22 April 2022

Public service holidays move a flag-waving exercise

| Ian Bushnell
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Flag at Australian Parliament House

Rally round the flag, public servants told. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Did you take today off or choose to enjoy your holiday at a later date?

Most of us would not even be aware that this was a possibility, but Commonwealth public servants can at present do this, and apparently, a few do, mainly for cultural reasons.

But the Federal Government moved to close off this option in future work deals just before the election was called, at least for days that it considers to be of national significance – Australia Day, Anzac Day and the Queen’s Birthday, all of which have a degree of contention about them.

When Public Service Minister Ben Morton was asked for the thinking behind the change, the politically charged response from Coalition Campaign Headquarters ran the flag up the pole and saluted.

It read like something out of the 50s, more or less labelling those who might have an issue with the date of Australia Day, such as First Nations people, with the way Anzac Day is commemorated and the mythology around it is promoted, and of course republicans, as un-Australian.

“Our national days are incredibly important and should be recognised appropriately,” the statement said. “It’s appropriate and right that APS agencies recognise our national days.”

READ MORE Government to force all APS staff to take national holidays on observed days

Australia Day was a time for coming together to reflect, respect and celebrate the best of our nation, despite a portion of the nation understandably finding it hard to join the party.

Anzac Day was a day of reflection that all Australians recognise and honour, presuming that everybody falls into line when it comes to the country’s military history.

The Queen’s Birthday recognises the monarch’s role in “our proud democracy” and was a mark of respect to Her Majesty’s life of public service, ignoring the sizable republican sentiment among Australians, muted these days though that may be.

There was no evidence, data or reference to tidying up an area of entitlements that may not make much sense to most people outside the public service.

Indeed, other holidays such as Easter and Christmas will still be able to be substituted, presumably by staff from different cultural backgrounds.

The Minister’s move came out of the blue for the public servants union, which is still assessing just what it means.

But it seems clear that the Coalition has reverted to singling out those it disagrees with and wielding yet another wedge at the Labor Opposition which, in its current state, is unlikely to challenge the move.

READ ALSO Businesses should save a thought for low-income super payments from 1 July

The Coalition argues that the days are unifying times for the nation but, in the process, seeks to cleave off those who do not conform to its particular worldview.

The democracy it is so proud of should be able to tolerate and foster a range of views and differences and not be reduced to a narrow spectrum that allows little room for dissent.

These days can bring us together but not always all of us, and that’s OK. I doubt many of us toast the Queen on her official holiday.

But the fact is few public servants would have exercised these rights, and many would not see sense in them.

And who wants to lose a public holiday?

So why make the effort on the eve of an election?

Possibly, just to pick a fight and drape the APS in the flag as part of the seemingly never-ending culture wars the Coalition indulges in from time to time when its fortunes are low.

For a government that purports to believe in individual liberty, it spends an awful lot of energy telling people what to do and think.

Whether or not public servants deserve to have these entitlements is one for the IR experts, but the Coalition’s tip to base nationalism is disappointing.

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Stephen Saunders4:58 pm 25 Apr 22

Sanitised version of my comment: Ben Morton knows perfectly well that significant proportions of Australians will strongly disagree with him, and he could not care less, because this is his moment.

No one says anyone had to celebrate whatever day the public holiday is granted for, it’s a day off. Imagine the chaos if all the non religious folk, ie most, decided they wanted to work at that time. Let’s get a grip eh, far more important issues

An employer seeks to impose a condition of service that employees don’t work on designated public holidays. How shocking! How many people working in private enterprise would have been entitled to the same concessions? Seriously, let’s assume you work on Good Friday for cultural reasons and then take another off in lieu. How would anyone know that you’d worked that day. What if you need to contact a colleague to complete work that you’re doing? Are you allowed to do that? Are you entitled to go into the office?

Well said Ian.

They are public holidays, so they should not be allowed to be substituted, regardless of what your beliefs are.

Otherwise, why have public holidays at all? We can all freely pick whichever days off we want.

No one is forcing you to agree or believe anything, but there are clear benefits to our national identity, culture and societal cohesion from having these days that should be recognised by all.

Did you hear the one about the Public Servant who wanted to work………..

They couldn’t find one?

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