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Significant matters addressed by Public Service Board in its first report

(September 1924)

Classification of the Service (pp. 34–45)

Commencement of the Board’s classification of the Service, as required by s. 27 of the 1922 Act, within the new divisional structure specified in s. 23 of the Act (but excluding First Division Officers), and in accordance with ‘the importance and character of the work performed’—the Board noted (p. 34) that this would involve fixing pay scales for more than 25 000 permanent officers in nine departments, compared with some 11 600 permanent officers classified by McLachlan with effect from 1 July 1904.

Basic wage (pp. 45–57)

Addressing the question of a basic wage for the Service, against the background of Federal Arbitration Court awards for outside industries, and determination of the method to be adopted in fixing a basic wage for female officers and, particularly, ‘whether discrimination should be exercised between women performing work generally recognised as women’s work and others engaged on duties of a similar character to those ordinarily discharged by men’—the Board concluded (p. 55–7) that there was ‘overwhelming’ evidence from the decisions of various arbitration Courts, and from the practices of state government and outside industries for using separate pay rates for men and women, that contrary pay anomalies previously resulting from decisions of the former Public Service Commissioner could not be sustained, notwithstanding the fact that the Board’s classification would result in loss of pay for some women officers, and that the Board would therefore determine differential rates. The Board’s commentary on this particular issue, and in the light of protests, was that its duties under the Act could ‘not be evaded by any considerations of sentiment’ and previous overpayments could not be accepted as justification for their indefinite continuation. It concluded:

Duty is often unpalatable, but nevertheless must be conscientiously discharged.

Training of officers (pp. 58–61)

The Board emphasised its own responsibilities, under s. 17 of the Act, for improving the training of officers, and stressed the need for departments to pursue vigorously the same course of action, both through internal training, encouragement of external study and, in the case of ‘keen young engineers’, periodical visits abroad to enable them to assimilate overseas developments in their profession. The Board indicated also its intention to provide for expanded departmental training of cadet engineers, with an examination on conclusion of training to qualify for automatic advancement as engineers, independently of the occurrence of actual vacancies.

Efficiency and economy (pp. 63–7)

The Board drew to attention its comprehensive powers and authorities under s. 17 of the Act which ‘convey(ed) definitely the intentions of Parliament as to a continuous check being maintained on departmental activities and expenditure’, consistent with recommendations of the Economies Commission. The most immediate and important task in this context was seen to be the work of classifying the Service, to seek to ensure that officers would be placed in an organisational framework which provided for efficient discharge of their duties. Separate, specifically orientated ‘efficiency and economy’ investigations were not seen to be practicable until the classification task had been completed. The Board did comment, however, on insistent press and other demands for adoption of ‘business-like’ methods in public services, offering the following observation which has had some familiar echoes in more recent years:

The question has apparently never been considered whether the application in their entirety of the so-called business methods to government departments is practicable, and whether the organisation of outside business, as compared with that of public departments, has made for efficiency of commercial and manufacturing undertakings.

The Board believed that its work in organising and classifying departmental organisations, along with better control of temporary employment, had already produced economies and efficiencies. It emphasised the ongoing responsibilities of its Public Service Inspectors in the several States for monitoring and instituting appropriate remedial action in relation to efficient and economic departmental operations, having advised the Inspectors, however, that ‘the Board was not charged with the management of departments, consequently there was need for breadth of view and the exercise of tact and discretion’.

In the event, while the Board continued to accord priority to its s. 17 responsibilities in succeeding years, it found that resources constraints generally limited the scope of its activities—initially as a result of the demands of its task in classifying the Service and, subsequently, the increasing economic stringencies and staff reductions associated with the onset and consequences of the Depression and the Second World War. Further major impetus to the s. 17 activities was not to occur until after the War, and the reconstitution of a full, three-member Board in 1947, in place of the single-Commissioner Board which had operated, principally as an economy measure, from June 1931.

Management of temporary employment (pp. 67–8)

The Board considered that, prior to the 1922 Act, no proper restrictions had operated on engagement and continuation of temporary employment in departments and it had become ‘a species of patronage’, which was often ‘continued indefinitely because of political, philanthropic, or sentimental reasons’. The Board required the exercise of tighter controls by its Public Service Inspectors, whose interventions over a nine-month period in restricting engagements or extensions were believed to have had value in terms of their ‘moral effect’ on departments, along with actual savings of £6,428 15s 7d!

Preference to returned soldiers (p. 77)

The Board noted the continuation and extension in the 1922 Act of the 1902 Act policy of preference for ‘returned soldiers’. These arrangements, detailed in ss. 83 and 84 of the Act, included provision for the Board to reappoint to the Service a returned soldier who, prior to enlistment, had been dismissed from the Service. This provision had been applied in a number of cases to youths who had been dismissed but who, by satisfactory military services had ‘expiated their offences and thus afforded some justification for their re-admission to the Public Service’. Provision was made also for application of concessional health standards to appointees to the Service. To the end of June 1924, a total of 2525 persons had been appointed to the Service (then numbering 25 407 permanent officers) from the time of commencement of preference provisions.

Operation of the Arbitration (Public Service) Act 1920 (pp. 84–7)

The Board noted the origins of the above Act, introduced by the Government contrary to the vigorous criticisms and opposition of McLachlan in his Royal Commission report. The Board quoted also the similar concerns of former Acting Commissioner Edwards in his final annual Report. After 12 months operation of the Act, the Board observed that the principle of public service arbitration had ‘much virtue’ but that ‘Its application in a practical and equitable manner (was) fraught with difficulty’ and that the Act itself was ‘defective in construction and unsuitable to the conditions it was designed to meet’.

Further, in the Board’s view, it conflicted with the Public Service Act and had produced ‘an impossible duality of power, while responsibility rests alone with the Board’. After citing various examples of problems experienced by the Board as a result of decisions and determinations of the Public Service Arbitrator and the ‘unnecessarily wide powers’ conferred by the Act, the Board concluded that it was ‘obviously necessary to reduce to reasonably practical measures the application of the principle of Arbitration to the Public Service’.