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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Page: 433

Senator RYAN (Victoria) (09:31): I rise this morning to speak on behalf of the opposition on both of these bills before the Senate—one, the Public Service Amendment Bill 2012, a government bill and one, the Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill 2012, a private senator's bill introduced by the President of the Senate. The two bills are in response to the report Ahead of the game: blueprint for reform of Australian government administration, which was released in March 2010. There was a committee of inquiry underway into this particular report by the Senate's Finance and Public Administration Committee, which was, sadly, put off by the election and the committee did not have a chance to renew that inquiry. I would also note that it was announced that many of the recommendations from that inquiry were in fact not going to be implemented by the new government after the 2010 election.

First I would like to mention some important context to this bill. Today there are around 160,000 people employed by the Australian Public Service spread throughout government departments based all around the country but naturally focused here in Canberra. They have different backgrounds, experiences and come from all kinds and walks of life—indeed, I have some in my own family. Whether it is issuing a passport, solving a Centrelink inquiry or costing tax policies, they all play a crucial role in developing and administering public policy of this country. Everyday decisions they make and the work that they do impact Australians in every walk of life, so it is important for the wellbeing of our country that these tasks are carried out professionally and with integrity.

I would first like to deal with the government's Public Service Amendment Bill, which is being taken this morning with the other bill. This bill makes a number of amendments to the Public Service Act 1999, most of which are minor in nature, relating to the code of conduct of public servants and changing the values and employment principles for APS employees. So it is an important bill. It is an important bill because we need to make sure we have an impartial Public Service that operates with excellence and integrity. In the explanatory memorandum of this bill it states its purpose is to:

… strengthen the management and leadership of the Public Service and to help embed new practices and behaviours into its culture.

This is a good purpose and the opposition on the whole believes the amendment bill achieves this.

But first let me correct a myth that has been put about by some on the other side of this change—both the Labor Party and their coalition colleagues the Greens. The coalition supports the Australian Public Service. It supports a strong Australian Public Service. We believe in an efficient and good Public Service, because that makes for good and efficient administration of this country. I would suggest that over the course of this nation, since the employment of the first public servant, who I believe was Robert Garran in 1901, our country has been relatively well served and particularly so when we look at comparable nations. So we support this amendment bill because we believe the Public Service is an integral part of good government in this country.

We also note that the government has accepted a proposed amendment by the opposition in the other place and we believe that strengthens this bill as well. The concerns that we had, and which are reflected in the amendment the government accepted, were not with the Public Service itself but with the government's treatment of the Public Service. What concerned us most was that the initial draft of the bill gave the Prime Minister greater power to extend the employment of departmental secretaries, allowing the Prime Minister to give new positions to secretaries who have resigned or whose contracts have ended. This allowance essentially undid a lot of good work the bill achieved about process and merit within the Public Service and, in our view, violated the five consolidated principles that the bill outlines for the Public Service.

The most notable example of this, of course, was the appointment of Dr Ken Henry under section 67 of the Constitution by the Prime Minister upon his departure as Secretary of the Treasury. The opposition had previously in estimates hearings in this place expressed concerns about this appointment, given that it had previously been rarely used and only, shall we say, for the most sensitive of appointments that a government can make with respect to security agencies. So this bill does limit the ability of the Prime Minister to make unilateral decisions with respect to the Public Service and appointments of secretaries, and we support that.

I would now like to turn to the Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill. This is a bill that naturally reflects the same report undertaken by the government—Ahead of the game: blueprint for reform of Australian government administration, the blueprint that I mentioned earlier. This bill amends the Parliamentary Service Act and runs in parallel to, but naturally is distinct from, the Public Service. It is important that there be an independent Parliamentary Service. It is important that this parliament can draw upon what I think everyone in this chamber would agree is the extraordinary ethical contribution and the long hours that people who work in the Parliamentary Service do to facilitate us in doing our job. We support the separate Parliamentary Service, but running it along the same lines as the Public Service, with merit protection and other processes, is also very important because the Parliamentary Service and the Public Service do benefit from cross-fertilisation—people moving between the two occasionally—and we do need to have a system that gives employees confidence in their employment arrangements and their careers and that also gives the confidence that I think we hold in the Parliamentary Service. So the opposition supports the principles in this bill and the amendments to the bill that are moved. Where there are slight differences from the Public Service Amendment Bill, that of course reflects the different nature of the Parliamentary Service. I would also like to note that there have been some amendments to this bill circulated by the President of the Senate, and the opposition will be supporting those amendments as they bring the bill into line with the amendments made as appropriate to the Public Service Amendment Bill. So the opposition will be supporting both these bills and the amendments to the Parliamentary Service Bill moved by the President of the Senate.