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Monday, 23 June 2008
Page: 5638

Mr HALE (7:40 PM) —I rise today to make my contribution in this debate on the Governor-General Amendment (Salary and Superannuation) Bill 2008. I welcome the opportunity to speak on this bill because it gives me the opportunity to express my support for the appointment of Her Excellency Quentin Bryce AC as Australia’s next and first female Governor-General following the retirement of His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery. I would also like to congratulate the member for Blair and the other members who have made their contributions to this debate.

By way of background I think it is important that I provide a brief outline of the role the Governor-General currently plays in our democracy. In several sections of our Constitution the Governor-General’s powers and roles are expressed. Section two of the Constitution provides:

A Governor-General appointed by the Queen shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the Queen’s pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him.

Or her. Additionally and importantly, section 61 of the Constitution provides:

The executive power of the Commonwealth is vested in the Queen and is exercisable by the Governor-General as the Queen’s representative, and extends to the execution and maintenance of this Constitution, and of the laws of the Commonwealth.

In addition to being the Queen’s representative in Australia, the Governor-General also has specific constitutional and statutory powers. In fact, since the passage of the Australia Act in 1986, the only action performed by the Queen under the Constitution is the appointment of the Governor-General, on the advice of the Australian Prime Minister.

I think it is particularly important to re-iterate the important points the members for Flynn and Bonner have raised. It needs to be highlighted that the salary and pension for the Governor-General are set out in an act of parliament—the Governor-General Act 1974. Also, and very importantly, under section 3 of the Constitution, the Governor-General’s salary cannot be altered during a term of office. With the impending retirement of His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery, we have the opportunity to address salary and superannuation issues for the position before the swearing in of our new Governor-General. That is why the act needs to be amended to update the salary figure before the swearing in of the next Governor-General on 5 September 2008.

I think it is significant to note that there has been a linkage between the salaries of the Governor-General and the Chief Justice for quite a long period of time. In fact, this linkage has been around since the original 1901 salary, and it was subsequently updated in 1974. It should also be recognised that the salary of the Chief Justice is reviewed each year by the Remuneration Tribunal.

Because of the link between the salaries of the Governor-General and the Chief Justice, when setting an appropriate salary for the Governor-General designate regard has been given to likely increases in the Chief Justice’s salary over the next five years—an important point because that is the term of the new appointment. It should also be noted that there is precedent for the Governor-General’s salary to be reduced by the amount of any existing pension entitlement or for the amount of any pensions to be donated to charity to avoid any perception of double-dipping. The current Governor-General exercised this practice in his remuneration. His Excellency Major General Jeffery was in receipt of a military pension. At the time of his appointment in 2003 he indicated he would donate the entire amount of that pension to charity during his term of office. I take a moment to commend and thank Major General Jeffery and his wife, Marlena, for the contribution they have made to community service over the past five years, and who, as Governor-General, is completing a very distinguished term of service in this high office.

After having a quick read of a few of the Governor-General’s annual reports and looking at the Governor-General’s website—yes, it is amazing that the Governor-General has a website as well—I soon realised what an enormous workload and vast responsibilities come with the position of being Governor-General. For the benefit of the House I will just outline a few of the contributions that the Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery have made over the years.

The Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery are either individual or joint patrons of over 180 organisations. I will not go into naming them all but I will tell you that they are very wide-ranging from being patrons for Youth Hostels Australia to being patron of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. To be patrons of over 180 organisations is truly a remarkable achievement by anyone’s standards. Both the Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery have visited every state and territory on several occasions each year. The Governor-General has hosted hundreds of official functions including a reception for over 500 family members after the Bali bombings along with special Christmas functions for children with special needs, their families and their carers. The Major General has delivered hundreds of speeches during his appointment including a recent address at the opening of the Dugong Beach Resort, Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory during this year.

During his tenure, the Governor-General has performed his constitutional and statutory responsibilities over the years by considering and giving assent to hundreds of pieces of legislation passed by this parliament, along with presiding over meetings of the federal Executive Council and receiving hundreds of high-level visitors—too many to mention for fear of offending somebody. And I would like to reiterate what the Prime Minister said in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 April 2008. He said:

On behalf of the Government and the people of Australia I record our deep appreciation of Major General Jeffery’s services to his country and our great respect for the outstanding way he has carried out his duties as governor-general.

I wish Major General Jeffery and Mrs Jeffery the very best for their future.

