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Program 2--Government services
Subprogram 2.5--Comcar

Senator COLSTON --I notice that there has been a change of make of vehicle for some of the Comcars, and I presume that the change is going to be progressively made. I expect that when the new make of vehicle was selected there were many factors taken into consideration in its evaluation. Were the views of passengers, or potential passengers, sought during the time of that evaluation?

Ms Box --Are you referring to the new Caprices that we are using?

Senator COLSTON --Yes.

Ms Box --I will find out. I am not sure when they started to order them. We lease them through Dasfleet, and I will find out what sorts of views they took into account from the passengers.

Senator COLSTON --If we are making any changes in the future, could we make sure that the views of passengers are obtained?

Ms Box --Yes, certainly.

Senator McGAURAN --Obviously Dasfleet did not consult with you?

Ms Box --They would have consulted with us. We would have consulted with them. I do not know whether actual passengers' views were taken into account, but I know that the views of drivers were probably considered, and they often speak for passengers. I will find out for you.

Senator COLSTON --It just seems that the views of the passengers are some of the aspects which should have been considered.

Ms Box --I will find out.

Senator KEMP --My concern with Comcar is about jobs. Can I have the latest status of the downsizing program? In particular, what is the current number of staff who are with Comcar, what is currently proposed, and what is the timing of those proposals?

Ms Box --Current driving staff is 194, and the current administrative staff is 66. In terms of the driving staff, we re-did the figures and consulted with the TWU, but the minister has agreed that the number of driving staff should be held at 123, which means there are 74 drivers to be found excess.

Senator KEMP --Okay, 74 excess. But could I have a breakdown, by major capital city, of the current agreed numbers and the excess in each.

Ms Box --I will give it to you in writing, on notice. There are 123 drivers. In terms of the non-driving staff, the original cabinet decision last year mentioned a number of 50. That number is dependent on the number of drivers. The number of drivers has now gone up from 100 to 123, and we are reviewing that 50. We expect to hold it about there; it may go slightly up. That is being prepared at the moment in the form of a staff impact statement to discuss with the unions. It was only in the last week or two that the 123 has been agreed, so we have not finished reviewing--

Senator KEMP --That has been agreed,--

Mr Clarke --Perhaps I can help on that. I mentioned earlier--I think it was in reply to a question from you or from one of your colleagues--the negotiation with the unions in relation to surplus staff. The TWU was party to those negotiations and is now a signatory of the new arrangements in the department. Part of those new arrangements involves a discussion and consultation between the department and the affected unions--in this case, two: the TWU and the CPSU--to achieve some indication to the unions of the staffing arrangements that we propose, consistent with previous cabinet decisions. Those discussions will probably continue for the next month. At the end of that time there will be an agreed arrangement of staffing for Comcar, both driving and non-driving.

Senator KEMP --When do you expect that the individual driving staff will be told?

Mr Clarke --Once the numbers are finally determined, the processes under the MOU will take place probably in January-February. We would be aiming at this stage for the assessments to be completed by then and for drivers to be notified if they are surplus to requirements in March.

Senator KEMP --Right. So those drivers that are concerned whether they will have jobs through Christmas can at least--

Mr Clarke --The processes certainly will not be completed before Christmas within Comcar.

Senator KEMP --So at the earliest, they will be told January to March?

Mr Clarke --At the earliest, February to March.

Senator KEMP --I think that is helpful. Have they been told that?

Mr Clarke --They have. They have not been told the time frame in detail. The union has. The staff have been told that the numbers of non-dedicated drivers are now settled at 123 and that the processes under the agreed arrangements will now proceed.

Senator KEMP --The individuals will be told February-March and until then they will be employed by Comcar and driving.

Mr Clarke --Certainly.

Senator KEMP --I know communications are difficult and every effort to inform people sometimes does not succeed; but my impression in speaking to Comcar drivers in recent weeks is that there is a lot of concern, particularly as they come into the Christmas period, about whether they will in fact have jobs. I think I was told by one or two that they thought the announcements were going to be made next Tuesday.

