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Thursday, 18 November 1976
Page: 2865

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) (Prime Minister) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

One of the most important foundations of the parliamentary system of government is the political neutrality of the Public Service. While public servants, like all other Australians, are entitled to their political opinions, they are expected to serve all governments equally without regard to the political composition of the governments. Any incoming government is entitled to expect that it will be able to deal with the Public Service on a basis of complete confidence in its political impartiality. One of the best safeguards of the political neutrality of the Public Service is a system of appointment- particularly of appointments to senior positions- which minimises the possibility of appointments for purely partisan reasons and inceases the chance of making the best possible appointment. A government may, of course, wish for good reason to appoint a person not recommended by due process. The Government believes that if such an appointment is made an incoming administration should not be forced, through permanency, to retain the service of the appointee. In November of last year, I announced that a Liberal-National Country Party Government would introduce procedures designed to ensure that due process is followed in the appointment of permanent heads of ministerial departments. I indicated in broad terms what those procedures might be. A detailed study of the matter led ultimately to the scheme incorporated in this Bill. The study also covered procedures for statutory full time civilian appointments. I will return to these a little later.

This Bill is concerned with the principles and procedures to apply in relation to the appointment of persons as permanent heads of ministerial departments. Our approach is that, in conducting its own special role in making appointments, the executive government must give special weight to the integrity of the Service, and in particular to the well-established principle of appointment on merit. In addition, the processes ought to be such that, so far as possible, the best available persons are appointed as permanent heads, thereby enhancing the efficiency of the Service as a whole. The new statutory procedures for permanent head appointments place primary responsibility for the competitive nomination in the hands of the Chairman of the Public Service Board and a committee comprising him and at least 2 permanent heads. The appointments which have been made by this Government to the position of permanent head have been made in conformity with the principles behind the legislation, without the setting up of the formal committee. All subsequent appointments will be made in accordance with the procedures set out in the Bill.

It will be the function of the Chairman and the committee to bring forward, for consideration, the names of persons considered suitable for appointment to particular positions of permanent head. The basic elements of the nomination procedures to be followed by the Chairman and the committee are set out in proposed section 54A. The process will commence when a vacancy has occurred or is about to occur. The Chairman will convene the committee after consulting with the Prime Minister on the membership. The procedures will also extend to possible consequential vacancies. The procedures will ensure that the names of suitable candidates from within the Public Service are brought to notice, while also enabling the nomination of persons from outside the service. The Chairman will be authorised to consult- or authorise a person on his behalf to consult- other persons concerning possible suitable candidates. As a normal course, persons consulted would include the Secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet- if he is not a member of the committee- and, as appropriate, the retiring permanent head.

The reports from the Chairman and the committee, including lists of suitable candidates, will be submitted to the Prime Minister and the Minister concerned. If at this point the Prime Minister so requests- after consultation with the Minister and, conceivably, other Ministers- the Chairman will arrange for the position to be advertised and revised reports submitted in due course. The Prime Minister or the Minister concernedprior to or following advertisementmay also request the Chairman and the committee to reconsider their reports to determine whether any names should be added to the lists.

Any such additions will, of course, be entirely at the discretion of the Chairman and the committee. At appropriate stages in the process.the Prime Minister and/or the Minister concerned may interview some or all of the shortlisted candidates.

I must stress at this point that nothing in the Bill will prevent the appointment, as permanent heads, of persons not nominated as suitable candidates by either the Chairman of the Board or the committee. However, in that eventuality, certain special provisions will apply. Firstly, such an appointment will be for a fixed term not exceeding 5 years, with an eligibility for reappointment. Secondly, the appointment will, in the circumstances outlined in proposed section 54(9)- in effect, in the event of a change of governmentbe subject to termination by the Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. This approach means that a government will be able to appoint people not short-listed by the committee. Where a government chooses an appointee whose nomination has not been endorsed by due process, that government will not be able to place any continuing obligation on an incoming government, and there will have been no lasting breach of the competitive merit principle on which the career Public Service is based.

The Bill ensures fair treatment for persons appointed for a fixed term when their appointments come to an end, whether through exercise of the termination power, expiration of the period of appointment, or on abolition of the particular office of permanent head. The person who was already an officer before being appointed as a permanent head is entitled to be re-appointed to an office in the service, or may elect to retire. If he retires his retirement will be deemed involuntary for the purposes of the Superannuation Act and will thereby attract the level of benefits applicable to that situation. The person who was not previously an officer is also deemed to have retired involuntarily for the purposes of the Superannuation Act. If the appointment has ended through exercise of the termination power or abolition of the office, he is also entitled to any compensation previously determined by the Governor-General at the time of his appointment.

Provisions are included in the Bill which will require notification both to the appointee and on public record, of tenure arrangements concerning particular appointments. Retention of the title, permanent head, could be regarded as inappropriate in view of the fixed term arrangement that will be possible under the Bill. This is something we will be looking at in the context of consideration of the report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration. Any change will be reflected in future legislation. The BUI will not significantly change current arrangements for First Division appointments other than to offices of permanent heads of ministerial departments. The permanent heads of parliamentary departments will continue to be appointed on the recommendation of the Presiding Officers. Other First Division appointments will be in accordance with the advice of the Public Service Board.

When I made the initial announcement last year concerning this legislation, I also stressed the need for positive personnel policies, including movement of permanent heads to different positions so as to open up new challenges for them, an executive development program and a system of succession planning. Introduction of the procedures incorporated in this legislation will assist in the development of such policies. The Public Service Board has recently introduced an executive development scheme directed to men and women in the senior levels of the Third Division who have the capacity to undertake higher administrative duties and who require further experience in practical and theoretical aspects of administration, policy advising and management. There are also relevant recommendations of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration that are currently under examination.

I mentioned earlier that procedures have also been developed in relation to statutory full time civilian appointments. Whilst these are essentially administrative guidelines, designed to ensure that there is consideration of related appointments across the area of Commonwealth Government civilian administration, they are closely related to the present Bill. I would like to take the opportunity to outline them briefly, thereby putting on public record the procedures which this Government will follow. Initiation of action is a matter for the Minister concerned, who would normally consult his permanent head and, as appropriate, the retiring official, as well as any others he wishes to consult. Where the position to be filled by the Government is an executive one responsible to a governing body, the Minister will obtain the views of the governing body. The Minister will also ask the Chairman of the Public Service Board whether he wishes to submit any names.

After consultations which would normally include discussions with the Secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to identify possible candidates from inside and /or outside the Public Service, the Chairman will indicate to the Minister the names of any persons he feels warrant consideration. If he feels it important to overall arrangements he will so inform the Prime Minister. The names suggested could include that of the existing incumbent, subject to his availability for reappointment. If this process does not achieve somebody who is regarded as suitable the Minister after consultation with and approval of the Prime Minister, could arrange for the position to be advertised. In that event, the Minister will, with the approval of the Prime Minister, convene a committee which will include appropriate officials and outsiders of relevant backgrounds, under the chairmanship of a person approved by the Prime Minister. After interviews as appropriate, the Chairman of the committee will submit to the Prime Minister and the Minister concerned on behalf of the committee a short list of suitable candidates. At this stage or, if desired, earlier the Prime Minister and/or the Minister may interview some or all of the candidates, irrespective of advertisement, a committee may be established on the basis previously outlined. I think that it is most unlikely that the positions would be advertised. I believe that suitable candidates would be found by any government before that stage. But it is mentioned in relation to permanent heads and statutory authorities for the sake of completeness.

The Government believes that the procedures established by this Bill will further strengthen the operation of the system of parliamentary government in Australia. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned.

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