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- Start of Business
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Pyne, Chris, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Crosio, Janice, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Marek, Paul, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Baldwin, Bob, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Draper, Trish, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Goods and Sales Tax
(Evans, Gareth, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Slipper, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Redundancy and Termination Entitlements
(Andren, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(Evans, Richard, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Hollis, Colin, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Skase, Mr C.
(Wakelin, Barry, MP, Williams, Daryl, MP)
(O'Connor, Gavan, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Lloyd, Jim, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
(Crean, Simon, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Gash, Joanna, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Smith, Warwick, MP)
(Hardgrave, Gary, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
- Small Business
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL RESPONSES
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- PARLIAMENTARY SERVICE BILL 1997 [No. 2]
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY (PLANNING AND LAND MANAGEMENT) AMENDMENT BILL 1997
- LAW OFFICERS AMENDMENT BILL 1997
- PRIMARY INDUSTRIES AND ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 3) 1997
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Social Security Payments
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Jones, Barry, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Sirway Asia Pacific Contract
(Bevis, Arch, MP, McLachlan, Ian, MP)
Department of Industry, Science and Tourism: Consultants
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Moore, John, MP)
- Japanese Economy
Tuesday, 10 March 1998
Mr SLIPPER (6:10 PM) —It is always very interesting when the honourable member for Banks (Mr Melham) puffs himself up and comes in here with mock indignation and pretends to huff and complain about what the government is doing.
Mr Melham —It is not mock; it is real indignation!
Mr SLIPPER —The honourable member should listen. He ought not to interject. The honourable member for Banks has got this whole bill entirely wrong. The Law Officers Amendment Bill 1997 is a very appropriate bill. It is not a bill which aims to save money. At the end of the day, the total remuneration received by the next and future solicitors-general could well be more than the current package received by the now retired Solicitor-General. The bill amends the conditions for the Solicitor-General from those which we believe in 1998 are inappropriate and instead treats the Solicitor-General as a very senior public servant, which he is, not as a person occupying a judicial position.
The provisions of section 16 of the Law Officers Act 1964 treat the Solicitor-General as though he were a judge. It is interesting to note some of those conditions. For instance, the Solicitor-General can have an entitlement to a judge's pension in certain circumstances and long service leave of six months for every five years of service. Also, the Solicitor-General would receive nine weeks annual recreation leave per year. Is it appropriate in 1998 that the Solicitor-General, a senior public servant, should get six months off for every five years and should receive nine weeks annual leave? Most people in the Australian community would say that those provisions should relate to judges, not senior public servants.
The bill will not necessarily reduce the remuneration package of the Solicitor-General. In fact, the government will facilitate consideration by the Remuneration Tribunal of a package for the Solicitor-General with a view to rewarding more appropriately a person who is not always at the end of his professional life. Dr Gavan Griffith has now returned to the private bar and will be very successful. There are many motivations which will encourage people to seek the position of Commonwealth Solicitor-General and money is not necessarily one of the prime factors. In fact, the salary currently being received, even with pension benefits, would undoubtedly be well below the average remuneration that a person of the eminence of the Commonwealth Solicitor-General would receive in private practice at the bar.
The government is confident that we will continue to be able to attract applicants of the highest possible calibre to fulfil this position, that of the second law officer of the Crown in the Commonwealth. Many people will apply for this job because of the job satisfaction it provides, because of the mental stimulation, and because of the public recognition that filling that office displays to the Australian community. No-one under any government could possibly fill the position of Commonwealth Solicitor-General unless he or she were one of the most eminent lawyers in the land. It really is insulting to say to those seeking the position that they are motivated by purely financial reasons. More and more we find solicitors-general are returning to the private bar. I think this is right, fit and appropriate.
Mr Tony Smith —It's healthy.
Mr SLIPPER —It is healthy. Solicitors-general will fill the position for a determined period, will carry out their job with very great distinction and then will return to the private bar and maybe then to judicial office. The benefits that are currently given to the Solicitor-General, those similar to those available to judges, are more appropriate to people approaching retirement. In the future, more and more solicitors-general will look upon that position as being one part of a multifaceted career.
When the honourable member for Banks comes in and pretends that he is upset with the government then one ought to look very closely at his motives and attitudes. The simple fact of the matter is that the government fully recognises the importance of the role of the Solicitor-General and greatly respects that role. It is absolute nonsense for the honourable member for Banks to suggest that the government is not interested in a fiercely independent Solicitor-General—that we are not interested in quality and first grade advice. What an absolutely stupid statement for anyone to make.
Why would any government or any Attorney-General want the person who is the second law officer of the Commonwealth submitting views and opinions which are substandard and not first rate? It is absolutely facile for the honourable member for Banks to come into this chamber and say that the government is not interested in the quality of its legal advice. His speech was all over the place. Even for the honourable member for Banks it was grossly disorganised.
This is not a large bill. It is a very small bill which amends the terms and conditions for people filling the role of the Commonwealth Solicitor-General. It is not a bill that requires a 30-minute speech. The honourable member for Banks was unduly harsh on the Attorney-General (Mr Williams), whose second reading speech set out concisely the purpose for this bill appearing before the House. The Attorney-General stated in his second reading speech:
The government does not consider it appropriate that these arrangements apply to the occupant of the office of the Solicitor-General.
