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Monday, 13 August 2007
Page: 120

Mr RUDDOCK (Attorney-General) (8:18 PM) —I thank the members who have contributed to this debate—the members for Gellibrand, O’Connor and Grayndler. The Judges’ Pensions Amendment Bill 2007 is intended to rectify technical deficiencies in the Judges’ Pension Act 1968, relating to the application of the superannuation surcharge to federal judges appointed between 7 December 1997 and 30 June 2005. The government acknowledges the role the judicial pension has to play in attracting and retaining the best candidates for the bench, and has therefore decided to address certain deficiencies. The main object of this bill is to pass on reductions in the top surcharge rate in 2003-04 and 2004-05 and to give judges the option to commute a portion of their pension to pay their surcharge debts. Judges are entitled to receive the benefit of lower maximum rates of surcharge which apply to other high-income earners in those years—2003-04 and 2004-05. The bill also provides judges with a commutation option as an alternative way of paying their surcharge debts since other Commonwealth defined benefits schemes already offer their members such an option. This is simply to bring the judges’ scheme into line. This bill will address the judges’ concern about the application of the surcharge and give them the benefit of the lower maximum rates and the flexibility to make partial payments of their surcharge debts before they retire.

I take it that, notwithstanding the opposition amendment that says, ‘whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading’, they support the measure as proposed, and when other matters have been disposed of I hope they will support the second reading of this bill to ensure that this issue is addressed quickly. If the issue is addressed it means that judges are not being advantaged by this measure but are being put in the same position as other high-income earners.

The opposition have proposed a formal amendment which they will move in the committee stage. The second reading amendment I referred to earlier reads:

... whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading the Opposition believes that the bill fails to give equal treatment to all judges by not treating judges in same-sex de facto relationships in the same way as heterosexual judges and their spouses or de facto spouses, and calls on the Government to amend the bill in order to give judges in same-sex relationships equal treatment ...

When I spoke on a like matter involving disability payments to magistrates I set out the government’s position and why we did not intend to support such an amendment. The government is giving consideration to the recommendations of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s report Same sex: same entitlements, which was tabled in this parliament on 21 June.

Ms Roxon —When are you going to do that?

Mr RUDDOCK —It was only a short while ago; it is a month-and-a-half—not a long time ago. The committee is also considering the issue of reversionary benefits to those in interdependent, including same-sex, relationships with members of Commonwealth defined benefit schemes. I make the point that the government did deal—and I say this to the member for Grayndler—with superannuation issues but—

Ms Roxon interjecting

Mr RUDDOCK —The member makes that assertion, and she can speak when she deals with the committee stage. But I would just make the point that there are a range of defined benefit schemes in which the Commonwealth participates. The member wants to deal with one in isolation—the one that deals with judges.

Ms Roxon interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. AM Somlyay)—The member for Gellibrand will cease interjecting.

Mr RUDDOCK —That is one which, I would say, is not necessarily as deserving as those relating to returned servicemen and those relating to Commonwealth public servants. It is in the context that we are dealing with defined benefits schemes that the totality of them and the arguments relating to that issue need to be addressed. Those matters are being considered by the government, but it is our view that it is inappropriate to single out members of the judiciary for special treatment in advance of the consideration of the members of other defined benefit schemes. Those matters will be the subject of consideration, but they will be the subject of consideration in the broader context to which the opposition pays no regard—that is, defined benefits schemes involve additional outlays if you introduce a new class of beneficiaries. That has quite significant impacts over the longer term. I notice that the opposition claims to be fiscally conservative these days. A fiscal conservative would want to know what the impact of a measure of this type might be, particularly in the context of the class of beneficiaries that are involved—that is, those who are beneficiaries of defined benefit schemes. In order that those matters can be dealt with in a considered way, the government will reject the amendment.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be omitted (Ms Roxon’s amendment) stand part of the question.