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Thursday, 2 December 1976

Mr BRYANT (Wills) -I want to support the remarks that were made by my friend the honourable member for Fraser (Mr Fry). I agree that the Government has taken at least one useful step during its term of office, namely the consolidation of the long service leave provisions for the Commonwealth public servants. For too long this Parliament has tinkered with pieces of legislation ad infinitum, stacking them end on end so that we are disadvantaged in the way we debate them and the citizen who is trying to find out his or her rights and eligibility in respect of various things is also disadvantaged. So perhaps instead of doing some of the other things that this Government is doing it might concentrate on the consolidation of legislation.

As my friend the honourable member for Fraser has pointed out, there are still some serious disadvantages flowing to some people. I would like to refer to a question raised in the second reading speech of the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Public Service Matters (Mr Street), namely the question of the accrual rate which we increased last year and which has now been dropped from the Bill. As I read the Minister's second reading speech the theory is that if we allowed certain provisions we would be advancing Commonwealth public servants to such a level that a dangerous precedent would be set in the community. It is argued that the other members of the community would look at public servants green with envy and demand that their rights and eligibilities should be increased to that level. It is further argued that if this were done there would be the devil to pay in the economy and so on. This argument is used consistently as an excuse for not doing anything in the present economic situations.

The honourable member for Fraser has pointed out that the legislation falls a long way short of establishing new trends or making public servants the pacesetters in the Australian community. I say emphatically that it is important for the Government of this country and for the continuance of good government of this country that the Australian Public Service should be the best employer in the country. I cannot think of any reason at all why it should not be not so much a trend setter as a standard bearer. The community as a whole is more dependent in a large measure upon the work of public servants than it is upon the work of people employed in private industry. I know that the common jargon says: 'Well, three-quarters of the people are working in private industry and therefore you have to transfer all sorts of advantages to them'. But the facts of life in the community are that the real machinery for making society work lies in the hands of governments- municipal, federal and State governments and public authorities. It is also true that industry relies in a large measure upon the Public Service system for the sinews of war. Transport, communications, power, gas and a great deal of banking, insurance and so on are in public hands in this country.

It is my strongly held view that as time marches on the private sector will become decreasingly significant in the whole social arrangements. As productivity rises in the manufacturing sector fewer and fewer people will be employed in it, and fewer and fewer establishments will be involved to supply the community with its needs. The transfer of enterprise to the public arena will have to be accelerated, not reduced. To handle these arrangements we will have to demand the best brains and the best people and give them the best opportunities that the community can offer. I think it is a major heresy to try to reduce the competence of the Australian Public Service either by reducing its working conditions, by keeping it behind other areas, or by regarding it as an undue expense. I am glad that people such as part-time employees will be cared for a little better under this legislation.

I want to support some of the remarks made by our colleague the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem). It is not often that I agree with him, but occasionally he must be right. I refer to the remarks that he made about public servants being elected to parliaments. I was a member of the Victorian teaching service when I was elected to this Parliament. I would like to refer to the history of a member of the Victorian teaching service who was elected to the Victorian Parliament in 1947 or 1948, He was a member of a Labor government. He was defeated at a subsequent election and returned to his service at the bottom of the list. Subsequently in 1952 a Labor government was returned and it set to work to change the legislation so that people who were elected to the Victorian Parliament from the Victorian Public Service would be able to return to their jobs with all rights reserved. Subsequently, just before I was elected to this Parliament, the Act was changed- as a matter of fact it was a good piece of behaviour by a Liberal government- so that people elected to the Australian Parliament would be able to return to their jobs up to a period of 9 years after their election with all their rights reserved. I know that this was a substantial piece of security for people such as myself, even elected for seats such as mine. As everybody knows there are not only hurdles at elections; there are redistributions, pre-selections and matters such as that that lay in wait for the unwary member of this Parliament.

Dr Jenkins - You are one of the great survivors.

Mr BRYANT - That is right. I am one ofthe survivors. I think the term 'great' may well be applied but I am too modest to admit it.

Mr Staley - Why?

Mr BRYANT - Frankly, I cannot explain why I should be modest about it. I think that this is an important area. I remember discussing this matter with my colleagues when we were in office. But as my friend the honourable member for Fraser has pointed out there was a serious obstruction on the other side of Kings Hall which prevented us from getting on with many of these things. So I suggest to the Ministry that it immediately examines the situation in Victoria and places in the Australian Public Service Act, the provisions which permit members of the Public Service elected to a parliament to be able to return to the Public Service upon defeat or retirement with their rights reserved. I would regard that as one of the democratic operations which a society such as ours ought to accept. All people ought to be available to the service of this Parliament without having to make any sacrifices. I advocate quite strongly such a change to the legislation.

There are one or two other matters upon which I would like to remark. I think that the Australia Public Service is too miserable altogether regarding the question of leave without pay, particularly in the case of people in the lower ranks. Every time there is a new flurry in the economic arena and Prime Ministers or other people in the Government put ceilings upon the Public Service there is a great reduction in the opportunity for members of the Service, for example, to take 12 months off to complete a university degree. I think that is a serious disadvantage. I take the theme which has been developed in relation to the Northern Territory Public Service and which subsequently perhaps might be developed for the Australian Capital Territory. I refer to the portability of rights and the ability to transfer from that service to the general Australian Public Service at will. I think we should be doing this much more and in a much wider way. It ought to be much easier for people to move from the Public Service to the private sector and back again during their lifetime. I advocate that. I think that with the society which will develop in the future it will be to the advantage of everybody for that to happen. I know this from my own experience in life. I am sure that the time I spent in the armed Services improved my capacity to do the job properly.

Portability is important towards producing flexibility in people who are operating in the service. I hope that the Government will have second thoughts about some of those matters which I have mentioned tonight. I hope that the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Staley) will be able to explain what we have done so far about a matter which is quite irrelevant to this Bill. I hope that the Deputy Speaker is not listening. This matter relates to long service leave for private employees in this city. With those few remarks I add that as time marches on we must increase the level of leave and have shorter working hours or we will not be able to fit the people into the system which is developing.

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