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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3365

Senator WALSH (Minister for Finance and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Public Service Matters)(1.52) —I will go through the first couple of amendments very briefly. I have already said that even if the Government believed they had considerable merit on policy grounds, which we do not, we still would not accept them because we want to get the legislation enacted and accepting these amendments when the House of Representatives has already adjourned would prevent that from happening.

The first couple relate to selection committees. I want to make two points. First, the Public Service Board can always issue guidelines about that matter anyway; it does not have to be written into statute. Secondly, the complaints about the composition of selection committees can be taken up with the Merit Protection and Review Agency. Amendments Nos (3) and (4) have been dealt with, and I think I have already covered the invalidity to retirement question. The final amendment, No. (6), relates to the present statutory entitlement to a section 13 statement of reasons for selection decisions, which the Government proposes to delete as part of the streamlining exercise. It will both speed up the process and minimise the cost. Guidelines, however, will still emphasise the importance of proper counselling on selection decisions, freedom of information entitlements will still apply, grievance and appeals mechanisms will still apply and so on.

I have replied briefly to Senator Harradine's comments. It is true, as he has said, that the proportion of youth in the Public Service is now lower than it has ever been. The same is true, I think, for the work force as a whole. Maybe with the exception of the early 1950s, because of a demographic blip, there is a common reason for that, and that is that young people are staying at school longer and therefore there are not as many of them in the work force, demographic fluctuations aside. Senator Harradine made the subjective allegation that the Public Service Board discriminates against youth. I think that is a reasonable interpretation; it is an honest one anyway. He apparently believes that the Public Service Board should discriminate for youth, when in fact the Public Service Act forbids the Board discriminating on grounds of age. Whether it does or does not discriminate is, as I said, a subjective argument which cannot really be proven. The idea that there ought to be discrimination in favour of youth, however, is of course incompatible with the merit principle of selection. Certainly even with a stated merit principle there is an element of subjectivity in appointment and promotion decisions. If the Government has opted for a merit principle, it would be quite inconsistent to then amend the legislation so that the Board was required to give preference-to discriminate, in other words; to move away from the merit principle.

On the question of the entry into the Public Service of youth, there is, for fairly obvious reasons if one thinks about it, a positive relationship between the growth rate of the Public Service and the rate of youth recruitment into it. If the Service is not increasing-and that is the position right now, as it has been for close to the last 18 months-there are obviously fewer opportunities for entrants and, therefore, fewer opportunities for youth. On the question of the traineeships, it is expected that some 80 per cent of the 600-odd office trainees who were taken on last year will receive permanent appointments.