The separate ACT Government Service will come into effect on July 1 after legislation was passed in a special sitting of the ACT Legislative Assembly last night.
The special sitting dealt with some 250 amendments to the original Bill. A move by the Opposition to postpone the Bill for more consideration was defeated when the Independents voted with the Government.
The Chief Minister, Rosemary Follett, said extra rights and equity would be granted to 14,000 ACT public-sector employees who to date had not been given the status of “”officer” in the Commonwealth service.
The new Act brings virtually all public-sector employees into the service as “”officers”, unlike the Commonwealth which excluded many blue-collar employees and employees in business enterprises.
In the ACT these people would have better career paths and choices because they would be eligible to apply for jobs on merit throughout the ACT and Commonwealth services.
She said the rights of the other 9000 until-now nominally Commonwealth officers in the ACT service had been maintained.
In getting the Bill through the Government agreed to some changes sought by the Opposition and Independents when it realised the numbers were against it.
The Legal Aid Commission is to be completely independent. The Director of Public Prosecutions and ACTEW are to come under the Bill, but be “”autonomous bodies”, which puts their chief executives in the shoes of the Public Service Commissioner for the purposes of their bodies.
The operation of autonomous bodies has been changed to give their chief executives a much greater say in employment matters which will enable greater flexibility in enterprise bargaining in ACTEW.
The merit principle is to be applied to Chief Executives more strictly than in the original Bill, though the Government argued that this might leave Ministers’ actions in appointing heads of department open to court review.
The main thrust of the Government’s Bill remains: that the vast bulk of ACT public-sector employees are “”officers” of the service; there is a uniform code of conduct and discipline; the merit principle applies; that certain base conditions apply to all employees (long-service and maternity leave, promotions and appeal rights); and that employees can find the law in one Act (unlike the Commonwealth).
The Commonwealth’s complementary legislation is yet to be passed. The Opposition and Democrats are likely to get some changes to the Federal Government’s position. It is likely that Section 50 transfers (where the Commonwealth boss wants someone from the ACT at the same level without going through the interview process) will continue for two years.
The ACT Act allows for these type of transfers from the Commonwealth indefinitely.
Both Governments have agreed that officers from either service can apply for Gazette jobs in the other service on merit, which makes ACT officers more mobile than their counterparts in the states.
The whistleblower provisions were passed, but the Assembly agreed to consider the Opposition’s stronger provisions as a separate Bill later.
The Assembly agreed to an amendment from Independent Michael Moore that the public-sector management standards be disallowable by the Assembly.
Ms Follett said she expected remaining industrial issues to be settled in the Industrial Relations Commission soon.
She said the Government was pleased at the support for the statement of values and ethics in the Bill.
“”This will give our public servants much greater guidance about our expectations of their behaviour,” she said.
The president of the Law Society, Robert Clynes, said he was pleased with the result which showed democratic processes in the Territory were working. He also praised the government for funding i the Budget a duty solicitor for those in police custody and continuing funding for legal aid for those seeking domestic violence orders.