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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 1999

Senator WATSON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters. I refer the minister to the exodus of capable senior public servants, including Tony Cole, Vince FitzGerald, David Morgan, David Charles, Geoff Miller, John Fraser, Rod Sims, Richard Beetham and many others. Are all of these departures a sign that the reputation for providing fearless independent advice is no longer a hallmark of the Australian Public Service? Is the contract system being used to ensure that senior public servants only give politically correct advice? Does this mean that fewer capable people are now prepared to opt for long-term careers in the senior public service?

Senator ROBERT RAY —I did read the article that Senator Watson refers to. His allegations and assertions basically are not true. But there is a problem in terms of remuneration of public servants.

Senator Short —That is not why Tony Cole left.

Senator ROBERT RAY —There will be many reasons why anyone ever leaves a position. But there is a general problem in the degree of remuneration of senior public servants compared with what they can achieve in the private sector. That is true right across the Public Service, but especially in the higher echelon. Public servants have suffered very much from what is regarded to be an indirect tie—even though there is no direct tie—between their salaries and those of politicians, which can never rise because it is never popular and no-one has ever had, if you like, the intestinal fortitude to take that to its logical conclusion and level.

  Also, the problem has been exacerbated by the fact that state governments have had no such restraint. We have a situation where the head of the premier's department in Victoria gets paid $300,000, the head of the Totalisator Agency Board in Victoria gets a package of well in excess of $600,000 a year, yet the best that a public servant in Australia can get—and I think there are three paid at the top level—is around $150,000.

  There are many and varied reasons why public servants leave. As Senator Short said, some do so because they do not like their minister. Some go because they are sick of the Public Service—there is always labour mobility. But the real problem, in my view, is that many of them see different levels of remuneration. For example, the secretary to my department probably gets paid half of that paid to the managing directors of two companies wholly owned by the defence department—half!

Senator Bolkus —We get less than that.

Senator ROBERT RAY —We get about 20 per cent even less than that. If you want to complain that you do not like your salary, you should write out your resignation. There are plenty of colleagues behind you willing to make the sacrifice and—

The PRESIDENT —Order! I suggest that you address the chair, Senator Ray.

Senator ROBERT RAY —I have made no such suggestion about you, Mr President. The answers are not simple but either this government or governments of the future will have to address the question. They are not going to attract the best talent—

Senator Hill —Some state governments have and you have condemned them for doing it.

Senator ROBERT RAY —Senator Hill says, `Oh, the state governments have addressed these particular issues.' The state governments have addressed these issues in a very inconsistent way. The state governments are saying to three or four of the head honchos—the lackeys that the Liberal Party can drag up from somewhere—that they will get their jobs. But they are saying to the rest of the public servants, `You take the redundancy. You get out.' All the party to which those opposite belong does is pick three or four Liberal stooges, put them in charge of the state departments and remunerate them at that level. The state premiers go around preaching wage restraint and attacking the union movement, attacking the working class, at the same time as being willing to pay a public servant $300,000 a year. That is how one gets a resigned police minister in New South Wales spending $150,000 on an armour-plated police car to take him around the joint. Those sorts of things arise through the attitudes of people like Senator Hill.

  I have been diverted from Senator Watson's serious question. The reasons for those people leaving are complex. But, essentially, far fewer departmental secretaries would be leaving the Public Service if they were properly remunerated. (Time expired)

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.