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Tuesday, 6 December 1960


Mr MENZIES (Kooyong) (Prime Minister) . - I shall deal with the last matter first. As I understand it, the position is in fact covered by awards. I am also told by the Public Service Board that it has dealt quite generously - and I think quite properly - with employees assisting the various unions in arbitration matters. There is another comment that I want to make on section 69, which deals with this matter. It did say that the periods during which an officer was on leave attending to these arbitration matters and so on " shall for such purposes as are prescribed be included as part of the officer's period of service". The fact is that no prescription has ever been made. It shows how rather theoretical this matter is. As I understand it, there never has been a prescription by regulation or appropriate means. Therefore, the section, as a section, has not operated. Its purpose has in fact been encompassed by sensible administration. But I will say this to the honorable members: If at any time while I am responsible for these matters it turns out that some breach of the spirit of what we are talking about has been made, I will certainly be prepared to make a statutory amendment to deal with it, because T agree entirely with the policy that has been pursued by the Public Service Board in the past.

But as for the rest of it, let me point out that this is really a tidying-up operation. It is an attempt to get together a series of things and give the board some normal administrative discretion in dealing with them. The board has to deal with much more important matters with discretion. You have furlough, incremental advance- .lent. recreation leave, seniority and sick leave. As the law now stands, if T may say so, with respect, it is a mess. Section 69 (3.) of the act says that periods " shall for such purposes as are prescribed be included as part of the officer's period of service ". Section 70 provides, it is true, that an officer may be granted leave of absence without pay for a period not exceeding six months, but not a word is said about it being counted for long service leave. The section just says nothing about that. In section 72a, you have a contrary kind of provision, in these terms -

The period during which any officer is absent on leave granted pursuant to this section shall not, unless otherwise ordered by the Board, for any purpose be included as part of the officer's period of service.

That refers to leave given because an officer has been made available to the government of another part of the Queen's Dominions. A similar provision appears in section 71, which provides for the granting of leave without pay. Sub-section (2.) of that section provides, -

The period during which an officer or employee is absent on leave granted under this section shall not, unless the Board otherwise determines, be deemed to form part of the period of service . . .

Of these four sections, two provide that the leave shall not count as part of the period of service, one provides that prescribed leave shall be included as part of the period of service, and the other section is as silent as is the tomb on this point.

I think that the Public Service Board is quite right, if I may say so, in feeling that these things ought to be made coherent - that they ought to be brought together, and that for the purposes of these important benefits that civil servants have, there should not be a variety of provisions, one the opposite of another, some vague and some as yet unused. There ought to be vested in the board, which, I am sure, enjoys the confidence of this chamber and of the civil service, a broad discretionary power to deal with all these matters and to introduce some broad satisfactory rules with respect to the five matters that I have dealt with. If we want artificial rules about them all, we will need another act, because it would take another act to set out all the rules that must apply to each of these five aspects of a vast variety of civil servants if there is no discretion.

I want to say to honorable members that there is great merit in discretion. If we did not have discretions occasionally in the law and in administration, the most terrible injustices would be done. One man might fall within the rule by a fraction and have the benefit of it. Another man might fall outside it by a fraction and fail completely. I must say that when I am dealing with an honest body of administrators, I like to feel that they have that degree of discretion which a humane man would want to have in dealing with problems of this kind.

Mr. STEWART(Lang [9.4].- Mr. Temporary Chairman, I agree with the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) that the Public Service Board should have the degree of flexibility which has been described. This word " flexibility ", I may say, has become quite popular in the last few weeks. I agree that the board should have a degree of flexibility in determining whether leave shall be granted to certain employees and then counted as part of their period of service. But I feel that unless honorable members point out some of the dangers that are involved, any body of administrators will be inclined to become enmeshed in red tape.


Mr Menzies - I was not complaining about the points that were raised.


Mr STEWART - I appreciate that. Honorable members will find that there are occasions when the Public Service Board or the heads of departments seem to lean on the side of the administration rather than on the side of the employee in the exercise of discretion. I merely wanted to make certain that these provisions, about the application of which there has never been any complaint up to the present time, will continue to be administered in the same manner.

While we are talking about leave of absence. I should like to deal with the annual recreation leave that is granted to officers of the Public Service. The Secretary of the Public Service Board, in a letter, has stated -

Permanent officers of the Service are eligible for three weeks' recreation leave upon the completion of the first twelve months' service and thereafter on the 1st January each year . . . provided there has been no temporary service prior to permanent appointment, in which case special conditions apply. Should an officer submit his resignation he may be granted any recreation leave due to him in respect of the Calendar year in which his services terminate provided he has reached the anniversary in that year of his date of appointment to the Service. There is no provision whereby pro-rata recreation leave-


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN -

Order! I remind the honorable member that clause 15 dealt with leave of absence for recreation, and the committee has already agreed to that clause.


Mr STEWART - I crave your indulgence, Mr. Temporary Chairman. I had the recreation leave provision marked in the act, but not in the bill. I think that not too many honorable members appreciate the significance of this provision.


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN -

Order! The honorable member may not continue to deal with this matter, because the clause which related to it has already been agreed to by the committee. If the honorable member is allowed to continue, the discussion of leave of absence will be re-opened.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 1 7 agreed to.

Clause 18 (Leave without pay).







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