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Thursday, 9 December 1976

Mr MALCOLM FRASER (Wannon) (Prime Minister) - by leave- The Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, under the chairmanship of Dr H. C. Coombs, presented its report in July of this year. In announcing the submission of the report at that time, I said that the Government would study carefully and give thorough consideration to the recommendations made by the Commission on the principles for more efficient administration. The necessary machinery has since been established for this purpose and decisions on recommendations will be announced progressively. For purposes of our examination of the Commission's report, the Government decided that its recommendations could be grouped in 5 main categories on the following basis:

(   1 ) Matters requiring Cabinet consideration, by reason of their implications or the likelihood of legislation being required if they were to be implemented.

(2   ) Matters which relate to the subject matter of other inquiries, and which will need to be taken into account in the Government's consideration of the reports of those inquiries.

(3   ) Matters relating to the allocation of functions among Ministries and to possible changes in administrative arrangements.

(4)   Matters having implications for particular Ministers and Departments.

(5)   Matters having implications for most or all Ministers and Departments, or requiring follow-up by the Public Service Board.

Action has been put in train in relation to each of the 5 categories. In particular, I have asked that Ministers let me have their views on the Commission's recommendations which have both specific and general relevance to departments and authorities under their control. I have also suggested that their consideration of the Commission's report could be regarded as a useful starting point for a wide-ranging examination of the efficiency and effectiveness of administrative procedures. In response to my request, the Public Service Board has completed its initial examination of the matters specifically referred to it and I will shortly be announcing the nature of the further action which it has in mind.

The Government has now taken initial decisions on a number of the Royal Commission's recommendations. The Government has approved in principle the Commission's recommendations for implementation of a system of efficiency audits. Officials have been asked to report on the details of how such a system might be implemented. The Government also has agreed that the Public Service Board should continue its management improvement functions, including efficiency and staff utilisation reviews, in general accordance with its present responsibilities under the Public Service Act.

The Government also has noted the particular significance which the Royal Commission attached to integrated forward estimates of both financial and manpower requirements. In this regard, I mention that the Government has previously agreed with proposals by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) that forward financial estimates should be collected for the 3 years 1977-78 to 1979-80. The development of the Department of Finance will enable these to be pursued with greater vigour. The Public Service Board also has been progressively developing a comprehensive system of forward manpower estimates. Whilst noting the complexity surrounding many of the issues involved and the Commission's view that development of a satisfactory process might take several years, the Government has decided that action should proceed immediately for detailed examination and report on the Commission's proposals.

A number of other decisions taken by the Government will, I am sure, be of interest to Public Service Staff organisations. They are:

(a)   We have authorised the Public Service Board to commence discussions with staff organisation, departments and statutory authorities, and in Joint Council- the joint consultative body presently operating under the Public Service Act- and to report to me on the manner in which the Royal Commission's recommendations both for expanding the jurisdiction of the Joint Council, and for creating consultative councils within departments and authorities, might be implemented.

(b)   Approval has been given for drafting to continue on legislation to give effect to changes in the disciplinary provisions of the Public Service Act, in accordance with recommendations which resulted from a review of those provisions by the Public Service Board, m conjunction with the Joint Council.

(c)   The Public Service Board has been asked to report to me as soon as possible on a number of Royal Commission recommendations relating to promotion processes in the Australian Public Service, after consideration of those matters has been finalised in the Joint Council and after the Board has completed all necessary consultations with staff organisation. The Government strongly supports the Commission's recommendations on promotion by merit.

(d)   The Government has agreed that the Public Service Act should be amended at an appropriate time to abolish the present 10 per cent restriction on the annual intake of non-specialist graduate recruits into the Australian Public Service.

(e)   The Government has endorsed the view of the Public Service Board that the present distinctions between the Third and Fourth Divisions of the Public Service were becoming increasingly irrelevant and the Board has been asked to consult with staff organisations on possible changes in the divisional structure and to report to the Government.

(f)   The Board has also been asked to consult with staff organisations on the possible elimination of inappropriate distinctions between permanent officers and temporary employees in the present employment arrangements under the Public Service Act and to report to the Government.

(g)   The Board has also been asked to continue its detailed examination of the desirability of developing arrangements under which the whole or much of Commonwealth Government civilian employment would be treated as one entity for a number of purposes.

The Government has also accepted the royal commission's recommendations that a practice should be established permitting the Leader of the Opposition, before a general election, to confer with the Public Service Board and the Secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and permitting shadow Ministers to confer with the heads of relevant departments. Guidelines have been developed covering the conduct of these discussions and I have informed the Leader of the Opposition of them. I seek leave to have the guidelines incorporated in Hansard

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