The Civil Service Board was appointed under the Civil Service Act of 1884 (48 Vic. Act No. 24), which took effect from 1 January 1885. It consisted of five part-time members who were to conduct qualifying examinations for the appointment and promotion of civil servants, publish an annual staff list, present a list of qualified persons for each vacant position to the relevant Minister and in general, be the central controlling authority of the various departments. (1).
The Board lacked wide policy-making powers and could only investigate and recommend. The Commissioner for Railways was exempted from all provisions of the Act (2). Where a Minister deemed it expedient, persons not already in the service might be appointed without examination or probation (3). Ministers were also empowered to make temporary appointments without reference to the Board (4).
In 1886 certain portions of the Act were repealed by the Civil Service Amendment Act 1886 (50 Vic. Act No. 25) (5). This legislation saw the removal of powers relating to staff classifications and increases in the civil service and prevented the Board from developing an integrated system of administration. Direct control of the civil service was in the hands of the Ministers - they determined appointments and promotions. These powers were used to secure support in the Legislature. Between 1856 and 1890 ten percent of members elected ended their parliamentary career by accepting a government appointment (6).
A Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the Civil Service in 1887(7).The Commission toured the state and submitted progress reports on a number of individual departments. Since evidence was given confidentially, the reports were not tabled in parliament - though parliament several times requested and received returns on the Commission’s progress. Before the Commission finally lapsed in January 1892 reports were furnished on six Departments but only one, that on the Post Office was ever published (8)
In 1894 another Royal Commission (9) was appointed to inquire and report as to changes necessary for the efficient running of public departments, economical expenditure, the securing of the civil service superannuation fund, and improved regulation of appointments and promotions in the Public Service. It confirmed the failure of the Civil Service Act of 1884. As a result the Civil Service Board was dissolved and replaced by the Public Service Board on 23 December 1895 under the Public Service Act of 1895 (59 Vic. Act. No. 25) (10).
(1) NSW Government Gazette, Vol. 4, 7 November, 1884 p.7483.
(2) Civil Service Act, 1884, s.7.
(3) Ibid. s. 28.
(4) Ibid. s. 31.
(5) NSW Government Gazette, Vol. 4, 4 November 1886 p. 7603.
(6) J.B. Hirst, The Strange Birth of Colonial Democracy, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988, p.178.
(7) Short Title - The Civil Service Inquiry Commission, 1887 to 1892, Chair - J. Garrard
(8) R.L. Wettenhall ‘A Brief History of Public Service Inquiries’ in R.F.I. Smith and Patrick Weller (Eds) Public Service Inquiries in Australia, St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1978, p.31.
(9) Short Title - The Royal Commission on the Civil Service, 1894 Chair - T. Littlejohn
(10) Receiving assent from December 1895 - NSW Government Gazette, Vol. 1, 2 January 1896, p.61.