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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 4769

Senator LUNDY —My question is directed to Senator Hill, representing both the Prime Minister and the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service. Do you agree with the comments made by the Secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Mr Max Moore-Wilton, when he described the federal Public Service Act as `a dog's breakfast of arcane, outdated and cumbersome regulation'? In the light of these comments, will the government be considering the introduction of individual work contracts for public servants in order to achieve, in the words of Mr Max Moore-Wilton, `more flexible remuneration'? Also, would part of this more flexible remuneration include the payment of differential wage rates for public servants doing the same job but in different states, as is suggested by Mr Moore-Wilton?

Senator HILL —Each uses language of an individual's choice. I have witnessed a lot of frustration in the Public Service and difficulties in relation to work conditions. Interestingly, at the end of the last parliament—just before you got here—we tabled in this place the latest information on income levels which showed that lower paid public servants were actually falling further behind. Interestingly, under Labor higher paid public servants did well and lower paid public servants did not do as well. I guess it reflects the attitude of Labor to the community at large. Under Labor the rich got richer and the poor got poorer.

If Mr Max Moore-Wilton is talking about a system that does provide greater flexibility, greater incentive and greater personal reward—it is not just in terms of remuneration; it can be in terms of job satisfaction as well—then I can see considerable merit in what he is suggesting.

Again, the problem with Labor is that they are so busy to tell but so slow to listen. Public servants have been coming to this parliament expressing their frustrations about their conditions and terms of employment. We have even had parliamentary inquiries to explore these difficulties. But you are not interested in that. You just want to make a cheap political point. We are interested in the welfare of public servants in the way that we are interested in the welfare of all Australians.

We will not simply accept that the work conditions of the past are necessarily the best. If they can be improved, we would want to see them improved. That is part of our re sponsibility to public servants whom you ignored for far too long.

Senator LUNDY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, do you further agree with Mr Moore-Wilton when he stated that the Public Service Act was `a tangible obstacle to a modern and thoroughly efficient Commonwealth public sector', and are we to assume from Mr Moore-Wilton's comments that the Australian Public Service is both thoroughly inefficient and in desperate need of modernisation?

Senator HILL —As I understand it, Mr Reith is working on improvements to the act that will improve the lot of public servants. I guess that we are interested in two things: we are interested in efficiency of outcome in terms of the administration of the government's program, and we are interested in the wellbeing, job satisfaction, remuneration and terms and conditions of employment of the public service. Because, Senator Lundy—you may not be prepared to concede it—both issues are interrelated.

You need to provide an environment within which your staff can feel that they are getting adequately rewarded—in their work conditions, their training, their opportunity for advancement and provisions that can meet their frustrations. At the same time, you need to give them reward, and out of that you get better performance. So they are interrelated. We are prepared to pick up the challenge and do something that you were not prepared to do.