onto Let's keep the NSW Coalition government accountable on the Northern Tablelands.
Extract from NSW Legislative Council Hansard and Papers Tuesday, 18 June 2013 (Proof).
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE [8.51 p.m.]: I speak on the Government Sector Employment Bill 2013, which is cognate with the Members of Parliament Staff Bill 2013. I oppose both bills. In his second reading speech the Premier said that these bills were necessary to "modernise" the public service. But for the O'Farrell Government the word "modernise" simply means cutting the working conditions and protections of public sector workers. Labor has no problem with updating processes in the New South Wales public service to ensure that the highest levels of integrity, accountability and performance are attained, but many parts of these bills do the opposite and allow the O'Farrell Government to continue its attack on the New South Wales public sector and on those who rely on those services.
The Government Sector Employment Bill 2013 repeals the Public Sector Employment and Management Act 2002. The bill proposes two employment classifications, down from the present four: the public service and the government sector. But in doing so the bill moves approximately 3,000 award-based employees onto a new contract-based senior executive structure. Currently public servants up to grade 11/12 and the senior officer grades are covered by award conditions as well as protections from unfair dismissal. Under this bill the Premier will have discretion to set "bands" within which a person would be employed. That means that no longer will anyone be employed in a specific job or position but in a band, within which they can serve in any type of role.
Nearly 3,000 senior officers and other staff will lose their award coverage and unfair dismissal rights, thanks to Mr O'Farrell. Under clause 35 the Premier will determine the bands in which senior executives are to be employed. This power could be used to pull many more public sector workers into this new category. For instance, employees at grade 11/12 level could be next. All the Premier has to do is publish the changes on the New South Wales legislation website.
Another serious concern is the Government Sector Employment Rules. These rules are yet to be written and will never come before the Parliament, so they can never be disallowed by the Parliament, but they will set the parameters for all senior executive contracts, performance evaluations and procedures for assignment. For non-executives the rules will govern recruitment, including merit selection, conditions of engagement, termination procedures and the process for managing employees regarded as being excess. The rules will also deal with the procedural requirements for dealing with unsatisfactory performance which can lead to dismissal. Yet these rules have not been provided to anyone in this House. It is farcical that this legislation can be brought before the House without details of what is in this vital procedural instrument which will so massively impact the working lives of 300,000 public sector workers.
I am also concerned by the Government's changes to the employment arrangements of the staff of members of Parliament and political office holders. Currently the staff of political office holders, including those of Ministers and the Leader of the Opposition, are classified as special temporary employees of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The staff of members of Parliament are employed by the relevant Presiding Officer in either Chamber. This bill changes that arrangement, with potentially grim consequences. Under this bill the Government proposes that the political office holder will function, under contract, as the employer of the staff in his or her office. The terms and conditions will be determined by the Premier. That means that members of Parliament will, under contract, be the employer of their staff. I wonder who would welcome changes such as those?
The Hon. Dr Peter Phelps: Bob Hawke.
The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE: It is interesting that throughout this debate the serial interjector, the Government Whip, has been continually interjecting. I can only assume that he does not understand the full implications of this legislation, and that may be because the Minister did not read out his speech in this place. If the Government Whip continues to interject I will ensure that second reading speeches are read out for future bills.
Members who want it made easier to sack their staff without recourse and members who want to make it easier to cut conditions will welcome these changes. Those members who sit on the other side of the Chamber are the champions of WorkChoices, but this time they want to enforce it on their own staff.
Electorate staff and the staff of members of the Legislative Council have serious concerns about this bill. They want to know how it will affect their award, redundancy provisions and termination procedures. But of course under this Government they are the last to be consulted. The O'Farrell Government is essentially removing staff from an arm's-length arrangement with either the Department of Premier and Cabinet or the Presiding Officer. It is bringing them in-house and putting a screen around everything that goes on. That is not only detrimental for staff members but it weakens the protection they enjoy against discrimination, harassment and victimisation within the workplace. It is appalling for accountability and the process of public administration in this State.
The bill is a corruption risk in red flashing lights. Take just one concern—that ministerial staff will no longer be covered by the code of conduct of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. The code of conduct defines expected standards of behaviour in areas such as ethical decision-making; conflicts of interest; acceptance of gifts and benefits; outside employment; the use of official resources such as computers and phones; drugs, alcohol and tobacco use; discrimination and harassment; and reporting suspected wrongdoing. But Premier Barry O'Farrell now wants this bill passed that says to each member of Parliament and to each Minister, "Never mind about the agreed code of conduct; you write your own rules. Anything goes." I quote a section of the code of conduct of the Department of Premier and Cabinet:
Employees are expected to provide advice and reports in a timely and impartial manner. Such advice must be honest, frank, accurate and without material omission, and any limitations on the advice must be made clear.
The code of conduct further states:
Employees must not withhold relevant information from the Government.
I can only begin to guess why the O'Farrell Government wants to get rid of a code of conduct and to introduce legislation which provides that a staff member who knows something or who finds out something that the Minister they are working for should know is under no obligation to advise that Minister.
They can be silent, as with the children overboard scandal. If a Minister said that children were thrown overboard from a refugee vessel and the staffer had information to contradict that statement the staffer would be under no ethical obligation to disclose it to the Minister. How can that be positive for good government in New South Wales?
Or imagine that a staffer to the Minister for Police received a leaked report from the police child abuse squad that stated that it was critically understaffed and, as a result, suspected child abusers were not being apprehended. It is politically better for the Minister not to be told, otherwise he or she would have to act on the information. Under this bill Ministers do not have to be told. Getting rid of the code of conduct for ministerial staff is a corruption risk. It is a cover-up risk. It is totally contrary to the concepts of ministerial responsibility under our Westminster tradition.
Let us go back to the shocking case that resulted in staff members being put under the auspices of the Department of Premier and Cabinet in the first place. In 1994 the then Minister for Police, Terry Griffiths, resigned after four female employees took sick leave because of stress and harassment. Subsequently three allegations of sex discrimination, two allegations of victimisation and 37 allegations of sexual harassment were made against the Minister.
In July 1994 then Premier John Fahey established an independent inquiry into the affair, which was headed by Carmel Niland. She found that Mr Griffiths made employment decisions about his female staff on the basis of considerations other than merit. She found that there was "lack of accountability of the Minister as an employer either through the legal system or through the management systems." Further, she found that Ministers and their chiefs of staff may not be experienced managers and that Ministers' offices needed professional and proactive assistance to achieve best practice management.
The bill before us contains none of that. It overturns those careful and wise recommendations of Carmel Niland. As philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." I urge the Government and all members of this House to remember the past. Do not repeat those mistakes. Oppose these bills.