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Thursday, 2 December 1976
Page: 3174

Mr WILLIS (Gellibrand) -Two ofthe Bills now before the House provide improvements to long service leave benefits, or furlough as it is otherwise known, for Australian Government employees. The other Bill relates to the quite different matter of establishing a separate Public Service for the Northern Territory. The Opposition does not oppose any of these Bills.

Firstly I should like to refer to the long service leave Bills. The Long Service Leave (Commonwealth Employees) Bill 1976 provides for a number of improvements in long service leave benefits all of which were proposed in a Bill last year by the Labor Government. That Bill was introduced into the House in May last year. It was not proceeded with before Labor's untimely removal from office. There is, however, one important difference between Labor's Bill and that Bill now before the House which I will explain later. It is appropriate at this time to note that the need to improve the long service leave entitlement of Australian Government employees in recent years has been a matter of agreement on both sides of the House to some extent, although not in every respect. Before Labor came into office in 1972, the McMahon Government proposed a number of improvements to the furlough provisions, although the timing of it made it suspiciously look like an election gimmick. On 26 October 1 972- only a week before the issuing of the writs for the Federal election that year, the then Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, issued a Press release which, in part, read:

The Public Service Board has reviewed (long service leave) provisions for Commonwealth officers and employees, having regard to various representations, including those from staff associations. The Government has approved the Board's recommendations for a number of legislative amendments. These include: Reduction ofthe basic Qualifying period from IS to 10 years; provision for furlough to be made a right; payment to the estate of a deceased officer or employee where there are no dependants; extension of furlough to part-time employees; recognition for furlough purposes of prior services to local governing bodies.

Of course, no legislation to implement these conditions was passed in the following week before the issuing of the writs so, it then rested with the Labor Government to implement such improvements. Labor's policy called for improvements in long service leave for Australian Government employees. In pursuance of that policy the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, announced in April 1973 that the Government intended to legislate for a considerable number of improvements which included all those proposed by Mr McMahon but added a number of others. The new items which were included in

Mr Whitlam's Press release of 3 April 1973 were:

Removal of all provisions which provide a furlough penalty to an officer or employee because of conduct record or dismissal . . . anc? new accrual rate of 3 months for the first 10 years and one-half month per year thereafter.

Removal of the provision for payment in lieu of furlough on resignation due to domestic or other pressing necessity.

Payment in lieu of furlough based on completed months in respect of a partly completed year of service.

Removal of the 12 months limitation on the period of furlough which may be granted at any one time . . .

Recognition of leave without pay granted to officers or employees under Section 7 1 ( 1 ) (a) of the Public Service Act to accept employment as staff association officers as qualifying service for furlough purposes with the Commonwealth being liable only for Commonwealth service proper.

In his Press release, he also stated:

All improvements to be available to officers and employees who were in Commonwealth employment on or after 1 January 1973.

This was a much more comprehensive list of proposals than that which had been announced by Mr McMahon. Following this statement of intent, legislation eventually was introduced at the end of 1973 to implement some of these provisions. The benefits were passed by the Parliament- without debate, I might add- at that time. They were, firstly, a reduction of the qualifying period from 15 years to 10 years; secondly, removal of long service leave penalties associated with unsatisfactory service or misconduct; thirdly, elimination of provision for payment in lieu of furlough on resignation due to domestic or other pressing necessity.

In December 1974 Cabinet approved legislation to introduce the various other amendments foreshadowed in the April 1973 statement of intent but with a few revisions. The original proposal to allow payment in lieu of furlough after 5 years service on cessation for any reason was discarded and a few new provisions were added. These were the revision of the definition of 'authority of State' to reduce the need to specify bodies in regulations which was purely a machinery matter; provision that no leave without pay breaks continuity of service and the employing authority, or the Board, may determine whether leave counts as service; no form of full time post-defence forces service vocational training scheme breaks continuity of service; absence due to ill health from any relevant service for furlough purposes does not break continuity; and exclusion from the legislation of locally engaged staff overseas, other than those employed before the amending legislation.

It was also stated again that these improvements would apply from 1 January 1973. In May 1975 a Bill to implement these substantial proposals was introduced into the House. As I have already indicated, the Bill had not been passed before the Opposition blocked supply and eventually seized office. The long service leave Bill now before the House incorporates all of the provisions of the 1975 Bill with one exception; that is the increase in the accrual rate for long service leave entitlement after 10 years service from one-third of a month to one-half a month a year. The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) says that such an improvement would have set an unduly generous standard which could lead to pressure on other employers to match it. In fact, however, the standard for Commonwealth Government employees at present is one of the lower levels of furlough entitlement for Government employees in this country. Three States provide a higher rate of accumulation of long service leave entitlement than the Commonwealth. They are New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table which sets out a comparison of cumulative totals of furlough entitlements for the various State public services, the Commonwealth Public Service, and those provided for in the 1975 Bill.

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