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Tuesday, 27 November 1973
Page: 3883

Mr ENDERBY (Australian Capital Territory) (Minister for Secondary Industry and Minister for Supply) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend various sections of the Public Service Act which cover 5 different areas. The proposed amendments: Remove certain provisions relating to the employment of women; make certain changes in the provisions relating to long service leave; modify the current blanket prohibition on officers accepting directorships; remove the requirement for officers to take oaths or make affirmations; and change the title of the Service. Clauses 7, 8 and 9 of the Bill repeal certain provisions of the Public Service Act which could be regarded as discriminative.

Sections 43 (b) and 46 (2) (c) (iv) enable the Public Service Board to specify that only males or only females are to be appointed to particular offices or that males or females are to be appointed in particular proportions. Section 54a contains special provisions relating to married women. The repeal of these sections is one of the results of a review of aspects of employment of women in the Australian Public Service conducted by the Public Service Board. The attitude of the Australian community and of women themselves to their role in society are changing. Increasingly it is being accepted that women will assume a more important economic role and will combine marriage with a career which will extend throughout their adult lives.

On 29 August the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) announced that the Parliamentary Labor Party had considered the results of the Public Service Board's review. Honourable members will recall that barriers against the permanent appointment of women to the Third Division were removed in 1949, and restrictions against the permanent appointment of married woman to the service were removed in 1966. It was announced in August that as a result of the Board's review, all positions in the Australian Public Service are to be open equally to men and women applicants who can perform the full range of duties required. A number of measures which could and have been taken and which did not require legislation were announced. The Prime Minister indicated that the Government had agreed to repeal these provisions in the Public Service Act which could be said to discriminate against women, but which had become redundant.

The Government has emphasised that it has a role and responsibility as Australia's largest employer in promoting the status of women. This amendment is one of the steps taken by the Government since coming to office in its endeavour to eliminate possibilities of discrimination and promote opportunity for those women wishing to contribute to the economic prosperity of Australia as members of the work force.

Clauses 10 and 11 of the Bill relate to long service leave. Under existing legislation the basic qualifying period for long service leave within the Australian Public Service is 15 years. Clauses 10 and 11 cf the Bill amend sections 73 and 74 of the Public Service Act to reduce the qualifying period for long service leave purposes from 15 to 10 years and to remove all long service leave penalties associated with misconduct or unsatisfactory service. Other provisions in the Act regulate conduct and therefore the inclusion of a good conduct requirement in the long service leave provisions simply means that public servants may be subjected to penalties twice for one disciplinary offence.

Existing section 74 (3a) of the Public Service Act provides for a payment on resignation after 10 years' service where the resignation is justified by domestic or other pressing necessity and the officer is not eligible for a payment in lieu of long service leave. Reduction of the basic qualifying period to 10 years will render the section redundant. Officers will become eligible for payment in lieu on resignation for any reason after 10 years. Provision has been made, therefore, for the repeal of section 74 (3a). The associated Commonwealth Employees' Furlough Bill is designed to effect corresponding amendments to the Commonwealth Employees' Furlough Act which provides for long service leave for temporary employees under the Public Service Act and for persons employed by Australian Government authorities. As indicated earlier this year, these amendments will be effective from 1 January 1973.

The platform of the Australian Labor Party, on the basis of which this Government attained office, made clear that Labor's industrial policy places human rights and values first and provides for the development of full human dignity in the industrial sphere, lt emphasises the right of full employment; real economic justice; freedom and security; the right to work in just and favourable conditions; freedom from unemployment and freedom to choose employment. Our objective is to promote the interests of all Australian workers. Thus, besides improvements for Commonwealth employees, the policy envisages, inter alia, long service leave for casuals and part time employees generally and portability of benefits.

Discussions at the meeting of Australian and State Ministers for Labour in August 1973 presented a unique opportunity to explore the possibility of giving effect to these policy intentions, Ministers requested their Permanent Heads to report as a matter of urgency on the desirability and feasibility of the uniform long service leave scheme in Australia. It was emphasised, however, that if projected legislation in the Australian and several State areas were to proceed, the adoption of a uniform scheme could be seriously prejudiced. Accordingly Ministers concerned agreed to recommend to their governments deferral action pending the Permanent Heads' examination and further consideration by Ministers. The Government agreed to this recommendation of our Minister for Labour.

