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Tuesday, 29 May 1973
Page: 2778

Mr LYNCH (Flinders) - The Bill before the House seeks to amend section 88 of the Public Service Act 1922-1973 and the Second and Third Schedules to the Act. The Opposition welcomes the amendments to the Public Service Act made by this Bill. The amendments to section 88 relate to situations where the holder of a Public Service office who is required to exercise and perform powers and functions under some other Act or regulation is absent and it becomes necessary for another officer to act temporarily in the office. The current procedures under section 88 require a direction in writing under the Public Service Act and regulations to act in the office and also a direction from the Governor-General in respect of the statutory powers and functions, even though those statutory powers and functions form part of the duties of the office.

The Opposition agrees that procedures will be simplified if the officer who holds a direction under the Public Service Act and regulations to perform the duties of the office is able to exercise and perform the statutory powers and functions that form part of those duties without requiring a separate direction by the Governor-General. In view of the creation of new departments and the change in name of other departments that has occurred since the lists of departments and Permanent Heads of departments in the Second and Third Schedules to the Public Services Act were last amended, the Opposition considers that the amendments in the Bill updating these Schedules is both appropriate and timely.

Although the Opposition supports the terms of the Bill before the House we wish to outline our strongest objection to 2 aspects of the Government's administration of the Public Service. Firstly, I refer to the Government's use of the Public Service as a pacesetter in the determination of wages and salaries. The Opposition believes that terms and conditions of employment in the Public Service should in all aspects be competitive with conditions generally applicable throughout the community. We believe that the Government must be an enlightened and progressive employer and that there is no reason why it should lag behind the general community in terms of management policy. However, it is quite contrary to the public interest for the Government to use the Public Service as a tool to increase terms and conditions of employment in other areas. Repeated statements by Ministers of this Government have demonstrated that the pacesetter principle, already manifest by legislative and administrative actions, is to be pursued as a matter of Government policy. The Opposition completely rejects this policy and we regard its application as detrimental to the national interest and contrary to the established principle that the Public Service should not be used for the political objectives of governments. Secondly, the Government has on a number of occasions sought to interfere with the traditional and long established independence of the Public Service Board. There has been abundant evidence of the Government's overt desire to politicise the activities and policy of the Public Service Board. The Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron) in particular has sought to coerce the Board on a number of very significant issues. On 15 May the Minister made this statement in this House:

To me it is outrageous that the Commonwealth Public Service should seek to take advantage of the phasing in period which the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission gave to private employers for the purpose of introducing equal pay for the sexes. What right has a government instrumentality like the Public Service Board to treat itself as the spearhead of employer attack upon employees and trade unions? It has absolutely no right to play that sort of role in the affairs of the nation.

The Minister later in his speech made it clear that he intended his remarks as a threat to the Board. He said: - but I hope that the Public Service Board is listening. I will send it a copy of my speech, which is the best way to make representations. I hope that the Board will take note of what I have Just said.

They are the words of the Minister for Labour speaking in this House. He is a senior member of the Cabinet. They demonstrate full well that the Government has a very misconceived view of the statutory role of the Public Service Board. It performs in the national interest a more significant role than that of a mere arm of government, as the Minister for Labour would lead this House to believe. It derives its independence from the belief that no government can operate without certain restraints. The Opposition adheres to the principles and precepts which govern the statutory role of the Public Service Board. In this House and in the Senate we will take strong action to protect that role, as we have already done during this session. Whilst we have those strong reservations concerning 2 aspects of the Government's administration of the Public Service, the Opposition supports the Bill for the reasons I have mentioned to the House.

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