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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2001 Week 10 Hansard (29 August) . . Page.. 3588 ..

Public Sector Management Amendment Bill 2001

Debate resumed from 14 February 2001, on motion by Mr Osborne:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR HUMPHRIES (Chief Minister, Minister for Community Affairs and Treasurer) (11.24): Mr Speaker, this bill proposes a return to a so-called more traditional style of public service and the concept of a career service, with checks and balances of responsible, as opposed to what you might call responsive, government. It is questionable whether these more traditional structures ever existed in the way that perhaps has been speculated in the background to this bill.

The bill's framework conflicts with what this government understands to be Westminster-style practices in the context of responsible government. As such, the bill represents a fairly serious departure from the way in which government has evolved, not just in the ACT but around Australia, in the last few years.

Mr Osborne claims not to have wound back the clock to the 1950s. He admits that the changes proposed go against trends over the last two decades. Finding the answer for the future in our past is neither sensible nor sustainable in the small future-oriented ACT public service. Mr Speaker, for these reasons the government will not be supporting this bill.

Mr Osborne proposes a series of amendments to the legislation. He put those forward on 9 August. The government has looked at those amendments. They do not change the government's position. In fact, we believe that they make the bill less sustainable rather than more sustainable.

The bill does more than simply undo executive contract arrangements that Mr Osborne and perhaps others in this place might regret. It raises fundamental issues around governments as well as public employment practice and standards. These deserve discussion and consideration at a policy level before debate about the form of legislative expression that that particular policy issue might take.

Legislative Assembly debate in the context of this bill may not be the appropriate springboard for these discussions. It is worth noting that this is not an attempt to say that we do not need some debate about direction of government. In the period of nearly a year that I have been Chief Minister there has been a series of debates going on about direction of the public service. Only a couple of weeks ago an announcement was made about some significant changes in direction for the ACT public service as part of the public service renewal program.

We must have such a debate. We must continue to drive forward a sense of evolution and change in our public service. Wider debate about the direction the public service is taking place at the moment with the proposed review of the Public Sector Management Act. There may also be room in the next Assembly for an Assembly inquiry into this issue. But legislation at this stage is premature. In any case, it is too big a step to take away from present practice without the much stronger background for that to be the case.

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