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Monday, 23 June 2008
Page: 5623


Mr RIPOLL (6:29 PM) —It is a great pleasure for me to stand here tonight and speak on the Governor-General Amendment (Salary and Superannuation) Bill 2008. I want to start by thanking all the other speakers who have spoken before me and those who will speak later. I know everyone speaking on this bill tonight takes great pride in what this bill represents. It is a great honour to support this bill because in doing so I am also speaking in support of the incoming Governor-General from Queensland, Ms Quentin Bryce AC, who will be the 25th Governor-General of Australia.

I would also like to acknowledge the hard work, the great job, the dedication and the thoroughness of the job that was done by the current Governor-General, Major General Michael Jeffery. I pass on my most sincere thoughts and congratulations to both him and his wife for the work they have done for all of us collectively, for this parliament and for this great nation of ours.

It may seem a little odd to people who know my background for me to be standing here supporting this bill. They would probably ask themselves the question: why is the member for Oxley speaking in support of a bill in reference to the Governor-General when he was such an advocate and campaigner for the republic back in 2000-01, and even prior to that? There is a good explanation for all of those things. My speaking on this bill tonight does not change in any particular way my support or belief that Australia will at some point in time have an Australian citizen as its head of state, but it no less diminishes the respect that I have for the current head of state, the Queen of England and of Australia, and the wonderful work she does, and nor does it diminish the respect that I have for the position of the Governor-General and all those who have served in that role.

In some way I think that reflects—through me—my electorate and the great respect we have for that position and for the people who have filled that position, even if you are a republican and believe that at the end of the day our head of state should be an Australian, which I most firmly do believe. At some point in time, when the Republican movement itself finds a solution to its own division over the form that the head of state should take in Australia, I think we will then quickly move as a nation to be at the point where we can decide for ourselves who should be our representative. So I remain at heart, and in nature, a republican, but I state very clearly my respect for the position of Governor-General in this country.

One of the distinguishing features that I want to put on the record tonight about that period in time and about where we are at tonight with this particular bill is the respect that we all have as Australians and as members of parliament for the rule of law and for the decisions and the will of the Australian people. Something I recall saying in all my speeches and campaigning during that time was that, regardless of the outcome of where we would be the day after the referendum, Australia would not be significantly changed. What I meant by that was that it would not change in any violent way and there would not be any uprising. People would accept the decision made by the majority and we would all respect the rule of law and respect the outcome. That certainly was the case, regardless of what that outcome was in the end. I think that the continuance through to today of the respect for the rule of law, for the will of the people and for that authority carries us all very well and proudly as Australians and it certainly makes me very proud. Hence I feel I can speak on such a bill tonight as passionately as any other person who may see themselves as a monarchist or otherwise.

Today, with due respect to the position of Governor-General, is not really about my views on a republic, which of course I do believe in. It is more about what this bill will actually do. This bill, as has been noted, does a number of things, but before I get into the technical side of it I want to mention also that I believe that this bill attracts supporters on both sides of the House regardless of their politics or inclination. Perhaps the only voices of dissent may be those from the southern states who believe that there just may be a ‘pineapple revolution’, with the Prime Minster, the Treasurer and the soon to be Governor-General all hailing from the great state of Queensland. But they should not fear. They should remain comfortable and sleep well at night because there are many other high posts that are not filled by Queenslanders, just yet. There is time!

This bill deals with a number of technical matters. In particular, because the position of Governor-General is held for a five-year term, the amount of the remuneration—the salary, the superannuation and a number of other entitlements that revolve around the position—can only be changed once every five years. It cannot be changed during the time that a person is in office. It is therefore essential that we today pass this bill so that we can act for the next five years so that the remuneration keeps pace with Australian expectations. Under the Constitution, the Governor-General’s salary cannot be altered during a term of office.

There has been a linkage between the salaries of the Governor-General and the Chief Justice since the original 1901 salary figure of just £10,000, which was first updated in 1974. Many things have changed since then and, quite interestingly, while the salaries have changed and perhaps the emphasis on the role and the expectations of the person within that role and the things that they would do have grown substantially, the Constitution itself probably has not changed much at all in those 100 years. The linkage between the Governor-General and the Chief Justice is obviously a long-standing one. The salary of the Chief Justice, which is currently set at around $415,000, is reviewed each year—unlike the Governor-General’s salary—by the Remuneration Tribunal. In setting the appropriate remuneration for the Governor-General designate, regard was given to likely increases in the salary of the Chief Justice over the next five years, which explains the position we find ourselves in tonight.

