George H. Cooper

George was born in Como, Western Australia in 1917 and grew up there attending the Como Primary School. He studied trade subjects at the Junior Technical School in Newcastle Street, Perth during 1930 and 1931 but this was at the height of the Great Depression and as his carpenter father could not get regular work George got a job one month before his 15th birthday in 1932 to help support the family.

His starting pay was twelve shillings and sixpence a week of which he was allowed to keep sixpence. This first job was as a messenger boy with the Metropolitan Water Supply Department and he continued at night school in order to obtain his Junior Certificate and followed that by passing the Class F promotional exam. He ultimately qualified as an accountant in 1940.

He was appointed to the permanent staff at the Metropolitan Water Supply Department in 1936 as a junior clerk working mainly on the audit of entries made in Rate Books for the payment of rates. In 1938 he joined the Registrar General’s Office as a senior clerk in the Government Statisticians Office compiling statistical reports but this was interrupted by war service as a navigator in the RAAF which he feels lucky to have survived. He returned to work in the Government Statistician’s Office as a research clerk where he carried out the first retail census for the Commonwealth Statistician.

George moved to the Public Service Commissioner’s Office in 1950 and there gained experience in the roles of Employment Officer, Advocate, Inspector, Senior Inspector and Chief Inspector. In 1964 he became the Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Industrial Development - later Director - remaining there until he was appointed Under Secretary for Mines in November 1970 formally taking over the role in April 1971. He served under the Brand and Tonkin governments working mostly for Sir Charles Court, the then Minister for Industrial Development. He found Sir Charles Court to be an inspiring man and feels privileged to have worked with him.

George was appointed as Chairman of the Public Service Board in February 1974 serving until he retired in June 1979. Having started in 1932 he has seen a lot of changes from the use of manually operated calculating machines to the introduction of the first centralised government electronic computer. He noted that the workforce was predominantly male with women only employed in lower level roles with a requirement for them to resign on marriage. He supported some important changes in the Public Service namely the introduction of equal pay for equal work with promotion based on efficiency, competence and merit rather than seniority.

George sees great value in political independence of the Public Service and the principles of government under the Westminster System with the emphasis being that the Public Service exists to serve the public properly with the expectation that it should always do its utmost to do the right thing. Undoubtedly George’s career during which he rose from messenger boy to Chairman of the Public Service Board is a good illustration of the foundations on which sound public administration is built.

George (second from left) on his retirement from Chairman of the Public Service Board in June 1979, with Digby Blight (far left), Alex Errington, Les Smith and Maurie Beeson

George (second from left) on his retirement from Chairman of the Public Service Board in June 1979, with Digby Blight (far left), Alex Errington, Les Smith and Maurie Beeson.

Page last updated 25 June 2014