as countries throughout Asia (PSB AR 1962, p. 13). The International Training Centre (since demolished) was built in 1953 at Riverside, close by the Board’s Office and that Centre was used also for other Board training activities, as opportunity permitted.

Direct Board management of these international training activities continued until 1962–63, when the Colombo Plan Training Sub-section was transferred to the Department of External Affairs as part of that Department’s Economic and Technical Assistance Branch. From that time, the Board (and, later, the Commission) activities became more specifically targeted towards providing briefings, seminars and tailored presentations for individual international visitors or groups.

Canberra transfer program

The Board continued to stress the importance of concentrating the central offices of departments in Canberra. For the most part, those administrations had continued to be located in Melbourne.

Progress was slow. Board Chairman Dunk, from the time of his appointment in 1947, had been a staunch advocate of Canberra becoming the true centre of federal administration.

Dunk’s confessed ‘consuming interest’ in developing Canberra included his plan to bring 7000 public servants from Melbourne to Canberra, which, though approved by the government in 1948, failed to result in any bloc of staff transfers over the following 10 years (Sparke 1988, p. 82).

Implementation of this strategy, which accorded with Government policy, necessitated overcoming serious shortages of housing, office and boarding accommodation in Canberra. Measures intended to overcome this included construction of additional hostels, along with associated infrastructure. Without such developments, ability to recruit the necessary junior support staff (clerical and keyboard) was seriously constrained.

Existing difficulties were underlined by Board action to address serious shortages of keyboard staff by recruiting a number of typists from England and, in collaboration with the then Department of Immigration, ‘a specially selected group of European displaced persons’—the latter probably a quite radical measure at that time.

The Board’s further comments and perceptions on Canberra staffing problems at that time (problems which persisted in varying degree for at least the next decade) provide an interesting evaluation and social commentary on the overall situation. An extract of those observations is at Appendix 3.

Shortage of office accommodation was also a problem, compounded by continuing inability to achieve effective, coordinated decision making and action, at both Government and bureaucratic levels. Some progress was made. By 1952, construction had commenced in Parkes of the Permanent Secretariat building (to be known later as the Administrative Building and, now, the John Gorton Building). However, the Board noted that construction of the first of three sections of the building (planned to accommodate between 2000 and 3000 staff ) had been ‘very slow indeed’ and would probably do no more than provide for relocation of existing Canberra staff, then located in temporary buildings on ground required for expansion of the then Community Hospital on the Acton Peninsula. In any event, there was still insufficient housing and hostel accommodation available to allow for transfer of any significant number of staff from the Melbourne-based central offices (PSB AR 1952, p. 6–7).

The eventual completion of the first section of the Administrative Building in the first half of 1956, therefore, provided no direct assistance to the main Canberra transfer program.

In the event, the circumstances which would allow the Canberra Transfer Program to proceed were not to occur for another three years. Significant improvement began to occur only after establishment of the National Capital Development Commission in 1957, with subsequent rapid growth of building construction, employment and community facilities.

The Administrative Building was completed and occupied during 1959, with the transfer from Melbourne of some 1050 staff of the Defence group of departments. By that time, construction had commenced of four office buildings at Russell Hill (expected to be completed in 1963), to accommodate a further 1450 Defence staff from Melbourne, with the Canberra transfer program then not expected to be completed in total until the late 1960s. Separately, construction had commenced also of the first of the now Civic Square buildings to house the ACT Administration components of the then Department of Interior, to help meet overall office accommodation problems in Canberra.

The Canberra transfer program continued into the 1970s, with the Board noting in 1972 that components of 18 Commonwealth departments and agencies were transferred to Canberra between July 1958 and June 1972, involving nearly 4700 staff (PSB AR 1972, p. 71).

