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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 870


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (19:59): I move:

(1) Clause 2, page 2   (at the end of the table), add:

   7. Schedule 3 Immediately after the commencement of the provisions covered by table item 6.

(2) Page 9   (after line 15), at the end of the bill, add:

   Schedule 3—Determinations and reports about politicians' pay and entitlements

Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973

1 After section 7

Insert:

7AA Process for making determination or report about members of Parliament

   (1) Before making a determination or report under this Act relating to a member of the Parliament (including a Minister of State), the Tribunal must:

      (a) make a call to the public for submissions; and

      (b) publish on its website each submission received (but only with the consent of the person making the submission); and

      (c) conduct a public hearing in relation to the matters that are the subject of the proposed determination or report.

   (2) The Tribunal must publish on its website a transcript of public hearings conducted under paragraph (1)(c).

2 Section 7A

Before "The Tribunal", insert "(1)".

3 At the end of section 7A

Add:

   (2) The Tribunal's reasons for a determination or report under this Act relating to a member of the Parliament (including a Minister of State) must address:

      (a) any submissions received under subsection 7AA(1); and

      (b) any evidence given in a public hearing conducted under that subsection.

4 At the end of section 11

Add:

   (3) This section applies subject to section 7AA (process for making determination or report about members of Parliament).

These amendments introduce an additional process for the Remuneration Tribunal to follow when considering politicians' pay and entitlements. Item 1 states that these amendments will come into effect immediately after the provisions covered by schedule 2 of the bill. Item 2 inserts a new schedule into the bill. This schedule states that before making a determination or report about politicians' pay and entitlements the Remuneration Tribunal must take the following steps: firstly, make a call to the public for submissions; secondly, publish all submissions on its website, subject to the consent of the person or organisation making the submission; thirdly, conduct a public hearing in relation to the proposed determination or report; fourthly, publish a transcript of the hearings on its website; and, fifthly, refer to the submissions and evidence provided in the public hearing when providing reasons for the decisions reached by the tribunal in relation to the proposed determination or report.

Senator Rhiannon is right. These are minimalist amendments and there is nothing wrong with minimalism, Senator Rhiannon. Sometimes less is more. It is a case of these amendments being quite straightforward. These amendments do not constrain—in any way, whatsoever—the independence of the tribunal in making a determination about the salary, conditions and entitlements of members of parliament. But it sets up a process that guarantees a certain benchmark of transparency. To require that certain benchmark of transparency is not onerous and is essential for public confidence in the whole issue of politicians' pay and entitlements. It would help demystify the process; it would help strengthen public confidence in the process by which politicians are remunerated and how their pay and conditions are set. That would unambiguously be a good thing. At the moment there seems to be too much mystery. There is something to be said for having this benchmark of transparency.

These amendments would also allow members of parliament, unions, industry groups and other interested parties to provide information to the tribunal in relation to determinations or reports. Politicians are employed to serve the Australian public. I think it only fair that the Australian public be involved in that process in a transparent fashion. This bill makes amendments to the definition of salary and allows the tribunal to make determinations of what constitutes salary for the purpose of assessing superannuation. Therefore, there is a direct relevance to these amendments, because they relate to the heart of what is being proposed. These amendments would not have been necessary, in a sense, had it not been for the subject matter of the bill and what is being proposed.

I note that Senator Feeney has indicated the government's opposition to this. I ask Senator Feeney if he would concede that the independence of the tribunal to make determinations as to the pay and conditions and entitlements of members of parliament is not in any way constrained by this bill. There is simply a requirement to have advertisements for public hearings, to conduct a public hearing, to have submissions that can be published on the website subject to the consent of those making the submissions and to at least make reference to the submissions that have been made and to the evidence heard in the course of a public hearing. I say to Senator Feeney, with his eminent legal background—I say that without any irony whatsoever: how does that impinge on the independence of the tribunal? The tribunal could hear all this evidence and go through the process that is suggested or mandated in this amendment. It can still decide what it wants to decide, but at least the Australian people will know that there has been a benchmark of accountability and transparency in the process.