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Wednesday, 13 June 1984
Page: 2967


Senator TOWNLEY(9.34) —Senator Giles tried to give the impression that the Liberal Party and the National Party are uncaring about people in the Public Service. Nothing could be further from the truth. Most people in this country, unfortunately, come to meet only the junior people in the Public Service. Many of them are very dedicated people who work hard. Likewise, those of us who have to deal with the senior people within much of the Public Service recognise just how hard and at what length many of them work. When I heard Senator Giles speaking I would not have been at all surprised to hear her say that the Liberal Party was uncaring. That seems to be a good Labor word as are the words 'reform' and 'initiative'. Senator Giles certainly used the words ' initiative' and 'reform'. Whenever I hear these words spout forth from the Austraian Labor Party benches I become worried. I do not think the public of Australia is that easily hoodwinked. The public recognises that whilst the Liberal-National Party Government did try to keep the numbers of the Public Service down, it was done for a very real reason, and that is that the country cannot afford unbridled expansion of the Public Service. Perhaps I should go into that matter another day.

Tonight I want to deal with a couple of issues. The first concerns the Public Service Reform Bill which is really what I was talking about just a moment ago. Senator Durack said that the Public Service Reform 1984 and cognate Bills are significant Bills but really should not be named reform Bills; they should be called Public Service amendment Bills. I think that would be a much better name. There is one area of the Public Service that I believe the public is very cynical about. The public is cynical about the many appointments that appear to be jobs for the boys. I do not think the Public Service Reform Bill does much to stop that situation.

I remind the Senate that the Bill is a fairly complicated one. Without the Schedules at the back of the Bill it is 94 pages long. The explanatory memorandum, explaining the bits and pieces within the Bill, is 54 pages long. So the Bill is fairly complicated and one which I have been informed has a few bugs for those people trying to work it out. I believe that in regard to appointments from outside the Public Service-a matter dealt with to a certain extent by Senator Durack-a lot of the senior positions should be subject to parliamentary disallowance. I think that would apply a brake to any reckless government. I believe that we should try to effect amendments to the Bill, now or at some future stage, to subject to parliamentary review and possible disallowance a number of Public Service appointments. First of all, I think the appointment of secretary or permanent head of a department, covered by proposed new section 36, should be subject to disallowance. I believe that special outside appointments to senior executive level, covered in proposed new section 43, are to be subject to parliamentary disallowance. Ordinary outside appointees to the Senior Executive Service, covered by proposed new section 42, should have their appointments subject to parliamentary disallowance as should public servants promoted to the Senior Executive Service, covered by proposed new section 49B. Honourable senators will notice that of all these types of appointments only one is now thought to be deserving of parliamentary review. This is the special appointments under proposed new section 43.

I have some amendments, which I do not intend to move, which would put some teeth into this review. However, at the same time they would reduce the number of sitting days on which a parliament could act, down from 15 to 5. I think that would probably be a fair trade-off. Honourable senators undoubtedly would know that the power of parliament over government appointments is not without precedent in the Western world. The United States and Canadian parliaments have the power to refuse or disallow certain government appointments. Indeed, our own Public Service Act already provides that the Governor-General may remove members of the Public Service Board on an address being presented to him by both Houses of Parliament in the same session. Many of the appointments that I have mentioned I understand would meet with no criticism at all. I am completely in agreement with those. It may be the case that the Senate should set up a committee similar to the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances in order to draw the Senate's attention to appointments that might be considered questionable. If that kind of thing were implemented in a Bill of this kind it would protect the present Government and any future government from public criticism and would restore some of the reputation of the Australian Public Service as an impartial bureaucracy ready to serve the public and the government of the day. It would remove from the Executive that unbridled power to provide jobs for the boys that all of us in this country have heard a fair bit about over the last few years.

With the Members of Parliament (Staff) Bill, I believe we should aim to protect the taxpayer. That is the first thing that this Parliament always should do. At a meeting I attended the other day it was pointed out that certain people within an organisation were not looking after other people's money as well as they should be, and that we as members of parliament should aim to protect the taxpayer of this country from two things: Firstly, the overexpansion of the staff of members of parliament and, secondly, the rate of their payment. We should protect against the number of people members of parliament can have on their staff and the rate of their payment. This Parliament is to be increased in size and the number of staff of members of parliament will also increase. It is not a question simply of additional members of parliament. They have to be provided with accommodation, facilities, telephones, typewriters and things of that nature which add quite considerably to the cost of running this Parliament.

Yet in this Bill staff appointments for members of parliament will be at the whim of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). I believe it should have been left with the Remuneration Tribunal. Otherwise, we are setting up a situation in this country in which a Prime Minister obviously can curry favour with an individual or a group by allowing that individual or group extra staff, or staff at a higher rate of pay. Honourable senators should not think that I am asking for extra staff; I am not. But there is the obvious ability for a Prime Minister, who has the right to decide how many members of staff a member of parliament- perhaps one of his opponents-shall have and the rate at which they will be paid, to allow special deals for his mates; I suppose that would be the word we would use in respect of the current Prime Minister. I am not saying that the current Prime Minister is doing that. But under this legislation it would be possible for the Prime Minister to curry favour with people who do what he wants done, or with groups that he may want to persuade one way or the other.

