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Thursday, 7 February 2013
Page: 440

Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (09:59): I thank all senators for their contributions to the debate on the Public Service Amendment Bill 2012, and also on the Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill 2012 [2013]. This bill makes landmark changes to the Public Service Act 1999. The bill will help to modernise the governance of the Australian Public Service, and in many ways will enable world's best practice in public service management. The bill will improve the quality of workforce management in the Australian Public Service, and this will translate into better service provision for the Australian public.

The amendments implement the recommendations of Ahead of the game: blueprint for the reform of Australian government administration. In particular there are: improved governance arrangements for APS leadership, including reforms that will strengthen the independence of secretaries and provide a clear statement of their role; a clearer, shorter statement of APS values, blending contemporary ethical approaches with enduring principles of public administration that go to the heart of the Westminster model; reforms that set out more clearly the role of the Australian Public Service Commissioner as a central authority for the development and stewardship of the Australian Public Service; and practical improvements to the Public Service Act that address a number of operational matters that have arisen since the last major changes in 1999. The reforms proposed in the report Ahead of the game and implemented through this bill will provide Australia with a modern employment framework for its public service. It will bring greater agility and responsiveness to the government, and this will pay dividends to the Australian community.

The bill strengthens governance arrangements for Australian Public Service leadership, including provisions concerning the appointment and termination of departmental secretaries. The bill will restore the 'gold standard' arrangement that supported the integrity and consistency of our public sector for generations. As was the case before 1999, the Governor-General will have the responsibility of appointing departmental secretaries, acting on the advice of the Prime Minister. Having the Governor-General make these appointments will underscore the impartiality of the Australian Public Service, and will promote public confidence in its leadership.

Following the introduction of the bill into the House of Representatives, the government has moved two largely technical amendments which, with the support of the opposition, were passed by the House. The amendments concern the engagement of non-ongoing employees, and the protection of information and immunity from suit provisions applying to the Public Service Commissioner, the Merit Protection Commissioner and other 'entrusted persons' in the course of the commissioners' review and inquiry functions. The government amendments have ensured that these provisions will operate effectively.

The government has also supported amendments moved by the opposition during debate in the House in the interests of achieving meaningful reform supported across the parliament. These amendments relate to arrangements for the engagement of former secretaries. In response to matters raised by the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, the government has tabled an addendum to the revised explanatory memorandum for the bill. The addendum provides additional information on handling suspected misconduct by Australian Public Service employees, including those who provide false or misleading information when applying for employment in the Public Service.

I understand Senator Milne has proposed amendments concerning protection for whistleblowers who make reports under the Public Service Act. I thank Senator Milne for her interest in this matter. Some of the amendments proposed deal with matters that are already included within the bill. For example, proposed sections 72C and 72D of the amendment bill make clear that people who provide information related to a whistleblowing report to the Public Service Commissioner or the Merit Protection Commissioner are protected against civil and criminal penalties.

I also thank Senator Mason for raising the matter of unscheduled absences in the APS. This has clearly been an area of interest for Senator Mason for some time. As Senator Mason acknowledged, agencies have prime responsibility for managing workplace absences and it is a matter that they and the government take very seriously. But I can advise Senator Mason that the Secretaries Board has discussed this matter and that the Australian Public Service Commission is monitoring developments to inform further reports to the board.

The government takes seriously the protection of public officials who report in good faith serious misconduct or maladministration. Indeed, the government is developing a comprehensive public interest disclosure scheme which includes including strengthened protection for whistleblowers. The government does not, therefore, support the Greens amendments to this bill.

The debate this morning has concerned both the Public Service Amendment Bill and the Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill. The decision in 1999 to have a distinct, separate Parliamentary Service, albeit with generally similar terms and conditions to the Public Service, has served the Australian community well for the last decade. The proposed amendments to the Parliamentary Service Act closely reflect the amendments to the Public Service Act. I am informed that the bill is intended to ensure that the Parliamentary Service will continue to be able to serve the federal legislature and through it the Australian people professionally and in a nonpartisan manner. On behalf of our President, I commend the Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill to the Senate.

In summary, the Public Service Amendment Bill responds to the reform agenda of the Advisory Group on Reform of Australian Government Administration, whose recommendations were accepted by government. The Australian Public Service is fundamental to the success of our country and our society. The commitment and expertise of our Public Service directly affects the lives of all Australians. A healthy Public Service is a vital part of Australia's democratic system of government. Australians have high expectations. They quite rightly expect quality service, honesty and integrity, and value for their taxpayer dollar from the Public Service. The bill will support a Public Service that is agile and responsive to a rapidly changing world, meeting the legitimate needs of the Australian community and the government of the day both now and into the future.

I thank senators for their support for this bill and commend both bills to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.