In a concise manner the Attorney-General set out the reasons the government believes that this legislation is necessary. What the opposition is saying has absolutely no basis in truth. They are saying that we are not interested in having a fiercely independent Solicitor-General. Of course any government wants an independent Solicitor-General who will produce objective advice. They are also saying that we do not want quality legal advice. How stupid could one be. Who on earth would want legal advice that is not of high quality? The suggestion is that this is a bean counters exercise, that we are somehow trying to save money. The information I have is that very little money, if any, will be saved, because the government will facilitate consideration of the remuneration package for the Solicitor-General by the Remuneration Tribunal. It could well be that that review will ensure that the Solicitor-General actually receives more rather than less money by way of salary.
The honourable member for Banks also suggested that this bill will result in a lower calibre of candidate applying for the position of Commonwealth Solicitor-General. In doing so, he is undermining the public spirited attitude of the community service provided by many people who fill these very high positions. We are confident that applicants of high calibre will continue to come forward to fill what is one of the most leading legal positions in Australia.
The honourable member for Banks continued to stray everywhere. He accused the Attorney-General either of not putting his heart into this particular bill or of being rolled by the cabinet. He even criticised the Attorney-General's attitude. We then went on a voyage of mental wandering when he talked about apartheid and Nuremburg. In fact, he spoke about everything but the absolutely shameful conduct of Senator Bolkus, who went on the airwaves to read some of an affidavit which had not been publicly disclosed. Has the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley) called on Senator Bolkus to resign? Of course he has not and of course he should. The honourable member for Banks should be the last person to stand up in the chamber and accuse the government of not doing the right thing. It is just pathetic given the appalling conduct by Senator Bolkus.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Hollis) —Order! I am reluctant to interrupt, but I think we will stick to the Law Officers Amendment Bill 1997.
Mr SLIPPER —Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you for that. I am endeavouring to do so. I must say that I did not feel that I took any more latitude than the honourable member for Banks who, as you would be aware, proceeded to talk about the Hindmarsh Island bridge case and Wik.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —That is why I was reluctant to interrupt you. I think we should keep to the Law Officers Amendment Bill.
Mr SLIPPER —Mr Deputy Speaker, I am happy to do so, but I ask that you impose the same set of rules on opposition members as on government members. We all have to be treated the same way.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I asked you to come back to the Law Officers Amendment Bill 1997. Do you want to do that or do you want to debate the issue with me?
Mr SLIPPER —I am happy to debate the bill—
Mrs Bishop —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. Having sat through this debate—and I am not quite aware whether you have or not—I must say that I found the speech by the honourable member for Banks to be full of invective and abuse, one could say. In the spirit of people being allowed to vent their spleen from time to time—and, indeed, one expects it from the opposition, I must say—one did not ask you to intervene. Therefore, I think it is appropriate that the member be allowed to complete his speech in an ordinary way.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —He is being permitted to complete his speech in an orderly way. All I did was draw his attention to the bill. If you were listening to the speech carefully, you would recall that I did allow a lot of latitude, because he had strayed from the bill for some time. I then asked him to come back to the bill that we are debating. I think it is my role to do that. You are taking up the member's time; are you aware of that?
Mrs Bishop —I will give it back to him in one moment, but I have to point out that the reason I was not sure whether or not you were in the chair when the honourable member for Banks was speaking was that I heard not a whisper from the chair, and I think the same standard should apply to the member who is speaking now.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —I was listening to the honourable member for Banks when he was speaking but he very cleverly kept coming back to the bill. That is the difficulty that one has in the chair. One is always reluctant to intervene because it eats into an honourable member's time, but one also has a responsibility to make sure that members speaking stick to the subject. When you are about to intervene, the member who is speaking comes back to the bill in question every so often.
Mr SLIPPER —Indeed, Mr Deputy Speaker, I have been coming back to the bill every so often. I have, in fact, concentrated on and focused my speech on the bill. You only appeared to be upset when I referred to the outrageous conduct of Senator Bolkus. I think that most people in the community accept that Senator Bolkus's conduct was unsuitable and that he should have been asked to resign.
In summing up, this is a bill which the government very strongly supports—a government of which I am very proud to be a member. This is important legislation which gives due weight to the vital role played in Australia by the Commonwealth Solicitor-General. This bill is not to be seen as a diminution of the important responsibilities of the Commonwealth Solicitor-General, but more a recognition of the fact that the occupancy of that high office is a phase in someone's legal career. It is not an end point. The current conditions—including six months leave for every five years of service and nine weeks annual recreation leave—are not appropriate for someone who will go back to the private bar.
We believe that the bill will ensure that we continue to receive applicants of very high calibre. We will encourage the Remuneration Tribunal to look at the high level of responsibilities of the office of the Solicitor-General so that we are able to continue to attract into that position people who are of appropriate ability. The honourable member for Banks failed to recognise that many people do not apply for these positions simply on the basis of money. Anyone who fills the role of the Commonwealth Solicitor-General is adjudged as being an outstanding lawyer—in fact, one of the finest legal practitioners in the country—and the fulfilment of a contract period as Commonwealth Solicitor-General will naturally ensure that the price tag on such a person back at the private bar will be considerable.
The honourable member for Banks has come into the chamber and he has huffed and he has puffed. He has been full of mock indignation. He has criticised the attitude of this government. He really could have got up, supported what the government is doing and then sat down. On the other hand, if he wanted to criticise what we are doing, he could have done so briefly. But, instead, he took us up various paths and byways. His speech was disorganised, I do not think his heart was in it, and I totally reject his criticism of both the Attorney-General and the government. He said that this government will face a day of reckoning. We are happy to face that day of reckoning whenever it happens to be, because the legislation we have introduced into the parliament is legislation of which we are proud. It is legislation which gives appropriate weight to the importance of the office of Commonwealth Solicitor-General. Therefore, I commend the bill to the House.
Sitting suspended from 6.27 p.m. to 8.00 p.m.