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Wednesday, 13 November 1974
Page: 2310

Senator MURPHY (New South WalesAttorneyGeneral and Minister for Customs and Excise) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

This Bill includes proposed amendments of the Public Service Act and the Officers' Rights Declaration Act. The amendments are machinery provisions, and are part of the continuing process of ensuring the efficient functioning of the national public administration. A number of progressive and responsible administrative rearrangements have been made for the last 2 years. Some of these have involved a reorganisation of the responsibilities of existing departments and authorities. Others have been necessary as a consequence of new responsibilities which the Government has assumed. The amendments in clauses 8, 9 and 12 of the present Bill relate to various machinery aspects of such rearrangements.

Clause 9 relates to the rights of officers when departments are abolished. Before detailing the provisions of this clause it should be understood that it flows from a recommendation of the Joint Council of the Australian Public Service, a statutory employer/employee body which was established by the Chifley Labor Government in 1945. 1 take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Joint Council which, through it own work and through the work of sub-committees, makes a substantial contribution on a wide range of matters of general service interest.

When a department is abolished, a step which both the present and previous Governments have found necessary from time to time, one effect is the abolition of all offices in that department. All provisional promotions to those offices lapse, and the Government shares the concern of both the Joint Council and the Public Service Board at the detrimental effect, both financially and otherwise, that this situation can have on persons who have been provisionally promoted. Those persons must either be provisionally promoted once again to appropriate offices in the successor department, or miss the promotion altogether. Financial loss may be involved, since retrospective entitlement to higher salary when the second promotion is confirmed would not cover the period relating to the abolished, but identical, office. The amendment in clause 9 will enable the promotion process to continue when the Board, after obtaining a report from the Permanent Head of the successor department, so determines. Provision is also made for further appeals to continue to safeguard the rights of other officers.

Clause 8 effects a related amendment to section 46 of the Act. This will permit recruitment notices published under that section to continue to have effect in relation to offices created to replace those that have been abolished. This will avoid the need for renotification and associated delays in the recruitment process.

Clause 12 of the Bill relates to situations where staff are being transferred to Public Service Act employment. Before the transfer, such staff may have been employed by an Australian authority, a State government, a State authority or otherwise. In the past, transfers of this nature have been effected by an ad hoc legislative scheme. For example, the Public Service Act presently includes S separate Divisions dealing with the transfer of various categories of Australian and State employees. On other occasions special legislation has been enacted, examples being the Statistics (Arrangements with States) Act, the Mint Employees Act and the Aboriginal Affairs (Arrangements with the States) Act. Inevitably, this ad hoc approach has led to delays and inconsistencies. It is the Government's view that the introduction of common statutory provisions, capable of being applied from time to time as required, will have substantial administrative advantages. Accordingly, clause 12 introduces general provisions as to terms and conditions of employment which will be capable of being invoked whenever there is a transfer of staff to the Australian Public Service. Application of the new provisions would follow a decision by the Government that a department, or other body staffed under the Public Service Act, was to assume a function being carried on by some other body.

I turn now to clause 6 of the Bill, which amends section 25 of the Act so as to enable the occupant of an office established under an ordinance to be vested with the powers of a Permanent Head under the Public Service Act. This amendment has relevance to authorities to be established by ordinance in the Australian Capital Territory, such as the proposed Capital Territory Health Commission. This approach already applies with many authorities established by Acts. Clause 13 of the Bill has been included as a result of an undertaking I gave in the light of a report by the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances. Regulations provide for the payment by Australia of the fares of a close relative who visits a critically or dangerously Ul officer or employee temporarily stationed away from his home. In its 48th report, the Senate Committee expressed the view that the regulations were ultra vires the Public Service Act. A notice of motion to disallow a regulation was withdrawn on the basis of an assurance I gave that legislation would be introduced during the present session to put that validity beyond doubt. My own view is that the regulations are in fact valid, but I am sure all honourable senators will be in agreement with the Government's view that the important thing is to put beyond doubt the power of the Board to make regulations in this important area. Clause 13 ensures the validity of the regulations. It will permit the Board to make similar regulations in the future.

The BUI amends the Schedule to the Act to update references to various departments and Permanent Heads. Standard amendments consequential on the Remuneration Tribunals Act are included. The opportunity has also been taken to include in the BUI certain amendments of the Officers' Rights Declaration Act. That Act was passed in 1928 to preserve the rights of officers who became employees of certain statutory authorities. In doing this it removed difficulties which arose when those employees subsequently wished to return to the Public Service. The Act does not cover officers of the Public Service who become employees of a public authority established by the law of a Territory. The amendments in clauses 16, 17 and 18 wil ensure that the Act does apply to such officers if the Territory law is prescribed in regulations made under the Act. The BUI also makes consequential amendments in conformity with the change of name of the Service to the Australian Public Service.

One final matter concerns an undertaking given by the Government last year that Parliament would be given an opportunity to review those parts of the Public Service Act (No. 4) 1973 which omitted from the principal Act certain provisions relating to oaths and affirmations. This BUI Will provide an opportunity for any senator to raise that issue. I do not propose at this stage to repeat the arguments which justified those amendments, as they were fully outlined previously when the Public Service Bill (No. 4) 1973 was before the Senate. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Greenwood) adjourned.

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