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Tuesday, 13 March 1973
Page: 468

Mr WHITLAM (Werriwa) (Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

In the early years after Federation, employees of the Commonwealth Public Service set a standard for the rest of Australia in conditions of employment. Their minimum of 3 weeks annual recreation leave gave them an advantage over most other employees in Australia. This advantage has long since disappeared, and my Government is determined to restore it. We want the national Government to continue to set the pace in improving the working conditions of Australian men and women. The purpose of this Bill is to amend section 68 of the Public Service Act 1922-1972 to increase the basic annual recreation leave entitlement of officers of the Commonwealth Service from 3 weeks to 4 weeks. It will be the first increase since 1901. The effect of the Bill will be retrospective to 1st January 1973.

The attitude of my Party on this question has been consistent over many years. In 1966 1 moved an amendment to the Public Service Bill in this House to provide 4 week's leave. The effect of the present Bill is precisely the same as the amendment I moved at that time. My amendment of 1966 was defeated by the previous Government. Among those who voted against it were members of the present Opposition, including the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden), the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) and the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon). On several occasions since 1965, joint deputations from public service organisations have put forward proposals for 4 week's leave. These proposals were made by the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Council of Commonwealth Public Service Organisations, the Australian Council of Salaried and Professional Associations and the Council of Professional Associations. They were specifically rejected by 3 successive Prime Ministers - Sir Robert Menzies in October 1965, Mr Holt in August 1966, and Mr Gorton in December 1969. The Opposition parties are still opposed to this reform. Only 2 weeks ago a spokesman of the former Government, said:

The Opposition criticises the granting of 4 weeks leave . . . (But) having regard to the Government's election promise the Opposition will not seek to defeat legislation which grants 4 weeks annual leave to all public servants.

I remind honourable members that it was a Labor Government which introduced 4 weeks leave to public servants in New South Wales on 1st January 1964, and a Labor Government which gave effect to 4 weeks leave for South Austalian public servants from 1st July 1971. The reform has always come from the Australian Labor Party. The Government believes that as the largest single employer of labour the national Government has the duty to advance the cause of all employees by establishing new and improved standards of employment for its own employees. My policy speech made this intention clear. One of the first actions of the new Government was to give effect to it. On 20th December last year, Cabinet agreed to an additional week's annual leave for the Australian Public Service. The additional week's leave was to be implemented initially by determinations under the Public Service Arbitration Act. This was, of course, consistent with the principle I outlined in answer to a question without notice on 28th February 1973 - that those most deserving of this industrial benefit are those who, through their membership of organisations, have fought for it and secured it. The Gov ernment- has now decided that the only satisfactory way to implement our long-standing undertaking is by legislation. We have accordingly put this legislation before the House.

The Public Service Board has indicated that subject to the passage of this Bill, it proposes to amend the existing Public Service Regulations so that an additional week's leave can be extended to temporary employees under the Public Service Act and to officers and employees who, because of the nature or location . of their employment, are currently eligible for more than 3 weeks leave. Consistent with the provisions of this Bill the Regulations will have retrospective effect to 1st January this year. Acts covering the employment of staff of statutory authorities, etc., generally give power to the authority to determine terms and conditions of employment. The Government is arranging consultations with these authorities so that the necessary arrangements can be made to extend 4 weeks leave to these employees. J commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Gorton) adjourned.

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