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Wednesday, 8 December 1976
Page: 3529

Mr STREET (Corangamite) (Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister in Public Service Matters) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to rationalise and coordinate provisions relating to the retirement and redeployment of staff throughout various areas of Commonwealth employment. The legislation will be able to be applied by regulation to virtually any area of Commonwealth civilian employment. Without wanting to get into a debate on the justification for giving some government functions to statutory authorities rather than to departments of state, I think there is increasing recognition of the need to avoid unnecessary or artificial distinctions in relation to the staffing of the various parts of the Administration. This is certainly a recurrent theme in the report of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration. In the particular area that is the subject of this Bill, these are by no means just theoretical considerations. Where staff, for whatever reason, can no longer be effectively employed in a particular department or authority, their future as Government employees ought not to be artificially inhibited by a largely irrelevant consideration, namely, the particular government sector in which they are employed. Accordingly, the Bill will give the Public Service Board appropriate responsibilities to endeavour to redeploy staff in other areas before retirement can become an issue. I believe that this is a desirable objective with which there would be common ground with both management and the trade union movement.

The Bill will apply initially only to the Public Service, with other government employment areas being added by regulation. However, it would be the Government's expectation that authorities etc. will become part of the scheme unless there is some compelling reason why this should not be so. Another preliminary point I should make concerns the types of staff who will be covered. In the Public Service Act and some other areas of Commonwealth employment, formal distinctions are drawn between permanent officers and temporary employees. In practice the distinction is not so clean Persons often serve in a so-called temporary status for many years, whilst distinctions in the conditions of employment of temporary and permanent staff have been narrowed considerably. The major exception to this concerns retirement, since only permanent officers have continuing tenure to the specified retiring age once their appointment has been confirmed. Temporary employees, no matter how long they have actually been employed, are normally liable to have their services dispensed with at any time. The Bill now before the House makes a major change to this state of affairs, in that applicability of retirement provisions will depend, in the main, on duration of work rather than a technical staffing category. Thus, so-called temporary employees will normally be covered unless their employment is for a fixed or otherwise limited period. This approach is consistent with recommendations of the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration concerning categories of employment.

I turn now to the basic redeployment and retirement provisions in the Bill. These cover 2 main areas- age retirement and management initiated redeployment or retirement. Staff covered by the Bill will be entitled to retire on attaining an age prescribed for that purpose. The Government has in mind, as pan of the total scheme reflected in the Bill, that the age to be so specified initially for all staff would be 55 years as recommended by the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration, rather than the present generally applicable age of 60 years. The Bill will also enable a maximum retiring age to be prescribed by regulation- this would normally be, as at present, 65 yearsalthough there are provisions, similar to those already in the Public Service Act, enabling staff, with their consent, to stay on beyond the maximum age where this is in the interests of the Commonwealth.

The need for appropriate powers in relation to management initiated redeployment and retirement has, of course, always been recognised, and has been an accepted qualification to the permanent status of Commonwealth public servants since Federation. For example, the Public Service Act presently includes provisions enabling management initiated redeployment or retirement of excess officers and inefficient or incapacitated officers, and management initiated retirement of any officers who have attained 60 years of age. A frequent criticism of these pans of the Public Service Act is that they do not adequately protect the rights of individual employees through, for example, formal rights of appeal and perhaps a more direct relationship between the powers and their clear purpose, namely, the efficient and economical functioning of the Service. Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, there are formal barriers which hinder effective redeployment efforts throughout the Administration. The Public Service Board has for some years been pursuing the possibility of change, and the Royal Commission on Australian Government Administration has now made several recommendations for change. It unanimously and specifically concluded that there was a need to retain provisions covering redundancy and compulsory early retirement.

The Bill takes a new approach to management initiated redeployment and retirement, aimed at overcoming these deficiencies through improved and co-ordinated processes. I would now like to briefly mention the main features of this approach. Clause 7 requires that any action taken is to be directed towards ensuring, to the greatest extent practicable, that departments and authorities make efficient and economical use of their staff. Retirement is only to become a possibility where redeployment would be impracticable or unreasonable. Whilst departments and authorities will have the prime responsibility for keeping their own houses in order, Public Service Board involvement will mean consistency and co-ordination of the procedures they follow. The Board will determine procedures and criteria for the Public Service, whilst authorities will be required to consult with the Board before determining their own procedures and criteria.

Where there are staff whose services cannot reasonably be used by the department or authority in which they are employed, whether on grounds of excess numbers, incapacity or otherwise, the Board must be informed, and will then have a duty to take such action as is reasonable and practicable to arrange for redeployment within the Administration. The Board's duty will be backed up by appropriate provisions concerning, for example, appointment and promotion powers of both the Board and authorities. Only where redeployment is not practicable can the question of retirement arise. Affected staff will have clear rights to have decisions affecting them reviewed. There is no such right now. These review rights will cover the initial decision of a department or authority to identify the employee, any redeployment action, and any decision that redeployment is not practicable. In the long term, the Government envisages that the outcome of the review initiated by the Public Service Board of appeal arrangements generally, taking into account relevant Royal Commission recommendations, will lead to the development of new grievance review machinery having application here. Pending development of that machinery, the Board will be discussing interim arrangements with employee organisations, prior to the making of regulations as envisaged by the Bill. The Board has already been discussing the issues involved with those organisations.

Finally, I wish to explain the purpose of clause 19. Honourable members will see that it enables regulations to be made for the payment of special benefits to persons retired at the initiative of management. I mentioned earlier that we intend prescribing 55 years as the minimum age for voluntary retirement and we have in mind that, in specified circumstances, persons at or above that age who are retired at management's initiative will receive special benefits. The nature of such benefits, and the circumstances to give rise to them, will be the subject of discussions between the Board and employee organisations prior to decisions being taken. In this context, it is relevant to note that the Public Service Arbitrator has under consideration issues which, when resolved, could have a bearing on this queston. These new approaches are a significant improvement over existing provisions. The latter do not include effective criteria, but go as far as section 85, which allows the compulsory retirement of any officer over 60 years of age without specifying any reasons whatever. There is no such potentially arbitrary provision in this new scheme.

The Bill traverses an area which is, understandably, of particular concern to employee organisations. Since early this year there have been various discussions on this topic with those organisations. This Bill is a logical consequence of the various proposals and suggestions made in recent years that I mentioned earlier. In recent discussions with the Public Service Board, the organisations have expressed a strong concern to have an opportunity to study the legislative proposals before they become law. The Government is confident that the scheme in the Bill is equitable, and is therefore anxious to see it become law as soon as possible, though it would not wish to be seen as acting with undue haste. Accordingly, it is our intention that the Bill not proceed past the introduction stage for the moment so that there will be adequate opportunity for debate and so that consultation on the total scheme between the Public Service Board and staff organisations can continue. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Willis) adjourned. .

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