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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2157

Senator BELL (10.53 p.m.) —In this debate on the Australian Capital Territory Government Service (Consequential Provisions) Bill 1994, I support much of what Senator Hill has said about the need for proper provisions for mobility and the concerns he expressed about the original propositions. However, I also support the government in bringing this bill forward at the present time.

  I gained my first impression of this legislation—you would be pleased to know this, Mr Acting Deputy President—because of concern expressed by the scrutiny of bills committee about the capacity of this legislation to work in concert with the complementary legislation passed by the ACT Assembly. I sought to find out the effect of this bill on those at whom it was directed—the ACT public servants and those who would become part of the service. Being without a full knowledge of the history of this particular piece of legislation, I contacted several people who would be involved—including unionists and those following the debate through the ACT legislature—and received a series of replies from a pretty comprehensive cross-section of people in the ACT.

  In order of decreasing importance, the items of concern to employees are as follows: the right to return to the federal Public Service rather than be made redundant by the ACT government; the option of taking payouts for present leave entitlements and having to start again—which would prevent the ACT from incurring debt—versus carrying entitlements across to the ACT Public Service; avoidance of superannuation problems by using the existing federal Public Service PSS or CSS schemes, as proposed by the ACT; the desire for equivalent pay scales for equivalent positions; the effect of length and continuity of service on career prospects and leave entitlements; the loss of career prospects and job security resulting from being part of a smaller and isolated public service; provision of equivalent conditions of service, such as hours of work, recreation leave, sick leave, parenting leave and long service leave entitlements; and the level of positions available in the ACT Public Service.

  I have taken that reaction into account in looking at the government's revised and renegotiated position and the amendments proposed by Senator Hill. Quite frankly, it became apparent early in the public debate on this matter that the most important thing—it is at the top of the list I just gave—was the provision of mobility. One year as a compromise was almost meaningless; two years was to some extent satisfactory, even though at the end of the two years there would still be people disadvantaged by this proposition.

   As Senator Hill said, I publicly indicated that the Democrats would be supporting the amendments proposed by him. The Democrats have a philosophical position whereby we support the movement towards a situation where there is mobility between all states and territories for Commonwealth public servants. That is for this reason: if we had competency based pay throughout Australia, if we had competency based certification throughout the education system, the public would be better served by a public service, in the truest sense, making best use of the talents and skills available throughout the country. It could therefore be predicted that we could support the amendments proposed by Senator Hill. I will not enter into the argument about whether this represents a breach of promise or about what Mr Keating or Ms Follett did or did not arrange or announce in May 1992 or any subsequent time—that would be fruitless.

  Here we have a bill, the subject of consideration by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, about which the public sector unions are not in agreement even though there was sufficient time in which to reach agreement with those proposing the bill—a messy situation. That mess could have been resolved by more direct leadership, exhibiting a sense of purpose about the bill and what it was supposed to achieve. However, I will not stand in the way of the progress of this debate or of the passage of this bill. I have said all that I need to say. The Democrats will support the amendments proposed by Senator Hill and we will support the passage of the bill.