That now brings us to a new chapter in Australia’s history, the appointment of Australia’s 25th and the first female Governor-General, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce. She will probably be remembered fondly on this side of the House, as will 24 other governors-general—and the member for Blair alluded to the one that we probably did not talk about very often. It is a tremendous appointment, an appointment that not only has the full support of every member on our side but also the support from the Leader of the Opposition who, as reported in an article in the Age on 14 April this year, offered his public support, and I quote:

Brendan Nelson welcomed the appointment, saying Ms Bryce ‘had demonstrated a strong commitment to the rights of women, indigenous Australians and the bush’.

And it is this type of fortitude in decision making from our side of government, along with the bipartisan support shown, that as politicians we are showing all Australians, that there are practical ways of doing things differently to improve the lives for all in our community.

I would like reiterate what the Prime Minister said about the appointment of Quentin Bryce in the Sydney Morning Herald on 13 April this year. He said:

‘... Ms Bryce had an outstanding record of service to the entire Australian community and was highly qualified for the role of governor-general ...’

‘She is highly qualified for the role of governor-general. Ms Bryce has enjoyed a rich and dynamic career as a lawyer, academic and senior public office holder.’

…            …            …

‘On behalf of the Government and the people of Australia, I extend very sincere congratulations to Ms Bryce’

So after 107 years of male dominance in the Governor-General’s position, what does the appointment of woman mean for Australia?

I might start by answering that question with a few quotes I found in the media following the historic announcement by the Prime Minister. Democrat spokeswoman on women Natasha Stott Despoja hailed the appointment of the first woman Governor-General as ‘a ‘herstoric’ day ... both symbolic and substantial, sending a strong message that women can hold the highest positions in the land’. Greens leader, Bob Brown, described it as a great choice and ‘very 21st century’, saying a female Governor-General should have happened decades ago. And I think it only appropriate that I quote Quentin Bryce herself when she said:

I grew up in little bush town in Queensland of 200 people and what this day says to Australian women and to Australian girls is that you can do anything, you can be anything, and it makes my heart sing to see women in so many diverse roles across our country and Australia.

Ms Bryce said that the new appointment was ‘a great honour and a great responsibility’ and that it was also ‘a great day for Australian woman’.

Whilst some members have spoken about the republic debate, as a republican myself I thought it was more fitting that I focus not on the debate that we will have in the future but on why it is such an inspiring appointment. It is inspiring for women, young women like my daughters and nieces who are growing up in rural and regional Australia. These young ladies have a shining practical example. It does not matter where you have come from; it is all about where you want to go.

The NT has a worldwide reputation for being a male domain, a frontier. In reality, this reputation does not stand up to even the most basic analysis. Much of the hard work and innovation in the Territory currently and historically has been achieved by its women providing leadership or supporting partners in their roles. The NT, I believe, is leading the way across a range of activities in government, business, industry and the community sectors. It is the women of the NT that have achieved milestones across public administration, private enterprise and in the community while raising families and providing secure homes. Pat Miller, Deputy Administrator; Clare Martin, former Chief Minister; Marion Scrymgour, Deputy Chief Minister member for Arafura; Jane Aagaard, the Speaker of the House; Jodeen Carney, member for Araluen; Lorraine Brahm, member for Braitling; Malarndirri McCarthy, member for Arnhem; Alison Anderson, member for MacDonnell; and Adele Young, Chief of Staff to the Chief Minister.

While we celebrate the emergence of women in government and public administration, it has been possible because of the historic yards done by their sisters in private enterprise, and the community sector in the Northern Territory has acted as an inspiration and support for them in their enterprises. Women such as Sue Shearer, Carole Frost, Sylvia Wolf, Marilynne Paspaley, Rosemary Campbell, Linda Deans, Vicky Spence, Alison Hucks, Betty Pearce, Di Deanes, Cathy MacDonald, Vicki O’Halloran, Connie Jape, Pamela Jape, Lucy Biggs, Kat Byron, Wendy Phillips and Marie-Louise Pearson—to name but a few—are all very successful women. They are all shining examples of women in the north of our country who have been and continue to be fantastic role models.

It is a great pleasure to this side of the House that we have so many women who are great representatives of their constituencies, whether they are ministers or backbenchers like me. They bring a lot to the table, and I am often inspired by the way they carry themselves in the House and by the contribution they make. The list of women will go on and on, and I really believe that the appointment of Quentin Bryce will continue to inspire young women in the future. This act needs to be amended to update the salary figures before the swearing in of the next Governor-General on 5 September. I commend the bill to the House.