No doubt when the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans) replies, he will say that that will not happen. Before he does so, I tell him that it has been done in this place, and I have seen it in the time that I have been here. I have seen it done by two Prime Ministers, and it can obviously happen once again. I do not want to go into detail about it, but I have seen senators and members given facilities better than those of other senators and members. The Remuneration Tribunal has been at pains not to do that. It has always taken great care to treat members of parliament and senators equally. Clause 20 (2) of the Members of Parliament (Staff) Bill states:

The power conferred on a Senator or Member of the House of Representatives by sub-section (1)-

that relates to the hiring of staff-

is not exercisable otherwise than in accordance with arrangements approved by the Prime Minister, and the exercise of that power is subject to such conditions as are determined by the Prime Minister.

That gives the Prime Minister a pretty open hand on what he can do. It is not a situation we should be going back to. This Bill is a step backwards in this regard. A tribunal was set up, to which I will refer in a moment, yet we are going to a situation in which the Prime Minister can allow staff appointments subject to such conditions as are determined by him. If we read a little further we find that section 21 sub-section (3) on page 10 of this Bill states:

The Prime Minister may by writing determine that the terms and conditions of employment of a person employed under this Part . . . are varied . . . as specified in the determination.

It just needs a letter from the Prime Minister to say what the situation of my staff members or of somebody else's staff members will be. I do not believe that is at all a good thing. It is open to patronage and should not really be contemplated by the Government. It is better done by the Remuneration Tribunal.

For the interest of the Senate I will just run through a little of the history of the Tribunal. Until now the Tribunal has always been able to make the determination on members' entitlements to staff but it has seen the pay and conditions of those staff as falling under the control of the Public Service Board. I suppose the Minister will say that the Prime Minister could direct the Tribunal in certain ways. But at least it has been a little bit removed from his direct influence. The present Bill gives it right to him on his desk. He does not have to do anything other than write a letter to determine what a person's staff numbers or the salaries of those staff members will be.

As a result of a 1974 amendment to the Remuneration Tribunal Act the Government has been able to request the Tribunal to determine on these entitlements. Prior to that amendment the Tribunal made recommendations on the subject but did not make determinations of its own volition, despite its having the power to do so. Since that amendment the Tribunal has made determinations regardless of whether it has been requested to do so by the Government.

I come now to the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973. Power for the Tribunal to inquire into staffing entitlements flows from section 7 of that Act. A 1974 amendment added a section which provides for the Tribunal's consideration of this matter at the request of the Minister as well as on its own initiative. So it has been trying to get into the act for a little while. In the Tribunal's first report, prior to the 1974 amendment, it assessed a variety of submissions and recommended that the Government consider providing research staff to members of parliament. The Tribunal made further recommendations the following year after having been advised ex post facto that the Government proposed to take a new initiative in that area.

On 4 March 1976 the then Minister for Administrative Services, Senator Withers, wrote to the Chairman of the Tribunal requesting the Tribunal to inquire into and determine a variety of matters. These included entitlements to staff. The Tribunal made a determination on this subject for the first time in Determination No. 1976/6, but it noted that the Public Service Board had the responsibility for pay and conditions. Similar determinations were made in response to letters from the Minister in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982. No specific referral on staff was made by the Government in 1977, 1978 and 1983, but the Tribunal continued to make determinations in any case. If any honourable senators would like the particular pages or the determination numbers I would be only too pleased to supply them to them.

Basically I come back to the fact that I believe the Tribunal should be empowered to continue making these kinds of decisions. If the Prime Minister or one of his Ministers has the right to determine the number of staff and their wages, as I have said, this situation is open to patronage. Although it might be good for the Prime Minister to be able to have that kind of power it is not good for the Government or the governing of this country. I am sure that the public outside this building would recognise only too well just how easy it would be to use the patronage that is implied in this Bill.

There are errors and omissions in this Bill. When the Whips look through the legislation they will see some reference to honourable senators and honourable members. When the staff of office-holders are referred to no reference whatsoever is made to the Whips. I want to know who will look after them. They work hard and obviously they have been omitted somehow from this legislation which appears as if it has been rushed through in the dying hours of this session. I think too that the position of the President's staff is open to doubt . Who will look after that matter? The President of this Senate, the Speaker, or some committee under their auspices should determine how many staff members of parliament are entitled to. It certainly should not be the Prime Minister and his group. I referred by way of interjection to another situation when Senator Giles was speaking. Superannuation is different; different groups are covered by this and other legislation. Some people will be immediately eligible for superannuation while I am advised others will have to wait for one year and then prove they will be employed for a further three years. That is one example where I think there is trouble in this legislation. There are other areas such as redeployment but I think I have said enough to point out that this legislation is not good legislation. I would love to know when it was proposed to bring in this kind of legislation and how long the draftsmen had it because I feel quite confident that the period would not be very long. It certainly seems that it is rushed legislation and as I have said before in this place rushed legislation to a very large extent very often is proven to be bad legislation.