Computers in the Service

By the latter part of the 1950s, dramatic developments were occurring in the processing of data by electronic computer (EDP as it was then called). At that point, the Board did not see it as providing ‘any easy solution to administrative work’ but believed that it held the prospect of ‘quicker and more economical handling of a variety of repetitive office processes’. Accordingly, it had commenced an investigation of possible applications for the Service and the type of equipment available. A Board officer had been sent overseas for these purposes, with a view to the Board then being able to carry out EDP ‘experiments’, expected to involve substantial costs along with the ‘extremely high’ capital cost of equipment (PSB AR 1957, p.7).

Subsequent action in this area included ‘studies, experiments, and training exercises’ undertaken in collaboration with the Defence, Postmaster-General’s and Interior Departments and the Bureau of Census and Statistics (PSB AR 1959:9). The Board openly acknowledged then its objective of exercising an effective coordinating role across departments—a role which it performed, with varying success and acceptance by the parties concerned, through to the time of the Board’s abolition in July 1987.

By 1960, the Board had strengthened its specialist staff to deal with its increasing workload in the data processing field, as more departments began to consider EDP applications in both scientific and administrative areas (PSB AR 1960, p. 10). Board training activities in the (now designated) ADP field, with courses for systems analysts and programmers, commenced in 1961, extending in later years to machine (data processing) operators.

Associated with its increased training activity, the Board was also assuming, progressively, an expanded role in the appraisal of departmental computer proposals and developments, including the establishment of study teams, preparation of feasibility reports, systems specifications and the evaluation of tenders for purchase of equipment. By 1964, work had commenced on development of a common ADP system for the personnel function in departments. With increasing activity also in the recruitment (including aptitude testing) of ADP staff, the Board was able to claim in 1973 that it was ‘involved in virtually every aspect of ADP within the Service’ (PSB AR 1973, p. 23).

Successive Board annual reports highlighted the rapid growth of ADP in the Service and the increasing diversity of applications. The Board chaired an interdepartmental committee (IDC) on ADP, which was required to consider applications proposals from departments before their submission for ‘in principle’ Government approval. The IDC sought to bring about systematic and coordinated introduction of ADP across the Service. With the rapid development of ADP both within and outside the Service, staffing problems began to emerge, necessitating extensive Board and departmental recruiting exercises and extension of training activity in systems analysis, design and programming, including cooperation with outside educational institutions for these purposes. By 1971, the scale of operations had led to the establishment of a separate ADP Division within the Board’s Office.

The Boyer Committee

The easing of recruitment difficulties by the late 1950s provided opportunity to review entry standards, with the objective of improving the quality of recruits. To that end, the Board had recommended to the government the establishment of a committee to review both standards and processes (PSB AR 1957, p. 5).


In September 1957, the Prime Minister announced the establishment of such a committee under the chairmanship of the then Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission, Sir Richard Boyer. Three of the remaining four members of the Committee had backgrounds in the academic world and the fourth member was a Commissioner of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The Secretary to the Committee was an officer of the Board’s Melbourne office.

The Committee had the following terms of reference:

To inquire into and report to the Prime Minister on the recruitment processes and standards of the Service and to make recommendations for any changes which, in the opinion of the Committee, are necessary to ensure that recruitment is soundly based to meet present and future needs and efficiency of the Public Service at all levels.


The report of the Committee, including some 70 recommendations and suggestions, was presented to the government in November 1958, with the Board foreshadowing the need for extensive discussion of the proposals with departments and an expectation that resultant amending legislation would be available for the Autumn session of Parliament in 1960.


Implementation of the Boyer Committee recommendations accepted by the Government was effected by the Public Service Act 1960, which came into operation on 11 May 1961.

The amendments provided for greater flexibility in recruitment procedures and allowed for more emphasis to be given to qualifications required for appointment, going beyond many of the formal constraints which the longstanding internal Service examination system had imposed on recruitment.

The Government indicated that it had deferred decisions on Committee recommendations for removing the barrier to permanent employment of married women (subsequently removed in 1966) and for the relaxation of medical standards for the appointment of physically handicapped persons.

