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Monday, 23 June 2008
Page: 5643

Mrs D’ATH (7:59 PM) —I rise in support of the Governor-General Amendment (Salary and Superannuation) Bill 2008. As the House is aware, Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC will be appointed as Australia’s next, and first female, Governor-General. This comes following the retirement of His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery, who is concluding a period of distinguished public service including his time as Governor-General of Australia and in his former role as the Governor of Western Australia.

The bill before the House seeks to review the salary of the Governor-General. Alterations to the salary of the Governor-General must occur through an amendment to section 3 of the Governor-General Act 1974. This amendment must occur prior to the swearing in of the next Governor-General, as section 3 of the Constitution precludes any change to the salary of the Governor-General during a term of office. As Ms Bryce will be sworn in on 5 September 2008, if there is to be an amendment to the salary of the Governor-General it must occur during this current sitting.

Ms Bryce is of course a woman of exceptional ability and achievement. She is a fine choice for the role of Governor-General. Since 2003, she has discharged her duties as Governor of Queensland with a flair that would be expected, knowing her background. Raised in regional Queensland, Ms Bryce is a trailblazer by nature with an impressive collection of firsts under her belt. She was one of the first women to study law in Queensland, she was called to the bar and she also lectured in law at the University of Queensland. As a lawyer myself I acknowledge the pioneering role played by women such as Ms Bryce in what was then a very difficult career for women. Also numbered amongst Ms Bryce’s achievements are her roles as federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, the inaugural director of the Queensland Women’s Information Service and the founding chair and Chief Executive Officer of the National Childcare Accreditation Council. Ms Bryce has toured Queensland extensively in her time as Governor, paying special attention to small rural communities like the one she grew up in. I am sure she will continue to be a fierce friend of remote and regional towns as Governor-General.

It goes without saying that Ms Bryce will be Australia’s first female Governor-General, although a number of states have had female governors. This obviously includes Queensland, which can boast two eminent female governors, Ms Bryce and Leneen Forde. Even the current Governor-General’s wife, Mrs Marlena Jeffery, noted as recently as this past weekend the unique talents that women bring to leadership. Speaking whilst opening the three-day national conference of the Alliance of Girls’ Schools in Canberra, Mrs Jeffery noted that in educating young women it was important to encourage and foster their unique talents. Mrs Jeffery also pointed out that it was evident just how far Australia had come by the fact that we now have a female Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and we are soon to have a female Governor-General. I am sure Ms Bryce would echo Mrs Jeffery’s sentiments regarding the education of young women, as Ms Bryce herself has a rich history of mentoring girls through her time as a lecturer at university and also as head of the Women’s College at the University of Sydney.

Ms Bryce possesses a wealth of experience and a proud record of community involvement and this will also stand her in good stead in her new role. It is this sort of work that makes the Governor-General such an important part of public life in Australia. Numbered amongst the Governor-General’s official duties are the opening of new sessions of the Commonwealth parliament, acting as patron to a vast array of community organisations and the opening of and participation in conferences. I note in particular Major General Jeffery’s attendance at the recent 2020 Summit, which brought many Australians together to harness our collective potential to make this country a better place.

Apart from fulfilling necessary constitutional and ceremonial functions, the office of Governor-General has a tangible history of engaging with the community at large. If I draw the House’s attention to page 50 of today’s Courier Mail you would see an unobtrusive article—one that appears every day—outlining the Governor-General’s engagements for the previous day. Although the article is small and tucked away, it does not diminish the significance of the work the Governor-General does. Pose a question to the members of any charity or community group who have been welcomed at Government House for a special function. Ask them what it means for their group. In fact, it is just as likely that the Governor-General has visited the groups themselves and if you were to ask the significance of this interaction between the vice-regal office and the grassroots of our community I think the answer would be the same every time. They will tell you that the recognition they get from the Governor-General is a vital part of the work that they do. It validates their activity and encourages them by recognising that the work they undertake is valued by the community at large.

In his time as Governor-General, Major General Jeffery has attended more than 1,000 events throughout Australia and has hosted a further 800 official functions. He has presented hundreds of honours and delivered a great number of speeches. He has received over 500 callers, many of whom were representatives of the approximately 180 services for which the Governor-General and Mrs Jeffery are patrons. He has received the credentials of over 129 ambassadors and high commissioners to Australia. He has presided over 131 meetings of the Federal Executive Council, which has considered over 2,468 agenda items, and he has assented to over 782 pieces of legislation passed by the Commonwealth parliament. This high level of activity is indicative of the popular demand on the Governor-General’s time, as well as the willingness of the vice-regal office to participate in a variety of community activities. I have no doubt that Ms Bryce will continue Major General Jeffery’s tradition of active engagement with all Australians. I recently attended a function at Queensland’s Government House for graduating guide dogs. Ms Bryce is patron of the Guide Dogs organisation and I have to say that she truly inspires people with her approach to her role and by her recognition of the importance of organisations such as the Guide Dogs and the many others of which she is patron. I know that as Governor-General she will fulfil that role very well for the whole community of Australia. The office of Governor-General quite rightly transcends partisan politics and it is this quality that allows the office to play a unique role in public life. The Governor-General can speak to people regardless of their background or political persuasion.

It is for these reasons that the remuneration of the Governor-General should be not simply a token gesture mandated by the Constitution but a true and accurate reflection of the work the Governor-General does for our communities. As I mentioned earlier, the salary of the Governor-General cannot be altered during a term in office. That is why it is necessary to arrive at a figure that will remain a fair and accurate salary for the Governor-General’s full term, which is usually five years. It has become common practice, when calculating the level of the Governor-General’s remuneration, to have regard to the salary paid to the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. This does not mean the salaries are identical. The Governor-General’s salary is set to moderately exceed the estimated average salary of the Chief Justice over a notional three-year period. What is important to note is that the salary proposed in the bill—$394,000 per annum—has been calculated in a way consistent with the convention established in 1974. The proposed salary is also in line with precedent established by Sir William Deane, who asked that his remuneration take into account the non-contributory pension he received under the Judges’ Pensions Act after his retirement from the High Court.

I note also that this bill removes the superannuation surcharge—which was discontinued in 2005—from the Governor-General Act 1974 for future governors-general. This change, however, does not affect the continued application of the surcharge to former governors-general to whom the surcharge applied. I believe this bill provides for a fair salary for the Governor-General. It is an accurate gauge of the work that the vice-regal office undertakes in our community and it has been set in accordance with laws and precedents that are long standing.

I want to acknowledge the continuing role played by the spouse of the Governor-General, currently Mrs Marlena Jeffery, and also the spouse of the Governor-General designate, Mr Michael Bryce. These spouses assist the Governor-General in their duties and often have proud records of achievement and community engagement in their own right. I wish Ms Bryce well in her time as Governor-General and I have no doubt that she will be one of the most successful and well-regarded occupants of the office.