I also rise to support the Public Sector Employment (Award Entitlements)
Amendment Bill 2008.
Previous speakers have taken us through what is essentially a
fairly straightforward bill before us tonight. I would like to talk about some
other aspects associated with the bill and draw the attention of the house to
some basic information which we all know but which I think we need a timely
The first is that public servants are always at the forefront
of a government’s industrial relations agenda. They are the employees, so when
there is change it is ultimately the public sector employees who are first in the queue. I say this through experience, as
many years ago I was a federal industrial officer with the Australian Public
Service Association, and I experienced what all that meant by being at the
industrial relations coalface. We had a number of issues in relation to
machinery of government, particularly when there was a change of government. We
also had the second-tier negotiations, which were quite unusual at the time.
Then of course a little bit further on it was the public sector that first
introduced award restructuring and job redesign and those sorts of activities.
It is timely also to remind people that public servants are
people who are going about conducting and performing a number of services and
tasks within government departments. They are not faceless, white-collar
bureaucrats who do not experience the realities of life. There is a perception
that public servants just have comfortable lives and work in fairly pleasant
But the fact is that public servants work in a number of areas
and undertake a diverse number of roles — for example, we have public servants
in fisheries and in law courts; we have public servants who do claim processing,
who are senior policy advisers and who are in police intelligence; we have
public servants in quarantine, in child protection, at airports and in
laboratories — in almost every facet of our lives we have public servants. It
is with the professionalism and the dedication that they bring to their jobs
that they assist in the democratic process. They are the basis of enabling our
elected governments to go about the business of governing and delivering
services. This should never be forgotten.
For all of the different roles that public servants perform,
there is one thing that is constant in the work of a public servant — that is,
change. I can testify to that after 20 to 25 years of experience in this area.
Their jobs and their departments undergo constant change.
Public servants, their terms and conditions of employment and
the number of public service jobs are always under constant scrutiny as
governments try to reduce expenditure. That was my experience, particularly with
departmental amalgamations, and of course there was the exercise of government
business enterprises spinning off from departmental amalgamations. These aspects
in the public service are well understood, not just by the administrators but by
ordinary, normal public servants.
They are not opposed to change; they know change quite well,
and they certainly understand the pressure that change brings about.
But when you are part of a group of workers, when you are the
first in the queue to cop the harsh ideologically driven industrial relations
agenda that the previous Liberal federal government inflicted on workers where
there was no space for consultation, there was no space for negotiation, where
the award safety net was seriously eroded and the longstanding no-disadvantage
test for federal agreements were just simply taken away, you would be thankful
that this state Labor government had the foresight to intervene and protect
Victorian public servants.
We all know on this side of the chamber, as do the Greens, that
the previous federal Liberal government went way too far with WorkChoices. You
do not as a government create unnecessary division. You do not as a government
entrench unfair rules.
You do not go out of your way to make it hard for families,
giving children and young adults no hope and the belief that they will never
have a fair job, a properly paid job where respect is the norm, not adversarial
relations between workers and employers. Electors last November resoundingly
rejected WorkChoices and the Howard federal government, and now that the Rudd
government is in the process of dismantling WorkChoices it is simply practical
and appropriate to repeal the safeguards that were put in place to protect
Victorian public servants from the worst elements of that retrograde
I must say that I have been quite frightened by some of the
comments made by members of the opposition tonight. Firstly, they have
characterised this state government as a government that by protecting workers
is directly attacking the previous federal government. Wanting to protect
workers is seen as attacking the Howard government.
Secondly, this government’s protection of workers is seen by
the opposition as undermining the previous Howard government’s federal unitary
industrial relations system. It beggars belief that anyone could draw that
The other thing I find quite frightening so far in this debate
is that the Liberal Party continues to embrace its extreme industrial relations
agenda. I have not heard anyone from the other side of the chamber when we have
on previous occasions debated industrial relations issues acknowledge either in
whole or in part that they were wrong. We get attacked on this side of the
chamber for being strident about our position on workers’ rights. If being
strident means that we are committed to making sure we get rid of all of the
rotten industrial relations legislation, so be it. I would sooner be strident
and proud in defending workers’ rights than be subjected to the claims that have
been made here tonight.
I put a challenge out to Liberal Party members in particular. I
seek some clarification from them this evening. Are they going to continue to skulk
around and not show leadership, or will they stand up and say they went too far
and they were wrong? I would also like them to consider in very strong terms an
apology to workers and their family members.