Physically and mentally handicapped

Introduction of relaxed medical standards for the handicapped was to occur progressively over the ensuing 20 years and was ultimately to receive legislative backing in the equal employment opportunity (EEO) provisions of the Public Service Reform Act 1984. However, in the interim, the Board had moved to extend significantly employment opportunities for both physically and mentally handicapped persons and, as early as May 1962, the government had approved a Board recommendation to permit permanent appointment of persons other than those in ‘sound health’, provided they were ‘free from such physical defects as would incapacitate [them] for the efficient discharge of the duties, that [they] would, on appointment, be required to perform’ (PSB AR 1971, p. 98–100).

The same report records that, between May 1962 and December 1970, 8605 persons, not previously eligible on health grounds, were permanently appointed to the Service and accepted as contributors under the Superannuation Act to the then Provident Account (under which persons not satisfying Superannuation Fund medical requirements received on retirement a lump-sum payment of three times their contributions, plus compound interest).

Appointees under these conditions were affected by a wide variety of disabilities, including musculoskeletal disorders, mental disorder, hypertension, defective vision and heart conditions. At the same time, the Board’s general medical standards for permanent appointment were being reviewed continually in association with the then Health Department, with increasing attention being directed also towards rehabilitation measures for handicapped persons. Additionally, special entry testing and workplace arrangements were being introduced, where practicable, to facilitate employment.

Other significant Boyer proposals (accepted and rejected) are outlined briefly in the following paragraphs.

Clerk entry standard

One major change served to establish the then Leaving Certificate or its equivalent (usually obtained after four or five years high school education) as the minimum standard for entry to the Third Division, both by appointment and transfer. The previous Intermediate Certificate concessional entry standard for ex-servicemen was discontinued, although the higher standard was introduced gradually, to avoid ‘injustice and hardship’.

Selection tests

The Boyer Committee placed considerable emphasis on the need for improved selection processes. The main immediate outcome was the introduction in 1961–62 of the Commonwealth (later, Clerical) Selection Test for clerk recruitment. The test, developed by the Board in consultation with the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER), comprised a series of short answer sub-tests in areas such as clerical checking, computations, critical thinking and the use of English, designed to reflect the particular skills considered to be needed for clerical and administrative duties.

The establishment of a Selection Research Unit in the Board’s Office, staffed by qualified psychologists, resulted in the progressive development of selection tests for a range of designations, with priority being given to tests for positions where significant expenditure was incurred in the provision of basic training courses. The Board later reported the introduction of new or improved selection systems for 11 additional categories of staff, ranging through trainee technicians and linemen in the PostmasterGeneral’s Department, accounting machinists and typists, and programmers and data processing operators (PSB AR 1964, p. 24).

Test development continued to involve ACER and also the Commonwealth Office of Education. The ongoing involvement of the former had obvious benefits for the Board and reflected also a continuing link to the Boyer Committee, whose membership included the Director of ACER, Dr WC Radford.

‘Fit and proper person’ requirement

The amending legislation implemented a Boyer Committee recommendation to provide that appointment to the Service was to become subject to a ‘fit and proper person’ test, additional to the British subject, medical fitness and oath–affirmation of allegiance prerequisites. The ‘fit and proper person’ terminology had an historical precedent. Section 5 of the 1902 Commonwealth Public Service Act required that the Public Service Commissioner, appointed by the Governor-General, should be ‘some fit and proper person’ and, likewise, that the Inspectors appointed to assist the Commissioner should also be ‘fit and proper persons’. The terminology itself appears to have derived from earlier NSW legislation.

The 1960 amendment was directed towards regularising, and providing specific legal authority for, the de facto situation which already operated. Under the latter, the Board had maintained a confidential ‘Disqualification Register’, containing the names of persons precluded from appointment to the Service on the basis of information obtained from ‘police and character’ checks (the names of officers dismissed from the Service were included also in the register). For the most part, applicants were not directly informed or aware that they had been refused appointment on these grounds, and had no specific avenues for obtaining explanations or seeking redress. A similar situation applied in relation to persons refused appointment on national security grounds.