The Ministers for Labour had a further discussion on the possible development of a uniform long service leave scheme at the end of last month. They expressed particular concern about those working in industries the nature of whose employment precluded the accrual of entitlement to long service leave. Ministers agreed that extension of benefits to these workers should receive priority, though they recognised that there were very considerable practical problems that would have to be overcome. Ministers discussed the possibility of achieving a greater degree of uniformity of long service leave provisions throughout Australia. Long service leave for Government employees is generally provided on a more favourable basis than for workers generally but even without these different groups the provisions in some States are more favourable than those in other areas. Ministers accepted that existing differences in provisions should be extended. The proposal in the Bill is in keeping with this. The basic qualifying period for furlough in almost all State Public Services is already 10 years.

Finally, the Ministers for Labour considered the adequacy of existing concepts of long service leave and whether there could be portability of service between employers and industries, in the interests of job mobility on the one hand and social justice for the individual employer on the other. The Ministers will be giving the whole matter further consideration at their next meeting early in the new year - 1974. The proposed amendments in this Bill only implement some of the reforms relating to long service leave within the Australian Public Service which were referred to in April last. Australian Government employees may anticipate further action regarding long service leave provisions just as soon as there is clarification of the wider issues of long service leave or it becomes evident that the achievement of a wider scheme is not feasible. As already announced, the Government intends that new arrangements will be effective from 1 January 1973.

Clause 12 of this Bill deals with public servants and directorships. Currently section 91 of the Public Service Act includes a blanket prohibition against public servants holding directorships in companies or incorporated societies unless they are co-operative societies. The Government believes that any possibility of conflict or any appearance of conflict between the official interests and the private interests of public servants must be avoided. In proposing some relaxation of the existing blanket prohibition with strict safeguards which I shall describe, the Bill includes a specific prohibition against such situations. But in relation to companies in which the Australian Government has an interest, such as Qantas Airways Limited and Commonwealth Hostels Limited, officers are required to be directors as part of their official duties. The Bill makes specific provision for this circumstance.

The existing legislation prohibits public servants holding directorships in companies and incorporated societies, such as building societies formed for the purpose of providing home finance for public servants or those formed to facilitate ownership of home units or community organisations or sporting, cultural and educational institutions, unless they are co-operative societies. This amendment removes unnecessary restrictions on Public Service staff organisations which in the past have been hampered in their efforts to operate their own finance companies for the benefit of their members. It also allows public servants to play a full role in community activities. The current restrictions are being replaced by new provisions which will enable the Public Service Board to grant permission to an officer to act as a director of a company or incorporated society. The Board may grant permission only where there is no conflict of interest involved and in circumstances and subject to conditions, to be prescribed in the regulations. Thus the section as amended will be sufficiently flexible to cover a variety of situations but the general circumstances in which approval may be given by the Board will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. No approvals can be given under the new subsection (4) until regulations have been made detailing the cases and circumstances in which, and the conditions under which, approval may be given. It is therefore provided in sub-clause (2) of clause 2 of the Bill, that the amendments to section 91 are to come into operation on a date to be proclaimed and in sub-clause (2) of clause 12 of the Bill that the necessary regulations may be made, but shall not have effect before that date.

Existing provisions in the Public Service Act require officers to take an oath or to make an affirmation prior to appointment to the Service and also prior to appointment to a promotions appeal committee or an appeal board. These provisions have no practical effect since officers are required by other sections to carry out their duties in a competent and loyal fashion. Furthermore, there is no requirement for an oath of allegiance in State Public Services or in the British Civil Service. Citizens of some countries and some citizens with dual nationality, risk losing their foreign nationality by taking the oath or affirmation of allegiance. For some migrants the requirement therefore represents a barrier to employment in the Public Service. Even the prospect of temporary employment under the Public Service Act is closed to such persons unless they are individually exempted from the requirement by the Governor-General. Therefore the existing provisions mean that a group of prospective employees is lost to the Public Service. Amendments to remove these provisions are included in the Schedule and a consequential amendment is being made to omit section 55(l)(g) which makes it an offence to do anything in violation of an oath or affirmation.

Finally, in keeping with the general policy on the title of Australian Government bodies, and as the Prime Minister announced on 20 July 1973, the Bill formally changes the title of the nation's Public Service to 'Australian Public Service'. The opportunity is also being taken to make a number of formal amendments to the Act in accordance with current drafting practice. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Malcolm Fraser) adjourned.

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