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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Pinner, John Thomas (1888–1955)

by G. E. Pettit

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

John Thomas Pinner (1888-1955), accountant and public servant, was born on 4 October 1888 in Melbourne, third child of Victorian-born parents William Edward Pinner, butcher, and his wife Jane, née Sloss. Educated at Rathdowne Street State School, Carlton, and Thomas Palmer's University High School, John became a member of the Incorporated Institute of Accountants, Victoria. He practised and taught accountancy in Adelaide from 1911 before returning to Melbourne in 1913.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 9 December 1915, Pinner was allotted to the Australian Army Pay Corps. When he was found to be unfit for active service he was transferred to the Militia in October 1916. He was commissioned in December, promoted captain in November 1918 and commended (1920) for his work in improving pay procedures. His appointment terminated in March 1921. At Scots Church, Melbourne, on 26 January 1918 he had married with Presbyterian forms Mancell Jeanott Drysdale, a dressmaker.

Pinner was appointed to the Commonwealth Public Service as an investigating officer in the taxation branch of the Treasury in February 1921. From 1922 he was chief accountant and a member of the Expropriation Board of New Guinea, which handled the disposal of German property seized in the Mandated Territory during World War I. Returning to Melbourne in 1925 as a clerk in the Treasury, he became assistant-accountant in the Federal Capital Commission in 1926 and moved to Canberra. Next year he was made the commission's internal auditor. 'J.T.' counted empty cement bags during construction of the Administrative Building and found that less cement was being used than stipulated in the contract, which was subsequently terminated. In 1928 he was appointed to the Public Service Board as an inspector. The recommendations in his report (1933) for savings in running Federal parliament proved contentious and were only partially implemented.

As senior inspector (from 1939), Pinner handled organizational problems that arose in departments involved in the war effort. In 1945 he became an assistant-commissioner on the board. He chaired a committee which reviewed the postwar structure and staffing of government departments: within six months in 1945-46 his committee produced a separate report on each of them. In January 1947 he was appointed a P.S.B. commissioner. Pinner worked hard to implement government policy and expected his subordinates to do the same. He helped to arrange a council of departments and public service associations, and to set up joint consultation on salary classifications. Five ft 8 ins (173 cm) tall, with grey eyes, he proved a hard, but courteous and fair negotiator. He wanted all avenues of the public service to be open to women. In 1951 he visited London to report on future economies at the Australian High Commission.

In 1953 Pinner was appointed O.B.E. He retired in November that year. An unassuming man of conservative habits, he audited the books of Canberra's Methodist and Presbyterian churches, and presided (1940-48) over the local branch of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants. His favourite recreation was a game of billiards at home with friends. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died of hypertensive cerebrovascular disease on 17 May 1955 in his home at Deakin and was buried in Canberra cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Caiden, Career Service (Melb, 1965)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth, House of Representatives), 10 Nov 1933
  • Public Administration (Sydney), Mar 1954
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 Nov 1953
  • Bulletin, 25 Nov 1953
  • Canberra Times, 18 May 1955
  • Report . . . suggesting . . . economies in the administration of the Parliamentary Departments, June 1933, file 77/267 (House of Representatives, Canberra)
  • series CP23/3 and A11366 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Pinner papers (privately held).

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Citation details

G. E. Pettit, 'Pinner, John Thomas (1888–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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