In the early years after the Boyer changes, the amendment probably had more presentational than practical value for rejected applicants. The Board continued to maintain its Disqualification Register, and explanations for rejection were generally of a sparing nature. Major improvements from the point of view of applicants were to await later administrative law reforms and establishment of various appeal mechanisms, although the Board moved of its own accord to adopt more open procedures. Additionally, in October 1977, following receipt of the reports of the Royal Commission on Security and Intelligence, the Prime Minister announced that the number of people to be security checked should be reduced to a minimum. As a result, the Board discontinued, as a general practice, the security checking of Second and Third Division recruits.

The Board progressively delegated to departments its powers in relation to prerequisites for appointment, including decisions on ‘fit and proper person’ cases. The relevant powers have now been devolved to agency heads, for their discretionary application, under s. 22 of the 1999 Public Service Act.

Appointment of departmental Secretaries

The government declined to accept Committee proposals for more transparent processes for the appointment of departmental Secretaries—in particular, for reporting to Parliament in any case where an appointment was made of a person other than the one recommended by the Board. Prime Minister Menzies stated that, while consultation with the Board Chairman would continue to occur, it was not thought desirable ‘to impose on the responsibilities of a government the duty of stating quite publicly and notoriously, why some nomination was not accepted’ (CPD House 17 November 1960, p. 2985).

Second Division

The government declined also to accept Boyer Committee proposals for better defining and streamlining the role of the Second Division. In the abovementioned statement, the Prime Minister indicated also that the Committee’s proposals had sought the creation of an administrative civil service along United Kingdom lines—an approach seen to be unsuitable to the circumstances of the Service in Australia, the requirements of which could be achieved better by more flexible recruitment provisions and appropriate training. The Board was expected to continue its endeavours along these lines. Shortly thereafter, new Board Chairman Wheeler was to initiate proposals for upgrading the Second Division, ultimately leading to establishment of the Senior Executive Service (SES) under the 1984 Reform Act.

Retirement of Sir William Dunk

Passage of the amending Boyer Committee legislation in December 1960 represented a final significant landmark for Sir William Dunk as Board Chairman, preceding his retirement on 31 December 1960 after almost 14 years in office. The Board paid tribute to his contribution:

Much of the credit for the rehabilitation of the Service [after World War II] must go to Sir William Dunk. As Chairman of the Board, he either introduced or gave impetus to policies aimed at bringing the salary structure up to date, improving conditions of service, overhauling recruitment methods and instituting advanced training. These policies together with his emphasis on the need for improved organisation and methods greatly stimulated efficiency throughout the Service. (PSB AR 1961, p. 21).

Appointment of FH Wheeler

Dunk was succeeded as Chairman by FH (later, Sir Frederick) Wheeler on 2 January 1961. At that time, Wheeler had been Treasurer and Financial Controller of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Geneva.

The prior Service career of Wheeler had been mainly in the Treasury Department, which he had joined as a research officer in 1939, after 10 years with the State Savings Bank of Victoria. He rose rapidly in the Treasury ranks to Economist in 1944, Assistant Secretary in 1946 and First Assistant Secretary in 1949, in charge of the then General Financial and Economic Policy Branch. Prior to accepting the ILO appointment, he had served as Acting Secretary to the Treasury, a post to which he was to return in a permanent capacity in 1971, after his ten years as Board Chairman.

Wheeler proved to be a powerful force as Board Chairman. While his influence impacted significantly on the whole of the Board’s activities, particular mention is made in this paper of three areas—the review of APS classification structures, the reform of the SES category, and the major enhancement of non-specialist graduate recruitment.

Review of APS classification structures

In June 1961, less than six months after commencement of Wheeler’s term of office as Board Chairman, the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (C&A Commission) handed down its decision on salaries for base-grade engineers, following an extensive examination of the engineering profession.

While awarding salary increases, the Commission also concluded that the special circumstances of the case warranted departure from the standard salary pattern which had traditionally applied in classifying positions in the Second and Third Divisions of the APS. It believed that such a departure was unavoidable for purposes of setting equitable rates of salary for both new entrants to the profession and experienced engineering staff (PSB AR 1961, p. 16).