In terms of superannuation and the amendment of the act to increase the salary, the government is also seeking to amend the act to remove references to the superannuation surcharge, which was discontinued in 2005, so that it properly reflects the amendments needed to ensure that we have covered on the other acts. The surcharge has been applied to only two governors-general in the past: the Right Reverend Dr Peter Hollingworth AC, OBE and His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery AC, CVO, MC, Rtd. By passing this legislation we catch up with events that have overtaken us and with things that have changed. The superannuation surcharge had the effect of reducing the retirement allowance payable to the former Governor-General by the percentage rate of that particular surcharge.

In speaking to this bill I want to note the great contribution that Ms Quentin Bryce, the Governor of Queensland, has made. People may be familiar with her CV. She is an absolutely rich and dynamic career person. She is a talented lawyer, academic and senior public officer who has been a prolific and dedicated contributor to a range of community organisations. She has an enormous sense of responsibility to the community. She is well known for her commitment throughout her career to advancing human rights and equality, the rights of women and children and the welfare of the family. She is well known for her willingness to share her skills and experiences to improve the lives of many throughout Queensland and throughout the country. She is a mother of five children and is now also a grandmother. I think these things give her a special quality and have set her apart from others. It is something you sense when you meet her. She also has a very warm personality.

Ms Bryce has many achievements and has participated in many roles both professionally and in community service. Her achievements are outstanding and there are almost too many to list. She has rightly been recognised for those achievements throughout her life by being appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia. It is an honour well deserved for her many contributions and efforts during her life, which include: inaugural Director of the Queensland Women’s Information Service; head of the Office of the Status of Women; the Queensland Director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission; the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner; the founding Chair and Chief Executive of the National Childcare Accreditation Council; the Principal and Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s College at the University of Sydney; a member of the Australian delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission; and a lecturer in law at the University of Queensland. The list goes on and on. Ms Bryce has made many wonderful community and professional contributions not only to the great state of Queensland but to the country as a whole. As Governor of Queensland she was warmly regarded and affectionately received. She has passed on to Queenslanders many years of wisdom and passion about the things that she believes in. I wish Ms Bryce and her husband, Michael, all the best in their new roles here in Canberra, which I know they will do admirably. I know they will represent all Australians with great dignity and carry the high office of head of state with great honour.

From the opportunities I have had to meet Ms Bryce at special events and other occasions, I know there is one thing that sets her apart from others, and that is the genuine warmth that she exudes. People feel very relaxed around her and feel that they belong there. She is a very inclusive person and really makes people feel very welcome. In all the dealings I have had with her, whether at formal events such as Anzac Day ceremonies or more relaxed occasions such as the opening of a community facility, she has always given everything she had, and I know she will carry that trait forward in her role as Governor-General. She also has a great deal of patience, a love of children, a sense of humour and a great personal way of making people feel relaxed. At very formal events which might seem a little stiff, she has a wonderful way of making everybody feel most welcome and a part of the ceremony that is taking place.

Quentin Bryce is without doubt a wonderful choice as Governor-General. I can think of no better person to be our first female Governor-General. This is quite an achievement and it has perhaps been too long in coming, but it is here and it is a great choice. It sets a new tone for a new era in 21st century Australia to have a woman from Queensland as the representative of our head of state. Other speakers will mention this fact and also the area from which Ms Bryce hails—in particular, her schooling background—which she has proudly mentioned at functions. The member for Bonner will take great pleasure in mentioning a number of those things in her contribution. It is a really wonderful thing to have a Queensland woman as Australia’s first female Governor-General. While the position of Governor-General is often seen as being from another world or another era, I can assure people that Quentin Bryce is neither of those things. She will not be considered in that way by anybody. She will bring a no-nonsense approach to her role. She is a real woman of the people who is held in the highest regard nationwide.

In wrapping up, it is a great privilege to speak on this bill. It is merely a technical bill in that it amends and adjusts salary and superannuation, but, more importantly, what this bill represents is the great office of the Governor-General in this country. So as not to create too much confusion for those republicans out there who support me—not many of whom reside in the electorate of Oxley, I can assure you—it would be very nice if at some point in time very soon we as a nation have the capacity to again go to the people and put a fair and reasonable question to them as to who should be our head of state. I remain firmly convinced of and committed to the ideal of an Australian as our head of state. I would certainly like to see that in my lifetime. There is plenty of time, but sooner rather than later would be a wonderful thing. I congratulate Major General Michael Jeffery on his contribution and I congratulate the Queensland Governor, Quentin Bryce, on her appointment.