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Wednesday, 13 May 1970

Mr HAMER (Isaacs) - I should like to get away from airy generalities and irrelevant detail and deal with the practical problems of 4 weeks annual leave for Commonwealth employees. I think that we are all in sympathy in principle with the desirability of increased leisure, but the Commonwealth Government also has a responsibility to the community as a whole for the economic and efficient operation of the civil service. The maintenance of the proper balance between these two requirements is one of those difficult judgments that face any government. We must not overlook the fact that there is a very tight labour market at the moment and that the conditions of Commonwealth employees must be such that we continue to attract and to hold people in this vital service.

Various arguments have been advanced in favour of 4 weeks annual leave. The first of these is that the increased complexity of the work and the pressures on public servants make it necessary for them to have additional annual leave so that they will be better able to cope with the strain of that work. This is true in principle. But the situation would not be improved if public servants had to work harder or had to work more overtime in order to cover the absence of staff on additional leave. An additional week's leave for Commonwealth public servants would cost the Treasury - the taxpayer - $2Sm a year, or more if increased overtime was necessary, which would seem inevitable in the present labour situation. If it flowed on to all Australian employment, as it almost certainly would - and much more quickly than the SO years suggested by the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Webb) - the cost of this flow on would be $290m a year.

The second argument advanced is that public servants are entitled to additional leave as one of the benefits of increased productivity. I agree with the honourable member for Banks (Mr Martin) that public servants have kept pace with the rise in national productivity, but the benefits of increased productivity can be and are distributed in many other ways - in higher wages, the avoidance of price increases that might otherwise occur, and increased expenditure on community services such as education and social welfare. These benefits do flow to Commonwealth employees as their share, or part of their share, of increased national productivity.

The third argument it that more annual leave is enjoyed by some other sections of the Australian work force, particularly the New South Wales civil service. There is something in this argument, but strict comparisons would have to take into account such things as differences in working hours and long service and sick leave entitlements. On balance I do not think that Commonwealth public servants are disadvantaged compared with those people who do get additional annual leave. In fact, of course, some members of the Commonwealth Public Service already get more than 3 weeks annual leave; I refer to parliamentary draftsmen, reporters, magistrates and managers of social service rehabilitation centres. Presumably if the general leave of the Commonwealth Public Service were increased to 4 weeks' these people would wish to see their entitlement further increased, which would cause considerable difficulties particularly, as I am sure honourable members are aware, in the area of parliamentary draftsmen. This is typical of the practical problems which confront the Government in making this difficult judgement. I think that on the whole Commonwealth public servants are as well off overall as are the groups in other areas who receive more than 3 weeks annual leave.

The fourth argument which has been advanced is the need to restore the relative advantage of the Commonwealth Public Service, which has always enjoyed 3 weeks annual leave but which is in the process of losing this advantage over other workers who used to receive 2 weeks and now receive 3 weeks or more. This brings us back again to the fact that conditions of employment must be looked at overall and that we must not merely concentrate on one particular aspect. If this argument of. relative advantage in this particular area is pursued, would honourable members opposite be advocating 5 weeks annual leave for Commonwealth public servants if the general level were raised to 4 weeks? If they do, they should think very carefully about the effect this would have on the economy and efficiency of national and parliamentary administration.

The Government is keenly aware of what the people of this country owe to the integrity and efficiency of the Public Service. There is much to be said in favour of increased annual leave, but there are serious practical difficulties at the moment. We in this House must be watchful to see that the employment conditions of Commonwealth public servants are fair and equitable and likely to attract the number and quality of people we need for this vital service. This, I am sure, we will always do.

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