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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1247

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:11): by leave—First of all, I move amendments (1) to (14) on sheet 8044, which all deal with the retrospectivity element:

(1) Schedule 1, item 3, page 5 (lines 12 to 16), omit "No person other than a retired former Prime Minister or the spouse or de facto partner of a retired former Prime Minister will have a Parliamentary Retirement Travel Entitlement after the day section 1 of the Parliamentary Entitlements Legislation Amendment Act 2017 commences.".

(2) Schedule 1, item 12, page 7 (line 20), omit "(1)".

(3) Schedule 1, item 12, page 7 (lines 25 to 31), omit subsection 4B(2).

(4) Schedule 1, item 12, page 8 (lines 6 to 9), omit paragraph 4C(1) (a), substitute:

(a) a person becomes a holder of a Parliamentary Retirement Travel Entitlement after 13 May 2014; and

(5) Schedule 1, item 12, page 8 (line 27) to page 9 (line 10), omit subsections 4C(4) and (5).

(6) Schedule 1, item 12, page 9 (line 11), omit "other", substitute "certain".

(7) Schedule 1, item 12, page 9 (line 13), omit "14 May 2008", substitute "14 May 2014".

(8) Schedule 1, item 12, page 9 (line 19), omit "(subject to subsection (8))".

(9) Schedule 1, item 12, page 9 (line 29), omit "14 May 2011", substitute "14 May 2014".

(10) Schedule 1, item 12, page 9 (line 35), omit "(subject to subsection (8))".

(11) Schedule 1, item 12, page 10 (lines 8 to 12), omit subsection 4C(8).

(12) Schedule 1, page 17 (after line 21), after item 38, insert:

38A Amendments do not apply retrospectively

Despite anything else in this Schedule, the amendments made by this Schedule do not apply in relation to a person who, immediately before the commencement time, had satisfied the relevant qualifying period for the issue of a Life Gold Pass under the old Act.

(13) Schedule 1, item 39, page 17 (line 23), after "this item", insert "and item 38A".

(14) Schedule 1, item 39, page 18 (lines 11 to 20), omit subitem (4).

If those are not supported by the Senate, as I mentioned in my speech in the second reading debate, I will later be moving amendments to remove the entitlements for all former parliamentarians, not just some, so that includes prime ministers. If that is not carried, I then have a further set of amendments to limit the gold pass entitlement to former prime ministers commensurate to their service in the chamber.

As I was interrupted by question time, I was just making the point to other people who had spoken in this debate that they are all on $200,000 a year. It is not a bad salary, but what they are doing is taking this Life Gold Pass away from retired former politicians—not anyone here in this chamber. They are not eligible for the Life Gold Pass and never would have been. I am eligible but, as I said in my speech in the second reading debate, it will never apply to me, because you have to be retired, and I never intend to retire, but if I do, after 27 years of flying seven hours to and from Canberra each sitting week to attend my work, the last thing I want to do if I ever leave here is to get on an aeroplane.

But other speakers were missing the point: when these former politicians left this place, the salary was much less. And why was it much less? Because there were a couple of perks around: you had a Life Gold Pass, and there was something called overseas study leave. They were taken away, and those of us who remained were compensated by a fairly substantial increase in pay. I think it was—this is going back to 2011, I think—something like $50,000, and that is why you now get $200,000 a year: because you do not get the Life Gold Pass and you do not get the overseas study leave and a few other things. They were bundled up and put into your salary. But former politicians did not get compensated, so what we are doing now is taking those away, as they did to serving politicians a few years ago. They were taken away from us, but we were compensated. For the former politicians, they were taken away but no compensation was ever given.

I want to briefly refer to the court decision that someone mentioned, but before I get onto that—and I will mention the court decision, because it is relevant to the point I was just making—can I just say that all of the speakers who spoke earlier made the comparison that we should bring in this banning of the Life Gold Pass retrospectively from politicians who have retired years ago because Tony Burke went to Ayers Rock with his family on a taxpayer funded holiday, or Sussan Ley allegedly did things wrong at the Gold Coast. Whether they are right or wrong, yes, let us address those things, but that is not what this bill is about. This bill is about taking away an entitlement from former members of parliament. They are no longer here, they do not have a voice, they do not have a say; it is just taken away retrospectively. I am a member of the Liberal Party, and one of the tenets of the Liberal Party is you never support retrospective legislation, for all the right reasons, some of which I mentioned in my contribution in the second reading debate.

Senator Burston said politicians should not get any more; they should get the same deal as everyone else. Senator Burston, do you mean that I should get the same deal as the CEO of Australia Post perhaps? Never mind the superannuation! I would get a salary of $5 million a year, not the $200,000 I get. Is that the one you want me to be the same as? Do we need the same conditions as everyone else—perhaps all of the members on the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who are on about twice as much as you get, Senator Burston. Perhaps you meant senior public servants, the heads of departments? They are all on about three or four times what you are getting, Senator Burston. It is not that you are complaining or I am complaining. And I say to the trolls on social media, I am not complaining. I am very happy on what I have been getting. I have been very happy for 27 years. If I was not happy, I would have retired. I would have resigned. I would have got out of here. I have never complained. I never complain. Nobody forces me to be here. I am here because I like the job and because I think I can help people. But, Senator Burston, when you say, 'Let's get the same deal as everyone else,' just remember who the everyone else is.

