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Thursday, 30 October 1997
Page: 10216


Mr MARTIN(10.19 a.m.) —Obviously I have an interest in the Parliamentary Service Bill 1997 stemming not only from my role as a member of the federal parliament for nearly 13 years—the anniversary falls on 1 December of this year—but also, like the previous speaker, the member for Watson (Mr Leo McLeay), from having occupied the position of Speaker in the House of Representatives between 1993 and 1996. That role gave me, as it gave my friend the member for Watson, a unique opportunity to see the way in which this building operates, the way in which departments which are part of the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia operate and interact with each other and a unique chance—at least we believe so—to contribute. It is therefore with some interest that I read not only the second reading speech but also the legislation which was introduced into this place by the Speaker and is before us today for debate.

There are a number of issues which I would like to touch upon briefly. The first is the fact that, irrespective of what system in a bureaucratic sense is put in place, there is a unique contribution made by the people who work within the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia for the greater good of this institution, stemming from the clerk through to the people who—perhaps by virtue of comparison, using height—work in the basement. All of them in this place contribute mightily to the functioning of the parliament. They do so because of a sense of pride in what they do and also because of a sense of commitment which people working in this parliament enjoy. That is why, to some extent, it is important to disaggregate some of the roles ascribed to people by this legislation and the manner in which people are to be appointed to different roles, particularly at the top, and the way in which that opportunity for presid ing officers to play a legitimate role in this building will not be diminished.

Much has been said about the issue of appointments of clerks and secretaries within the structure of the parliamentary departments. I can well remember sitting down in somewhat animated discussion—and, for those who know the former clerk, to be animated it must have been an interesting issue to become involved with—on the way in which the clerks of the parliament, both in the House of Representatives and in the Senate, were seen in the public sector sense to be inferior to Public Service heads of department. That was reflected not only in a monetary sense but also in the roles which they perceived to play and the manner in which they administered this building. As I have said, there is a uniqueness about the parliament, and the way in which it is administered requires people to step back a touch from what is considered to be the regular Public Service.

In those discussions with Lyn Barlin—and these were statistics that could never be disputed—we talked about the fact that Lyn, and now the present clerk, Ian Harris, controls the destinies of people in the Department of the House of Representatives. In many cases, they are many times greater destinies than some of the other government departments.

Some of those departments have now disappeared; nevertheless they were still out there, and other parts of the bureaucracy are still out there now. Their total numbers vary from 40 to 60 personnel in some areas, up to 120 personnel in others—they are just figures off the top of my head—but in the House of Representatives, just as there is in the Senate, there is a sizeable work force for which the clerks have responsibility, yet for some reason there was this non-recognition that they were actually heads of departments in the pure Public Service sense.

Lyn and I—and Ian Harris too—used to become involved in some discussions about how we might change that perception. There were contributions and submissions made to remuneration tribunals and other organisations to try to get that recognition factor changed. From time to time we were marginally successful, but at the end of the day there was still some resistance from Public Service mandarins who thought, `No, those people up on the hill—that's the Parliament of Australia. It's not really Public Service, is it?' I beg to differ. I would tend to think that this is the purest form of public service and that the people who work within this building deliver that purest form of public service. Nevertheless, it is appropriate that this legislation is before us today which sets out some of those very real and very necessary changes.

I am mindful of what the member for Watson said in his comments about the broader Public Service concept and so on. We do not want to diminish that role and make it unattractive for people wishing to enter the Public Service so that they think there is not a career path structure for them. I would certainly support his words of caution in that respect.

In regard to some of the appointments that are contained within this legislation—I am referring specifically to the Clerks of the House of Representatives and the Senate and also to secretaries, other than clerks, to parliamentary departments—there is a difference of approach yet again. For example, the legislation proposes that the clerks in both places be appointed for a non-renewable period of 10 years but that secretaries be appointed for five-year terms with termination arrangements similar to those applying to secretaries to executive departments and with the possibility of reappointment.

When this legislation came before us for consideration, I said within our party room and within the shadow ministry that, if we were going to go the whole hog, maybe that anomalous situation that is still here needed to be redressed if we were to get an absolute recognition of the role that the clerks play, of the very significant stature that that position has and of the very real administrative role that that position has—just as it does whether you happen to be the Secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Secretary to the Department of Defence or the secretary to any other department.

Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins, as you well know, because you take a great interest in these matters, there is a financial implication in all of this. The public administration of moneys on behalf of the taxpayers of Australia is probably more under scrutiny in this building than anywhere else. The member for Watson referred to some of that scrutiny recently in respect of travel arrangements. There is no doubt that that is the case. There is no doubt that that scrutiny requirement on members of parliament is much tougher. People like the Clerk of the House of Representatives, the Clerk of the Senate and the secretaries to the other parliamentary departments provide guidance to members of parliament to carry out their duties as members of parliament. So they have administrative and accountability responsibilities.

