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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1258


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:51): I take it that Senator Rhiannon is not going to tell the chamber what it is about. I find this a very odd debate. It is one of the few times I have been in this chamber where, in the committee stage, questions are asked of ministers or of movers of motions and you get absolute silence. I can only assume from that that there is not an answer.

You might recall, Madam Chair, that in the last debate I asked the Labor Party why they were opposing it and whether it was because there were four Labor former prime ministers and only one Liberal one and they did not want to earn the wrath of Mr Keating, Mr Hawke, Mr Rudd or—

Senator Williams: Ms Gillard.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thanks. I had forgotten her already. So it is a rather strange debate.

I want to again ask the minister and perhaps Senator Rhiannon, as she has found her voice, why we should be supporting these amendments. I will be, as I say, subsequently moving amendments, the parliament having not agreed with my amendment on removing retrospectivity and not agreeing with what was effectively my amendment moved by Senator Rhiannon to include former prime ministers in the ban of the Life Gold Pass.

With the next lot of amendments I will be moving, the parliament having decided that former prime ministers should get the benefit of the Life Gold Pass but that it should not be available to former treasurers, foreign ministers or health ministers, I ask: why then shouldn't we limit the entitlements of former prime ministers to in some way be commensurate with the length of service they gave? Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd were there for a relatively short time—the same with Mr Abbott. It seems inappropriate that they should have the same entitlements as someone who served for 10 years or more as Mr Howard did, most of that time with great success as a Prime Minister of Australia.

I am disappointed that the government—my government and the government I support—has not been able to explain why it is that, although the legislation from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet which says that provisions that have a retrospective operation adversely affecting on rights and imposing liability are to be included only in exceptional circumstances, that should be ignored. No-one has explained why the basic Liberal Party tenet of opposition to retrospectivity should be cast aside in this instance. The legislative principle that is often articulated is that citizens are entitled to regulate their affairs on the assumption that current circumstances are substantially settled. That is why, in the case of the superannuation debate that we all remember late last year, I indicated to my Treasurer that if the two retrospective elements of that legislation were to be included I would be crossing the floor and voting against it. I am glad the Treasurer took that on—not just because of me; there were others who told him the same. We all understand that retrospective legislation is bad because people plan their lives on the basis of the law as it is. I know former politicians. I know all of them.

Senator Hanson at the beginning of her speech on the second reading read out what some people who responded to her survey said about politicians. I think it was about the Life Gold Pass. Senator Hanson, I say to you that if the question had been not about the Life Gold Pass but rather, 'What do you think about politicians getting $200,000 a year?' I guarantee you would have got exactly the same answers from all of those people who paid out on the Life Gold Pass. That is the way it is. It would not matter if we were paid nothing: people would still hate us.

People do not have the benefit that we do, particularly ministers, of good advice in understanding issues perhaps a little bit more closely than the headlines they receive in the popular press. Perhaps 'popular press' is not quite appropriate these days. People are leaving the media in droves and going to more responsible, direct information from the source, as President Trump has indicated is appropriate.

But my point is that it does not matter. Just because the group that is being disadvantaged is a group that nobody likes, that does not make it right. It does not make it right. Nobody has been able to—

Senator Hanson-Young: Like refugees, Macca?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Hanson-Young is a typical example of why politicians are so detested. That is why the Greens continue to get such a low vote across the nation and why their vote is continually falling. It is because people see through their hypocrisy. It is really the hypocrisy of political parties such as the Greens political party that bring politicians as a whole group into disrepute and who make them unpopular.

It is also people such as those in the Labor Party who continue to support people who have broken the law. I mention Craig Thompson. I mention a current senator who got a benefit from a Chinese company to pay his own personal bills, not even for campaigning, not even for his political party. This is why politicians are held in such low esteem. One would think that people like that would be ostracised forever, but what happens in the Labor Party? They get promoted. That is why the general public do not like politicians. But that does not alter the principle that if you are taking away rights retrospectively that is bad, even if it is rights that belong to a group as disliked as parliamentarians.

Some people have indicated to my office that my thoughts on 'why don't we follow Hitler and Stalin' are inappropriate. My thoughts there, which I will repeat, were that if people think parliamentarians are such bad people, why do we bother with parliamentarians at all? Why don't we follow Hitler or Stalin or Idi Amin and just do away with parliamentarians? Then nobody will hate our parliamentarians, because there will be none around. Is that the sort of society we want?

I love my constituency. They voted for me regularly and often over the last 27 years. They are lovely people. Most of them understand that life is not easy. Just because something is popular does not mean it is right. It is popular to give everybody everything they want. If we were able to do that we would be loved by everyone. But, unfortunately, someone has to pay. Someone has to work out what the priorities are. Popular thought, which apparently we are following today, is that everyone should get everything they ask for. But we, as responsible parliamentarians—on this side of the chamber, anyway—have to say, 'We would love to give you everything you want, but you have to put some sense into this; you have to worry about your children and grandchildren and their generation.'

So, whilst it is easy to be popular, it is not easy for me doing what I am doing now, as you would appreciate. It is not easy, but life is never easy, as a former prime minister once said. It is very easy to be popular. It is very easy to be the Greens, because they always come in here and say, 'Give everybody everything they want. Give us everything we want.' They never have to bother about paying for it. They never have to worry about the ramifications. They never have to worry about making a country work properly in the right way, not in the popular way. People will criticise me for saying that you do not go along with popularity and what happens to be popular at the moment. I try to think that we as a government would do the right thing, not the popular thing. But it appears from the vote in the chamber today that parliamentarians are more concerned with what is popular than what is right. Taking away rights retrospectively is never right.

In this committee stage of the bill I want to ask the minister what the savings would be from taking these entitlements away from former parliamentarians and, relative to this particular amendment, what the cost is of providing it in its reduced form to past prime ministers. Could we get some detail of the costs involved so we could know what that is? Could I also pre-empt my next set of amendments and ask the minister if he and his department have been able to calculate the cost savings that there would be if the gold pass entitlement of former prime ministers was done on a basis of proportionality with their time in service. Would there be a big cost saving? I suspect that with the savings we have already made today—by my calculation, $1 million to $2 million, but the minister may be able to correct me on that—that is some saving to a $300 billion dollar plus budget, but I would like to get on the record the figures of what the savings will be from getting rid of this entitlement retrospectively; what we will save the budget and what the cost of gold pass for prime ministers will be in its reduced form—I assume that the department has made some calculations along those lines—and what the cost might be if the entitlements of former prime ministers were in some way reduced proportionately according to their length of service.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Ketter ): The question is that item 11 on schedule 1 stand as printed.