My local newspaper—I did not bother to read it, I might say—compared my retirement salary to that of a soldier who had retired. The article, so they told me—as I said, I did not bother to read it—compared mine with this soldier and said how much better mine was. I said, 'Oh, that's fine. Who was the soldier?' 'He was a sergeant.' Well, sergeants are important, very good people. I would have thought a better comparison for my retirement package would have been perhaps that of Deputy Chief of Army. I have been a minister for nine years. I have been in parliament 27 years. The Chief of Army is there for two years. I do not quite know what he gets, but I suspect his salary in retirement and everything else is far better than I have. But the trolls in social media, the lazy journalists, will never report the truth or the honesty or the facts. They will just do what the hate-mailers like to hear.

Senator Di Natale talked about the electoral allowance. As I said to him, 'Senator Di Natale, nobody forces you to take the electoral allowance. If you think it is bad, you can give it back.' It is the same, every time there is an increase in parliamentarians' salaries by an independent tribunal. You always get the Greens getting up and going, 'Oh, this is awful, this is awful, this should never happen.'

Senator Rice interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I say to them: well, you do not have to take the increase, Senator Rice. 'You can give it back.' But you know what, Mr Temporary Chair Sterle, they never do. They always complain, they always blame the government, whichever government is in, but they still put it in their pockets. The hypocrisy of that sort of approach just absolutely sickens me. Senator Di Natale was on about all of these great benefits for politicians. Well, Senator Di Natale, I would not mind having the staff that you have. You have more staff than most. You have more support mechanisms than most. But that is okay for you, because with your typical Greens hypocrisy these sorts of things never seem to bother you.

Senator Xenophon spoke about state parliamentarians and their overseas trips. I can never quite understand what Senator Xenophon as a state parliamentarian was ever doing going overseas. I thought the federal government was more aligned to foreign affairs. One thing I did agree with Senator Xenophon on was that Senator Ryan, who is the minister in charge of this bill, has shown absolute courtesy and professionalism in his dealings with all of us, even including me—and I might say that sometimes that might have been a difficult position. But I do agree with Senator Xenophon on that.

Senator Hanson raised a couple of issues, some of which, I might say, I agreed with. But, Senator Hanson, with people out there, there are always sad stories. There are always disadvantaged people, homeless people. There are always good groups, very good volunteer groups, wanting more money. I do not deny that. I wish we were in a country where we could give everybody everything they wanted, but unfortunately we are not. But I say to you that taking $1 million or $2 million, what it is worth retrospectively, off 30 or 40, I believe—someone tells me it is 150—former politicians retrospectively is not going to enable us to give all these disadvantaged people all the things that they ask for, which we would love to do.

I just wanted to make those comments in response to some of the comments that were made earlier. Again, I conclude by saying this is not about existing entitlements or rights of current members of parliament. This is about former politicians, and this was part of their deal when they left, going back to 1918, and it is being taken away retrospectively.

The matter of a court case has been mentioned. With due respect, I hesitate to argue with the majority of their honours, but Justice Nettle said this in his judgement:

The difficulty with that, however—

as the other three judges observed—

is that the power conferred on the Remuneration … is a power to determine allowances from time to time. It necessarily follows that the Life Gold Pass entitlement as determined by the Remuneration Tribunal was from its inception inherently subject to change from time to time.

I must say that those learned justices missed the point. The Remuneration Tribunal is there for current members of parliament, for the entitlements or support mechanisms that current members of parliament have. I think the best judgement in that case came from the dissenting judge, Justice Gageler. I think His Honour Justice Gageler, who gave the dissenting judgement on the High Court, understood far better than the other judges what this is all about. And why wouldn't he? Because before Justice Gageler went to the High Court he was the Commonwealth Solicitor-General. In his judgement he said:

The Tribunal—

meaning the Remuneration Tribunal—

itself had no power to alter rights attaching to a Life Gold Pass that had been issued to a retiring member in accordance with a subsisting determination by varying or amending that determination. That was because the power of the Tribunal under s 7(1) of the Remuneration Tribunal Act, to which s 7(4) was ancillary, was relevantly limited to determining allowances to be paid from time to time to current members of the Parliament by reason of their membership of the Parliament.

I think Justice Gageler had it right. With respect to the majority of the court, who perhaps did not understand this as well as Justice Gageler did, that is the right interpretation. I am very disappointed that Justice Gageler's view, which I think is the right view, did not prevail with the whole court.

I now move to my amendments and first of all to those listed on sheet 8044. Without going through these in minute detail—and the technical amendments are there on the sheet that has been distributed around the chamber—I will repeat what the amendments do. They say that any element of this legislation before us that is retrospective should be deleted. I will not go through the reasons I raised in my speech in the second reading debate, some of which I have touched on in this committee debate. Clearly, retrospectivity of any nature is wrong, wrong, wrong. The fact that it relates to a group of people who are as unpopular as politicians is a side issue. Just because nobody likes the people who are negatively affected does not alter the fact, does not alter the law and does not alter the principle that any retrospective legislation is wrong.

My first group of amendments seeks to say that from here on in you can do what you like. You can take it away. In fact, I understand since 2011 it has been taken away for any new members of parliament. There are some existing members of parliament who would be eligible. As I said, I would be eligible, but I repeat again for the media and the trolls on social media that it does not involve me. I am not interested. I am never going to set foot on a plane if I ever retire from here. It is not about me; it is about former politicians who do not have a voice. There are some in this parliament—not too many in the Senate but some in the other place—who would be eligible.

We might not like giving them this thing, but it was a right given to them, an entitlement given to them, ages ago which they should be able to access. Very soon the people who are eligible will die and this whole sorry episode of the life gold pass will be completely forgotten about. It will not apply to anyone. In the meantime it might cost $2 million to $3 million—the government says $5 million. Five million dollars is a lot of money, but when the government spends upwards of $300 billion every year $5 million is not going to fix the budget. I am asking for support for this group of amendments that would remove the retrospectivity. (Time expired)

Question negatived.