At the end of the day we came down on the side of supporting this legislation, but again I do not raise it simply because I am concerned about either clerk being singled out. I think the present government was endeavouring to do that with the Clerk of the Senate and to suggest that perhaps a shorter tenure was necessary. I am simply raising it because I believe we need to equate the clerks' positions in this parliament with the highest levels of the Public Service, with the mandarins in the Public Service, because the work that they do is well and truly equated in that respect.

There are a couple of other issues that I want to touch upon as well in respect of this legislation. The first goes to the concept of a code of conduct. This bill contains a statement of parliamentary service values and a code of conduct, which I think is quite reasonable and quite rare. It is interesting that these Public Service values that are contained in the legislation and the Parliamentary Service code of conduct go through issues associated with what employees in this organisation should contribute and the sorts of values that they should uphold.

I am mindful that in the course of the last parliament the then President of the Senate, former Senator Beahan, and I were involved in an exercise in trying to develop a similar set of values or a code of conduct for members and senators and also for ministers. I can well recall at the time that, when we sat down to try to devise that concept of what ministers, members and senators should hold as core values, it became a very interesting task. It was a difficult task because people did not want to define values as tightly as would require codification of penalties and those sorts of issues, but at the same time it tried to set core values for members of parliament and the conservation of the use of resources that they are given.

At the end of the day it is the taxpayers who provide the wherewithal for us to do our jobs as members and senators. It is the taxpayers, through the appropriations system of the budget, that allow us as members and senators to write to our constituents, to get telephone calls from them, to travel to see them, to embark upon policy determinations and to look at ways in which we as members of parliament might work up those platforms and policies that we want to put in place. We should be ever mindful that there is that real responsibility on us to do that in a sense which is both responsible and accountable.

I have maintained all along that about 95 per cent to 98 per cent of all members and senators probably do that. There may be one or two who have brought us all into disrepute by not doing that. In time, people will be judged according to what is mentioned in the media, in particular, about those sorts of individuals. They will also be judged by their peers. But it is important that the Parliamentary Service code of conduct and values outlined here are things that members of parliament also from time to time reflect on.

The other issue is the directions given by Presiding Officers and secretaries to staff under their direct control. Obviously, if you are the boss in a management sense and you give directions, you expect those directions to be carried out. Those directions are often put in place after extensive consultation. I know that the clerks and the secretaries of the other departments here on Capital Hill do that.

Therefore, I think the role and responsibility of defining this as something that can continue happen is justifiable in the circumstances and is very appropriate in ensuring that people who work within this building are given clear directions and that policy statements are put out to give them some guidance in that respect but that at the same time the clerks and the secretaries can give those directions when necessary.

Based on the complaints about the catering arrangements that I have been getting from people around this place, it would be good if some of those directions could be exercised now. It is a sad fact that some of my staff and other staff on the Labor Party side—and I do not think it is just on the Labor Party side—have complained of becoming ill as a result of some of the catering arrangements in this building—

Mr Truss interjecting


Mr MARTIN —I wonder if this is a plot that has been hatched within the government ranks to do something about the already depleted opposition! In a very serious sense, I hope that those that administer this building take on board those sorts of concerns. That is a legitimate concern and a legitimate role for secretaries and clerks of this building to look at—and, might I say, for the Presiding Officers, because, as you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, at the end of the day it is the two Presiding Officers that have ultimate responsibility for the running of this building and the parliamentary departments which are within the building. Those sorts of issues need to be addressed.

To conclude, the legislation, which goes to the very heart of how parliamentary services in this building are delivered to members and senators and the occupants of the building, is a very important piece of legislation. It is one which will need to be reviewed from time to time. It will need to be kept under constant review by the Presiding Officers. I know that they will do that.

I am sure that, if anomalies subsequently emerge as a result of this, we may see a need to come back and implement some other changes. From our side—and personally, as someone who has taken a great deal of interest in the running of this place—I would like to think that we will see a smoother, better operating set of parliamentary departments here on Capital Hill and that, under the guidance of both Mr Speaker and Madam President, those arrangements will see a very smooth functioning section of the Public Service.

That should be recognised more widely within the broader Public Service because, as I said at the beginning, at the end of the day it is departments like the Department of the House of Representatives and the Department of the Senate which give the wherewithal for other departments to operate, because we pass the laws.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Johnston) adjourned.