Mr Clarke --Unfortunately, one of the problems we do have in communications in Comcar is that, no matter how one communicates decisions and plans, the communication tends to be overtaken by the Comcar rumour arrangements that have always persisted. Regrettably, the assumptions and the rumours tend to have far more creditability than the communications given, even though those communications are given individually and in writing to staff. It is a matter of continuing to communicate as we are doing in the hope that people will get a realistic view of the processes that we are following.

Senator KEMP --Could I have the criteria by which drivers will be chosen?

Mr Clarke --We can provide that to you on notice. It might be helpful to put that in context. I will provide you next week with a copy of the agreed MOU arrangements and we will also provide you within the time frame accepted by this committee with the criteria under which a selection process will be undertaken.

Senator KEMP --I appreciate that and I would welcome a chance to read it. Is it possible for you to give me a general idea because it is a question which constantly crops up with Comcar drivers?

Mr Clarke --Ms Box will give you a general outline of the criteria that will be used in the assessment.

Senator KEMP --Just in general terms.

Ms Box --These are not in order of priority nor with any particular weighting because I am trying to remember how they are worded.

Senator KEMP --Yes.

Ms Box --The criteria take into account the driver's ability to represent the department and the ability to provide service. But they really come back to this concentration on providing service and understanding what the customer might need and what their roles and responsibilities are in relation to the customers. I am thinking through the list. At the bottom line, it does hold the normal criteria relating to EEO and occupational health and safety. It relates to their capacity to pass the driver training tests. It refers to their capacity to maintain their vehicle and the presentation of their vehicle and their own personal presentation. Generally, it is directed at the service they provide to the customer and their ability to understand why they are providing that service and how it is provided.

Senator KEMP --The decisions on the individuals will be made by management.

Ms Box --The decisions will be made by a selection panel.

Senator KEMP --Who is on the selection panel?

Ms Box --Under the MOU, the representation on that is that there is to be one person from the area where the driver is employed and an independent person to help make that decision. There is at least a panel of two and it may be three. They will also have a report provided by their supervisor and that will be provided to them in writing some days before the interview. This is all set out in the MOU.

Senator KEMP --I imagine this is going to be a very difficult and somewhat painful process because a lot of these things are going to be very hard to distinguish between individuals on. Although one can specify the criteria, a lot of it is fairly subjective, I guess, in the end.

Ms Box --Yes.

Senator KEMP --But there is no hint that there is a last-in, first-out criterion?

Ms Box --Certainly not from our side. I have heard it mentioned once by a union official, but it was something that we would prefer not to go along with.

Mr Clarke --During the negotiations, there was the occasional mention made by the unions, testing our reaction to a last-on, first-off proposal, which we were not prepared to accede to in the case of drivers or generally.

Senator KEMP --Right. Just going back--

Mr Clarke --You mentioned that this is a very difficult process. It has been a very difficult process throughout the downsizing of DAS by somewhere near 6,000 staff over the last five years. Often one feels that one is concentrating more on the 50 or 60 drivers that may become surplus than upon the 2,000 or 3,000 that have become surplus in other areas over the last three years. But it is always a very difficult and always a very painful process--not least of all for the people concerned or for the managements that have got to make these decisions.

Senator KEMP --Yes, I appreciate that. It is very important that the panel is seen to be a fair arrangement. Could you just run me through it? There are two people on the panel, one of whom is appointed from the area. Is that meant for a departmental person?

Ms Box --From Comcar, somebody who knows the area and knows the jobs, and there has to be at least an independent person.

Senator KEMP --It is a Comcar manager, is it?

Ms Box --It could be an operations supervisor. It is somebody at a level above the driver level, but it is not necessarily management in that sense. It would depend on who we have got available, who is left at the time.

Mr Clarke --And most suitable.

Senator KEMP --You say the other one would be an independent person?

Ms Box --An independent person, yes.

Senator KEMP --What sort of independent person are you looking for?

Ms Box --We have not got down to that stage yet, but the person is likely to come from support services--that is an option--and be somebody who understands the application of the MOU, somebody from the state, from another area, from another part of DAS.

Senator KEMP --But from DAS as well?

Ms Box --From DAS, but separate from Comcar.

Senator KEMP --And one of those people will not be a union official?

