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Monday, 13 August 2007
Page: 116

Mr TUCKEY (7:57 PM) —I really thought I was coming in here to deal with a routine matter of some adjustment to the law to bring it into line with laws that apply to other superannuants. The other day, when a senior member of the government, one of their frontbenchers, told us that the Future Fund was only for public servant superannuation and therefore was entitled to be raided for other purposes, I nearly fell over. I now find that a piece of this sort of legislation—just making some adjustments to the present law to bring it into line with other laws—is going to be a statement of policy for the Labor Party. I would give them credit that they are not trying to be mischievous and embarrass a couple of members on this side of the House who certainly hold alternative views to my own, but the reality is that this would be Labor policy, were they to achieve government, and they are letting the people of Australia know how much further they wish to push the concept of same-sex relationships. The interesting thing is that, if it comes to your right to a job, they have a different view. If you want to join the workforce or drive your own truck, you are entitled to be discriminated against, as far as the Australian Labor Party is concerned, if you fail to join a union. So we get some rather hypocritical, if not mixed, views about discrimination and the rights of the individual.

The view of the coalition, and the Liberal Party in particular, is that you have a right to decide whether or not you want to be a member of a trade union, and you should not be discriminated against if you choose to or not. But we have just had a lecture on the rights of the individual and their right to cohabitate with someone of the same sex and be a recipient of a pension that is substantially funded by the Australian taxpayer. It might not be a bad idea for the Australian Labor Party to put their view on this matter on YouTube or wherever they publicise these things these days so that the taxpayer can know their opinion on this matter.

The point has been made that, on the sudden death of an eligible superannuant, the provisions of the law are quite clear about their dependants: that person’s children—that is, I assume, those under the age of 18—or a wife who has no employment, for example. I can only assume that to extend it that stage further, as proposed here tonight, is a policy decision that the Labor Party will trumpet in the forthcoming election. I hope they make that clearly known through their trade union people who are ringing up people every day that this is their view. I happen to mix with a lot of those people, probably more so than many on the frontbench of the Labor Party, and I think they have an alternative view. I do not think they think that their taxes should be used to pay pensions in this situation.

It is an interesting point because, otherwise, on retirement, it is available to superannuants in all different categories to take part of that pension as a lump sum, and there is nothing against that being gifted to your partner, whatever their description, as their nest egg. So we are talking about a massive change of government policy purely and simply on the percentage of judges who will die while still in service. I do not believe for a minute that the Labor opposition would go to the barricades on that issue, so I think I can put their initiative down to mischief. But tomorrow I expect to be able to get somebody in my office who is more computer literate than me to look up YouTube to see if this is a clear policy initiative. Otherwise, it is mischief. That is what this is all about, and it says nothing for the integrity of the shadow minister, who has just put this heartrending proposition to us, if it is mischief, because the people concerned should not be used for that purpose.

I note that the shadow minister also said that this is just a small move in Labor’s campaign to recognise in all areas the rights of same-sex couples. She said that the Labor Party would prefer to do more of this. As I said, we will await their policy announcement. It will be interesting to see how many of the Kevin Harkinses of this world will want to be on the telephone all day in their new employment—and I guess that is what he will be: a fella who rings up everybody else—making this a No. 1 issue for the forthcoming election.

The purpose of this legislation, the Judges’ Pensions Amendment Bill 2007, is routine. It has been established because there are special circumstances applicable to judges. This matter escaped the attention of the draftsmen at the time of preparing new legislation. That in itself, one would have thought, should have been the subject of the amendment prepared by the member for Gellibrand. Why do we have to make these adjustments? It is because we introduced a phasing out of the superannuation surcharge. That is something with which I was never comfortable, but I recognised that it was a necessary measure to pay off Labor’s $96 billion debt. We had to raise unpopular taxes for that purpose.

We introduced that in our early years of government to gain the revenue necessary. Nobody liked it, ourselves in this House included, but at the first opportunity, as good economic management allowed, that matter was commenced, firstly, in a phasing out arrangement and then, of course, with a budget announcement that it would occur no more. In the process of that, and in considering the special legislation relevant to judges, their circumstances were overlooked, and it is the role of this legislation to correct it. Not anticipating that we were going to get another stage of Labor Party policy, I also thought it appropriate. Labor are strong on same-sex marriages but seem to claim no differentiation on economic policy. They are, of course, very far distant from us on industrial relations policy.

We now know that the Labor Party does not believe that public servants should have the security of the Future Fund. We now understand that in the area of superannuation same-sex marriages need to be fixed up as a matter of great importance to this parliament. It is a pretty interesting comparison when one thinks about it, because that superannuation is relied upon by the defence forces, the Federal Police and a large number of other public servants, many resident in Canberra. Considering the demographic changes that will occur in the future, there is no guarantee that the true and proper entitlements of those people can be met by the taxpayers of the future without the support of the Future Fund. So we have learnt that superannuation does not matter for public servants, as far as the Labor Party is concerned, but it does if you are in a same-sex arrangement.

I support this legislation, which corrects the anomalies that have occurred. I want to add at this time that I am also a supporter of adequate salaries and superannuation arrangements for judges and other people who leave their professions, highly paid as they are, as barristers or legal practitioners to take on the responsibility of adjudicating on the laws that this parliament delivers. We clearly want the best and we clearly should pay them properly.

One of the things that disappoint me is when we constantly get confronted with media and sometimes parliamentary comments about the salaries that certain people earn. When one considers the moment of the decisions that are made, for instance in the High Court, and compares them to the rewards that can be achieved in the financial sector in Australia or by the top managers, be it of Telstra or the major mineral companies or whatever, the remuneration that this parliament approves for judges is not high.

It is time that people in this House avoided talking about how much people get paid. I heard a member of parliament, a backbencher, say the other day that he told a group of schoolkids that he got the same wages as their school principal. I hope he was right for the school principal’s sake, because state governments have a habit of underpaying them with respect to their responsibility for young people in this day and age. Let me repeat that, with respect to the people it invites to take on responsibilities like judgements and rulings on other very serious matters, government should be generous in the funds that it offers to ensure it gets the best people.

The legislation comes down to adjusting superannuation to bring it into line with the wonderful offer that this government has made to the Australian people. There is the incentive we have given them to invest in their own retirement by removing the taxation on super, giving them the opportunity, as we did, to invest very large sums of money in their superannuation tax free. All of those measures were properly reflective of our concern for the future when none of us who are sitting in this chamber at present will be here. That is an unusual form of government which has typically, from my observations over a long time, been one that says, ‘What do we need to do for the next couple of years to survive?’ Therefore I strongly oppose the amendment. Labor are not going to oppose the bill, but they are going to play a bit of mischief. It is on the record now that this is their view and I hope it is on YouTube tomorrow morning. (Time expired)