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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2966

Senator MACKLIN(9.28) —The Public Service Reform Bill, the Members of Parliament (Staff) Bill and the Merit Protection and Review Agency Bill contain some of the most comprehensive proposals for change in the Public Service since its inception. The record of service that the Public Service has made to Australia has been exceptionally good, but over the years obviously the need for reform has developed. This package of Bills introduces a series of changes.

The major change is the creation of a Senior Executive Service which is aimed at being more mobile and open and at attracting people from outside the Public Service. Other changes include: The rotation of department heads every five years; appeals regarding promotions in the Senior Executive Service are to be abolished; the Public Service Board is to be charged with centralised direction of the reformed Public Service; and Ministers are to be able to employ consultants for projects outside normal Public Service arrangements. In addition , permanent part time employment is to be a permanent feature and industrial democracy plans and equal opportunity management plans are to be required by legislation. A Commonwealth employees grievance appeals and rights protection authority is to be established and merit principles against which the SES staff will be judged are to be put into the Public Service Act.

This series of reforms, I hope, will vastly improve the operation of the Public Service and therefore has the support of the Australian Democrats. We also commend the Government for its consultative process with all the various parties involved. I think that has assisted the development greatly. Despite our overall acceptance of these changes, we had three main concerns. The first concern was that the advertising of the SES positions be carried out in the open Press, and not just in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette.. The second concern was that the staff representative of the SES should be involved in appointment procedures and promotions and transfers involving the Service. The third concern was that the remuneration package be improved for people in the SES. These were our final concerns after a thorough examination of all the Bills and after detailed discussions with staff associations.

In our representations to the Minister on these matters we have been given guarantees with regard to these items that all promotion and appointment selection committees will have at least one representative of the SES staff on them. This reflects our concern that the opening up of the SES should not be detrimental to existing members of the Second Division. The changeover operations with regard to any reforms are always somewhat difficult. Our hope is that this mechanism will assist in that changeover operation. We believe that the situation guaranteed by the Government to us on this matter will ensure that the current staff of the Second Division will have their rights protected while the flexibility that the Government is seeking will not be threatened.

To be fully open and free from any political influence, as the merit principles contained in the Bill call for, all SES positions, when advertised, will need to be advertised in the open Press and not just in a select corner of the Gazette, which, with all due respects to the Gazette, is not exactly one of the most widely read documents in Australia. We believe that the wider advertising will ensure that potential applicants will start off on an equal footing.

The other item, the remuneration for the SES, is vital if we are to have the capacity to attract top quality people to that Service. Although there are constraints currently in place in relation to the national wage guidelines and through the accord, we believe that the development of some attractive executive packages in this regard will assist the area greatly. The packages, for example, which were recently proposed for the directors of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation seem to fit the bill adequately. These packages could include expense of office allowances, payment of telephone bills, improved transfer conditions, provision for family travel, and the like. Such a remuneration package will attract quality applicants for these responsible positions.

As these items, which were the last of our concerns, have been met by the Government's guarantees in discussions, it is not our intention to support the Opposition's amendment to retain the present appeal structure for two years. Also, we shall not be supporting the other Opposition amendments. However, I shall discuss the two Opposition amendments circulated in the chamber this evening during the Committee stage, as that is probably more appropriate.