Ms Box --The union may be offered the chance to observe the process. But I am told they generally choose not to take part. I think that they would, on this occasion, choose not to take part.

Mr Clarke --Again, under the MOU arrangements, there is a national monitoring committee consisting of both management and unions to which can be referred situations which have wide application. As well as that, there is in each region a local monitoring committee to which any grievances or concern about either the panel or the process or the criteria adopted can be referred for decision. That is spelt out in the new MOU.

Senator KEMP --What is the position of those whose services are not required? They will be on the staff adjustment program?

Ms Box --The career transition program.

Mr Clarke --Once people have been identified as being surplus to the operational requirements of Comcar through this process, they will be transferred to the career transition program. On that program, they will be given a maximum of six months during which time they will receive services from our outplacement agencies as well as retraining and counselling. Attempts will be made by outplacement agencies to find them alternative employment. They will, at any time during that six months, have an option to take a voluntary redundancy. But at the end of that six-month period, if they have not succeeded in finding alternative employment--either themselves or through the outplacement agency--then they will be subject to the application of the RRR award.

Senator KEMP --Which involves?

Mr Clarke --The RRR award would involve them being formally declared excess, and then the provisions of that award would apply. Depending upon their years of service within the APS, they would be gradually removed from the service.

Senator KEMP --In the selection of the people to stay, are the views of the users of Comcar going to be sought? My initial reaction is that you should be very careful, and I am sure you will be, to avoid any sort of political influence in this very delicate matter. I am not sure whether you should, to be quite frank, but I raise that issue.

Mr Clarke --In fact, the MOU and the arrangements that have been adopted and issued by way of SAADs quite clearly specify that staff assessment must preclude patronage, favouritism or unjustified discrimination.

Senator McMullan --I am not familiar with the detail, but you would assume that there would be a user element in so far as if there had been user complaints about someone that would be part of their assessment, but I do not think we are going to go around and ring people up and say, `How do you like Fred?'

Senator KEMP --I think the more likely thing is that people may well phone up and say, `Fred is a fantastic bloke and he should be kept on.' I think that is the more likely process with it.

Ms Box --The drivers are quite welcome to produce references from anybody they wish. We certainly would not preclude them from doing that. But I am conscious that there is a risk the other way.

Senator KEMP --I think there is, at least in terms of perceptions, I have to say because people will be looking very carefully--as undoubtedly they should--at the decisions which are made.

Mr Clarke --Indeed. We are very conscious of that too because, having gone through the review of the old staffing adjustment program over this year, we became very well aware of the sorts of perceptions that existed and the arrangements that have now been put in place, I think, addressed many of them.

Senator KEMP --It seems likely that unless there is a significant voluntary retirement from the service there will be 74, at least, in excess.

Mr Clarke --Around those numbers, yes.

Senator KEMP --Do you think they will get an apology from the TWU, who told them prior to the last election that if they voted Labor their jobs would be protected?

Mr Clarke --I could not possibly speak for anybody other than the department, Senator.

Senator KEMP --I just put that on the record because I think it is important.

Senator McMullan --I am sure you do. Next question.

Senator KEMP --After the worst recession in 60 years.

Senator McMullan --Oh, shut up!

Senator KEMP --I will respond, Minister, because a number of drivers have pointed out to me that assurances were given to them about their jobs--

Senator McMullan --This is not the time for a political speech.

Senator KEMP --I am going to put it on record--

Senator McMullan --Pop up in the adjournment debate and make whatever speech you like, but do not do it here.

Senator KEMP --I am completing this comment that a number of drivers have pointed out to me that they were told that if they voted Labor their Comcar jobs would be protected, but if they voted Liberal the Liberal Party would downsize Comcar. Those assurances were given by the TWU. It is important that that lie be recorded.

Senator McMullan --I am sure everybody is excited about that!

CHAIR --Order! Once was enough to say it all. Senator Colston has a further question on Comcar.

Senator COLSTON --I would like to direct my question to the minister, who may then like to direct it to the officers. I am interested in the case of a Comcar driver who was dismissed for alleged misbehaviour. Could one of the officers one day give me a private briefing on the circumstances surrounding it?

Senator McMullan --We will arrange that.

[4.32 p.m.]