As a consequence, the Board proceeded immediately with an intensive review of the implications of the decision for the higher engineer grades and for other professional classifications.

The Commission’s decision, therefore, marked the beginning, under Wheeler’s direction, of an extended program of review of APS occupational categories and a major restructuring of salary classifications in the Service—a program with its major impact during Wheeler’s term of office, but continuing, with varying scope and intensity, until the Board’s abolition. The program realised a long-term Board objective to rationalise and simplify APS classification and pay structures.

Along with the Board’s program, the Commission’s judgement on engineers’ salaries resulted in a large number of pay claims from other APS employment groups. The Wheeler Board maintained the position that those claims needed to be examined concurrently with their associated establishment, organisation and classification structure implications, and in the light of current and prospective working requirements in the relevant areas of employment. Asserting that its views were in harmony with various observations of the Commission and the Public Service Arbitrator, the Board repeatedly affirmed in its annual reports that its occupational category reviews would have regard both to all factors relevant to wage fixation, and to economic circumstances. In later years, and perhaps largely as a response to allegations of pacesetting in pay fixation, the Board also asserted that its approach took account of stated Government policies in relation to the community as a whole.

Within this framework, reviews were undertaken of a wide range of the then Second, Third and Fourth Division occupational categories. Reduction and simplification of classification levels was a prime objective, but resultant structures varied between the categories, replacing the relatively uniform structures which had previously applied across various professions and occupational groups. Development of detailed position classification standards constituted a key element of the review process.

Some three years later, the Board was able to detail reviews of 17 categories additional to the original engineer reviews, including architects, psychologists and a range of medical technologist occupations such as pharmacists, physiotherapists and radiographers (PSB AR 1964, p.8). A further three years on, the Board reported that 63 major reviews had been undertaken between 1961 and 1967 (PSB AR 1967, p. 95). Review of classification categories continued to feature in the final Board reports, referring variously to reviews of the clerical– administrative, keyboard, computer systems officers and other structures.

Looked at in an historical perspective, the Wheeler-initiated reviews of occupational structures and classification categories can be viewed as rating in significance alongside McLachlan’s first classification of the Service in the early 1900s, the Board’s own classification of the Service following passage of the 1922 Public Service Act, and the major classification review exercises undertaken after World War II, principally through the Classification Committee system.

In more recent times, comparable significance could be accorded also to the 1987 review of office-based occupational categories, flowing from the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission’s ‘structural efficiency principle’. As a consequence of the review, the number of individual office classifications was reduced substantially, resulting in ‘the most significant changes of classification and working arrangements for these categories since Federation’ (PSMPC 2001a, p. 177).

Reform of the Second Division

Prior to their review under the Wheeler program, a number of the professional occupations included high-level positions classified in the then Second Division. A key element of the evolving review program, therefore, was a comprehensive review of the Second Division category, within which many individual classification levels had been allowed to evolve over the years.

The Second Division review entailed an examination both of the policy framework for the Second Division and the departmental top structures. The Board rejected suggestions for the establishment of separate professional and administrative divisions (as had existed under the 1902 Public Service Act) and expressed its own philosophy in the following terms:

In the view of the Board, policy advising and top management is a distinctive and integrated function and even where a top management position does have professional or technical content the choice of occupant should, in high degree, be on the basis of administrative and or managerial abilities (PSB AR 1964, p. 9).

On this basis, it indicated that its review was proceeding on the view that the Second Division should be developed more fully and more positively as an integral part of top administration and management. Thus, the review was characterised as ‘an evolutionary process towards crystallising the Second Division as a corps of top administrators and/or managers assisting and supporting the Permanent Heads by taking responsibility in a manner and to a degree which established an affinity between their responsibilities and those of the Permanent Head’ (PSB AR 1964, p. 10).

The C&A Commission endorsed the Board’s approach in the course of related arbitration proceedings, invited the Board to promulgate its proposed Second Division salary points and, in March 1964, endorsed the five points prescribed in the Public Service Regulations on 23 December 1963.

