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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5325


Senator PATTERSON (1.12 p.m.) —I seek leave to table for discussion purposes a draft Bill relating to removing restrictions on serving in the Public Service after attaining the age of 65 years, to incorporate notes on the draft and to make a brief statement.

  Leave granted

  The document read as follows

Mr Acting Deputy President, since 1988, the Coalition's Retirement Income Policy has committed the Liberal and National Parties to legislate to provide that age alone shall not be a barrier to employment. The removal of discrimination in employment on the basis of age is a key component of our Fightback plan.

This Private Members Bill, the Public Service (Abolition of Compulsory Retirement Age) Bill 1992, covers Commonwealth Employment and the Australian Public Service only. It does not transcend State rights but complements current State legislation relating to age discrimination and/or compulsory retirement.

This Bill has two objectives. First, it allows the recruitment of officers by the Commonwealth after the age of 65. Second, it allows people who are employed by the Commonwealth to work beyond retirement age.

This Bill addresses two separate issues. First, it is a fact that middle aged people are finding it increasingly difficult to get work after being retrenched. A recent study conducted at Monash University found this was due to an attitude amongst employers that older workers are inflexible, complacent, have more health problems and are unwilling to retrain. The Coalition believes this attitude is totally misplaced.

Middle aged people now make up the majority of the long term unemployed. The national average duration of unemployment for men aged 35-54 is 63 weeks. For women of the same age it is 100 weeks. The continuing high level of redundancies guarantees this trend will continue unless there is a fundamental change to national policy, as is proposed by the Coalition.

The second issue is the growing trend towards early retirement in Australia. Some companies are now influencing staff to retire as early as age 50. The Coalition believes that it is in the national interest to ensure that our mature and skilled workforce is productively employed as long as possible.

Quite rightly, age discrimination is a matter of great concern to many pensioner and elderly groups. There is a growing and quite legitimate perception in the community that people are often denied employment opportunities regardless of their ability, qualifications and experience, simply on the basis of their age. Older people are also being forced to leave employment prematurely due to many employers' compulsory retirement and redundancy policies. The Coalition believes that it is unfair to say to people at an arbitrary point in their lives that they are no longer capable members of the workforce.

As I said earlier, the focus of this Bill is to eradicate compulsory retirement in the Australian Public Service and to ensure that age is not a bar to a person being hired or continuing to be employed in the public service.

Currently, the Public Service Act makes provision for compulsory retirement on attaining a maximum retirement age of 65 for men and 60 for women, or following an extension if granted in special cases. The Act also provides for an option to retire at an earlier age. Finally, the existing Act provides a bar to certain appointments of persons over 65 years of age or for a period extending beyond that age.

In its response to a Parliamentary report on 10 November 1992, the Government finally agreed with the Coalition that compulsory retirement in the public service should be abolished. It is worth noting that since the last election, the Coalition has consistently amended Government legislation to prevent government appointments from automatically expiring at age 65.

Although the Government has finally got to the stage of seeking a submission from the public service in relation to this matter, this Bill recognises that, without any doubt, the abolition of compulsory retirement is a Coalition initiative.

Amendments to the Public Service Act in this Bill will cover the major areas of public sector employment. However, by necessity, there are some exemptions. The judiciary, following an amendment to the Constitution in 1977, retire on reaching age 70. The armed forces and the police force will also be exempt. The Act is scheduled to take effect as of 1 July 1995 to allow sufficient time to adjust personnel planning policies and for the relevant authorities to make any necessary adjustments.

Finally, it needs to be stated that the Coalition believes there is a role for government in establishing the retirement parameters of its own public service and setting an example for the private sector. The purpose of this legislation is to give the community at large the opportunity to comment on this important issue.

Hopefully, it will also encourage those State governments which have not yet moved to eradicate compulsory retirement—notably Tasmania—as well as the private sector to move in this direction as well.


Senator PATTERSON —Given the fact that we were delayed at the beginning of this time for matters of public interest and also the fact that it is most probably the last opportunity before the Federal election for other honourable senators to raise issues, I am going to be much briefer than I anticipated.

  Since 1988 the coalition retirement income policy has committed the Liberal and National parties to legislate to provide that age alone shall not be a barrier to employment. The removal of discrimination in employment on the basis of age is a key component of our Fightback plan. This private member's Bill, the Public Service (Abolition of Compulsory Retirement Age) Amendment Bill 1992, covers Commonwealth employment and the Australian Public Service only. It does not transcend States rights but complements current State legislation relating to age discrimination and/or compulsory retirement.

  This Bill has two objectives. First, it allows the recruitment of officers by the Commonwealth after the age of 65, and, secondly, it allows people who are employed by the Commonwealth to work beyond retirement age. The coalition believes there is a role for government in establishing the retirement parameters of its own Public Service and setting an example for the private sector. The purpose of this legislation is to give the community at large the opportunity to comment on this important issue. Hopefully, it will also encourage those State governments which have not yet moved to eradicate compulsory retirement as well as private sector businesses and organisations to move in this direction. I commend this Bill to the Senate.