New employment laws for the Queensland Public Service will “maximise employment security” for state bureaucrats, according to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Palaszczuk introduced the Public Service and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2020 to state parliament on Thursday, which she said would progress the “priority first stage of public sector management reforms” put forward in the recent Bridgman review.
The state government commissioned Peter Bridgman to conduct an independent review of state public sector employment laws in September 2018, to complement the Coaldrake review.
Bridgman found “significant problems and issues about the employment laws and practices that need resolution for a fair, responsive and inclusive public sector”.
The report made 99 recommendations, including a new Public Sector Act, a “permanent public service” of ongoing employment, and giving chief executives the responsibility to “ensure that managers in their departments or agencies have, or are taking reasonable steps to develop, appropriate management skills”.
The new bill would progress the first stage of public sector management reforms with two priority areas: giving full effect to the commitment to maximise employment security in public sector employment; and providing positive performance management of public sector employees.
Under the bill, the language in the Public Service Act 2008 would be amended to state that “permanent employment is the default basis for public sector employment” and that non-permanent forms of employment should only be used when ongoing employment is “not viable or appropriate”, Palaszczuk noted.
“This will make clear in legislation the government’s existing commitment to maximise employment security,” she said.
“In further support of this commitment, the bill provides clear criteria for the employment of fixed-term temporary employees and casual employees and changes the definition of ‘temporary employee’ to ‘fixed-term temporary employee’.”
The laws would also preserve the requirement to review the status of employment for casual and temporary employees after two years of continuous service, and introduce a right for public servants employed on a temporary or casual basis to request a review of their employment status at 12 months.
“This will foster good workforce planning practices and ensure regular reviews are conducted in fairness to employees,” Palaszczuk said.
Positive performance management principles would also be established to promote regular and constructive communication between managers and employees and ensure they work together to support the government’s productivity and quality of service delivery.
This would “ensure that good work is recognised and that public servants have feedback on how their efforts are contributing to Queensland and will help drive public sector capability development”.
Performance management and development would be clearly delineated from disciplinary and corrective action, the threshold for disciplinary action where there is a breach of the code of conduct would be clarified, and early correction of performance and behavioural issues would be enabled.
Citizenship requirements for employment in the QPS would be changed so that a person who has permission to lawfully work in Australia can also work as a public servant for as long as they have that permission.
In introducing the new laws, Palaszczuk said she was committed to “restoring fairness in public sector employment”.
“As our public servants have recently demonstrated during the COVID-19 crisis, without their tireless efforts it would not be possible to deliver the infrastructure and the services that our state needs,” she said.
“We want to ensure that Queensland has the most responsive, consistent and reliable Public Service possible.”
To support the changes, the bill would give clear guidance for the management of disciplinary procedures, investigations, suspension and positive performance management.
Public Service appeals — currently heard by the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Act 2008 — would be amended to be heard under the jurisdiction of the Industrial Relations Act 2016, to “ensure transparency and increase consistency in appeal decisions”.
A special commissioner could also be appointed to undertake administrative inquiries, give advice about areas of public administration, and promote effectiveness and efficiency by facilitating the development of government policies.
The changes would help the QPS be an employer of choice, the premier argued.
“We want to ensure that we are making the right investments in public services in order to keep delivering for Queenslanders with a highly skilled Public Service,” she said.
“We want the Queensland Public Service to be empowered to be fair and responsive and to visibly demonstrate a culture that values high ethical standards and behaviour.”
Palaszczuk noted the Bridgman recommendations and the contents of the bill were subject to extensive consultation with government agencies and public sector unions through a joint advisory committee.
She said the bill would be complemented by a second stage of reforms which would implement the remaining Bridgman recommendations and include a new public service act and code of conduct.