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Wednesday, 16 October 1985
Page: 1288

Senator RYAN (Minister for Education)(11.09) —I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

This Bill has two principal objects.

Firstly, it amends the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act to include inefficiency and loss of essential qualifications as grounds upon which redeployment and retirement action can be taken in relation to staff covered by that Act.

This amendment is the result of a review of the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act in which the ACTU, and the Council of Professional Associations have participated.

Under the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act staff can be redeployed or retired where their services cannot reasonably be used because they are surplus to their department or authority's requirements or are incapable of performing their duties as a result of physical or mental incapacity.

At present the Act does not specifically provide for the redeployment or retirement of staff who are inefficient or who have lost essential qualifications. However, sub-paragraph 7 (1) (b) (iii) of the Act also enables redeployment or retirement of staff for any other pre- scribed reason. It was originally intended that inefficiency and loss of essential qualifications would be dealt with under this section.

The Government believes it essential to have an effective but fair system for dealing with staff who are inefficient or who have lost essential qualifications. Equally, it believes that sub-paragraph 7 (1) (b) (iii) is too broad and imprecise and that a topic so fundamental as the grounds upon which Commonwealth employees can be redeployed or retired should be spelt out in legislation, rather than being left to regulations.

Accordingly, this legislation repeals sub-paragraph 7 (1) (b) (iii) and specifically inserts inefficiency and loss of essential qualifications into the Act as additional grounds for redeployment and retirement.

The provisions are carefully drafted so as to balance the need for management to deal with such cases as promptly and effectively as possible against the need to protect the rights of staff.

Therefore both grounds are carefully defined and the criteria to which regard may be had in determining that an employee is inefficient are set out in detail. There will be access to appeal mechanisms already provided in the Act. Detailed administrative procedures to be followed in giving effect to the legislation, based on consultations with unions, will be published in the Gazette.

The Bill will also require that, where it has not proven possible to redeploy an employee, the Secretary of the employee's Department is required to have regard to such factors as:

the nature and duration of the employee's past service;

the length of the employee's prospective service;

the extent the employee is able or likely, with retraining or rehabilitation, to perform duties in the department before causing the employee to be compulsorily retired.

It should be noted that this Bill will not affect the position of secretaries to departments and officers of the Senior Executive Service, who are already covered by special redeployment and retirement provisions inserted in the Public Service Act last year as part of this Government's Public Service Reform package.

The second principal object of the Act is to introduce new employment provisions into the Public Service Act. The existing provisions in the Public Service Act have been used to engage staff for several quite different purposes including the engagement of short term and fixed term temporary assistance, the engagement of industrial staff on a continuing basis and the engagement of local staff by Australian missions overseas.

Experience has shown the difficulties inherent in attempting to apply the present provisions to such different circumstances resulting, in some cases, in staff gaining tenure and other benefits not commensurate with the limited basis on which they were originally engaged.

The new scheme set out in the Bill will create four separate categories of employees: continuing employees, short term employees, fixed term employees and overseas employees. By separating out these categories, the Bill enables more appropriate engagement and tenure arrangements to apply to each.

The provisions seek to balance the need to give departments greater flexibility in day to day operations while ensuring proper central co- ordination and control to protect the integrity of the new scheme.

Secretaries of departments will be able to engage persons as short term employees to meet temporary needs for periods of 3 months without reference to the Public Service Board. At the end of this period, the department will be required to examine whether there is still a need for that person's services and either to terminate the person's employment or seek an extension of their employment by the Board. Such persons will only be entitled to the rights of tenure given by the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act 1979 if the Board makes a decision to extend their employment and as a result the employment exceeds 12 months in total. Staff will be selected from registers of applicants.

The fixed term employment category will enable departments, with the Board's approval, to engage employees for up to five years for projects or tasks which require special skills, experience, qualifications and aptitudes not readily available from within the Public Service and where it is unlikely that there will continue to be work for the extra staff taken on for the project or task after it is completed.

It will also enable departments to offer fixed-term engagements in the mainstream of public service work where a person prefers to come to work in the Public Service for a fixed period only.

Thirdly, it will enable the employment of persons who are awaiting the granting of Australian citizenship before they can take up offers of permanent appointment.

The continuing employee category recognises that for many groups of staff, particularly of industrial employees, engagement as an employee is a more appropriate mode of staffing than permanent appointment.

Recruitment of persons as continuing employees will be limited to classes declared by the Board after obtaining the agreement of relevant unions. In selecting such employees, departments will be required to have regard to the skills, aptitude, qualifications and experience of applicants. Detailed guidelines on advertising and selection will be published by the Board.

Termination of employment during the first year will be subject to notice along the lines of standard provisions in industrial awards.

This first year will be regarded as a probationary period at the end of which, as is the case now, such employees will gain similar tenure rights to officers.

The overseas employee category will cover staff engaged by Australian missions overseas. In engaging such staff the Commonwealth will continue to follow good employer practice in the local market.

A special section is inserted into the Public Service Act to facilitate the engagement of staff under the Government's youth traineeship scheme, and other government schemes designed to enable persons to gain skills, qualifications, aptitudes and experience in order to equip them to participate in the Australian workforce.

As part of the Public Service reforms, the responsibility for human resources budgeting became the responsibility of the Department of Finance. Following this change, it is no longer appropriate for the Public Service Board's approval to be required in relation to consultants engaged by various statutory authorities. Accordingly, the Bill removes the requirements for the Board to approve consultancy arrangements under the various Acts set out in the Schedule to the Bill.

The Bill also contains a number of minor technical amendments to the Public Service Act, the Long Service Leave Act and other legislation. Details of these are set out in the explanatory memorandum.

There are no identifiable costs associated with the amendments made by the Bill. The revised employment provisions are designed to ensure that the tenure and other benefits obtained by employees are commensurate with the service they are engaged to provide. The amendments to the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Act are expected to improve long-term efficiency of the Public Service.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Reid) adjourned.