The Board proceeded with progressive review and implementation of revised Second Division structures in departments, in accordance with the new salary points (initially five, but later increased to six). In most departments, positions were classified at the first, third and fifth points, whilst those (few) departments assessed as having the higher- level policy responsibilities, such as Prime Minister’s and Treasury, were accorded salaries at the second, fourth and sixth points. Adoption of these differential structures was to generate a good deal of acrimonious argument in later years between the Board and individual (lower classified) departments.

Some 20 years on, establishment of the SES in 1984 under the Public Service Reform Act effectively reaffirmed the Second Division philosophy articulated by the Wheeler Board. The 1984 reforms were also to accord a significantly enhanced role to the Board in relation to overall management of the SES—an outcome which, no doubt, would have met with Wheeler’s approval.

Graduate recruitment

Insertion in 1933 of a new s. 36A into the 1922 Public Service Act provided for recruitment of university graduates as base-grade clerks, subject to the restriction that such recruitment was not to exceed 10 per cent of the clerk intake in any one year. For the next 30 years, while the graduate clerk provision saw entry to the APS of a number of officers who progressed to executive levels, the 10 per cent limit was never in prospect of being achieved, let alone being exceeded, notwithstanding a raising in 1961 of the recruitment age limit from 26 to 35 years.

The situation was to change dramatically during Wheeler’s term as Chairman. From a then typical APS intake of 37 graduate clerks in 1961, the calendar year figure rose to 93 in 1962, and had more than trebled by the end of the decade. By 1966, new graduate recruitment procedures had been introduced, with upgraded selection techniques and significantly improved induction and training arrangements. Setting an example in its own office, the Board introduced, in 1963, an intensive training scheme for its own graduate recruits (seven in that year), with that scheme then evolving quickly to become the wider-ranging Administrative Trainee Scheme (ATS), with consistent annual intakes of between 20 and 35 graduates from 1965 onwards.

The nature of the ATS was described by the Board in 1969 (PSB AR 1969, p. 51). Its development was influenced by Wheeler’s belief that the APS would benefit from an infusion into the administrative ranks of high-quality graduates, without particular regard to their respective academic disciplines. Considerable resources were directed both to the recruitment process and the development of a one-year, highly integrated training scheme with some 11 weeks of course work and, normally, three different, carefully selected work placements. There were high expectations of the performance and development of the participants. Trainees came from a wide range of university studies, perhaps predominantly arts, economics and law, but including also significant numbers of science graduates. By 1973, about 60 per cent of the trainees recruited were honours graduates. Assessment of performance during the traineeship influenced end- of-course placement in either the Board or departments, with high-performing trainees virtually guaranteed employment in significant policy or management areas, having regard also to the trainees’ interests and available vacancies.

The ATS continued through the 1970s, but was then suspended for 1981, for reasons of cost and in recognition of the progressive improvement which had occurred in APS graduate recruitment generally, with then better provision by departments of induction arrangements and development opportunities. In 1985, the ATS was reintroduced in the light of the then Board view that the Service was missing out on recruiting some topflight graduates. The trainee intake was 29 in that year, 27 in 1986 and a further 27 in the Board’s final year. Subsequently, the Public Service Commissioner announced that the scheme would be discontinued from 1 January 1989, with the training and development of graduate recruits to become solely a departmental responsibility (PSCr AR 1988, p. 44). The report did not indicate whether there was a 1988 ATS intake.

The success of the ATS was due in no small part to Wheeler’s own close involvement with the evolution and conduct of the scheme. Selected trainees and end products of the scheme were employed by him in a personal assistant capacity and in the adjacent Board Secretariat, with the perceived value of the scheme being recognised in a similar way in a number of departments. Lesser versions of the scheme were replicated in some departments, as the overall APS intake of non-specialist graduates continued to grow from the late 1960s, causing attention to be directed to the longstanding 10 per cent limitation on recruitment to the clerical–administrative ranks. The limitation was finally removed by the 1978 Public Service Amendment Act.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018