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Monday, 23 June 2008
Page: 5648

Mr BYRNE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (8:22 PM) —in reply—I would like to thank all the members who have spoken on the Governor-General Amendment (Salary and Superannuation) Bill 2008. It was obvious through the course of the debate that there have been many well-considered and thoughtful remarks. In summary, this bill will do two things. It will set an annual salary of $394,000 for the office of Governor-General during the tenure of Her Excellency Quentin Bryce. The bill will also remove references in the Governor-General Act 1974 to the superannuation surcharge, which was discontinued by the previous government in 2005. The Prime Minister announced on 13 April that Her Majesty the Queen had agreed to his recommendation that Her Excellency Ms Quentin Bryce AC be appointed as Australia’s next and, historically, first female Governor-General following the retirement of His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery AC, CVO, MC, after five years in office.

Ms Bryce will be sworn in on 5 September 2008. She has an outstanding record of service to the entire Australian community and is highly qualified for the role of Governor-General. Ms Bryce’s commitment to the bush, to women and to Indigenous Australians is well known. As has been noted, Ms Bryce will be the 25th and first female Governor-General of Australia. I note that the Leader of the Opposition, Dr Nelson, has welcomed Ms Bryce’s appointment. In fact, it is obvious that members from both sides of the House, regardless of their views on the question of a republic, have welcomed the appointment of Ms Bryce. I also particularly welcome the member for Dickson’s comments about the high standard of the office of the Governor-General and his generous remarks about the qualities and suitability for the office of Ms Bryce. I am sure the member for Fadden’s assessment of Ms Bryce following his two-year-old son’s encounter will be borne out.

Honourable members would be aware that section 3 of the Constitution precludes any change to the salary of a Governor-General during their term of office, which is why we are here tonight. Therefore, whenever a Governor-General is to be appointed, changes to the salary must be made by way of amendment to the Governor-General Act 1974 prior to this appointment being made. The Governor-General’s salary needs to be set at the time of appointment at a level that will be appropriate for the duration of the appointment. We have heard from both sides of the House that that is the assessment of this House.

Although the appointment is at the Queen’s pleasure, a five-year term is considered usual. The salary proposed in the bill is consistent with the convention applying since 1974 under which the salary of the Governor-General has been set with respect to the salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. I note that the Chief Justice’s salary is determined annually by the Remuneration Tribunal, a body that is independent of government. The government has forecast the Chief Justice’s salary over the next five years using wages growth projections, and the salary that is set is approximately the salary which will be payable to the Chief Justice at around the midpoint of the Governor-General’s expected five-year term.

In setting an appropriate salary, regard was also given to the Commonwealth funded pension that the Governor-General designate will be entitled to receive during her term in office from her previous employment by the Commonwealth including, for example, as Sex Discrimination Commissioner. This is at the request of the Governor-General designate and is in line with the precedent established by Sir William Deane in 1995 who asked that his salary as Governor-General be set to take account of the non-contributory pension he received under the Judges’ Pensions Act 1968 after retiring from the High Court. The proposed salary of $394,000 per annum, combined with Ms Bryce’s existing pension, will maintain the traditional relativity between the Chief Justice and the Governor-General. While this bill amends the act to remove the superannuation surcharge for future governors-general, it does not affect the continuant application of the surcharge to those former governors-general to whom the surcharge applied.

I want to make one point on behalf of the government concerning the retiring Governor-General. We would like to thank Major General Jeffery—and I am sure I speak for everyone on both sides of the House—and his wife, Marlena, for the contribution they have made. By the time Major General Jeffery retires from office in early September 2008, he will have served just over five years as Governor-General. Major General Jeffery has a long and admirable record of service to the community. He is patron to over 180 organisations. His interest in charities is particularly well known. In some of the personal conversations I have had with him as a member of the Executive Council, I have been amazed at his deep and abiding interest in these charities and at the great work that he and his wife, Marlena, do. I commend him on that work.

We know that he served as Governor of Western Australia from 1993 to 2003. He has held a number of very senior posts in the Australian Army, including as the first commanding officer of the SAS Regiment. He served in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Military Cross. Major General Jeffery has served in the role of Governor-General with honour and distinction. On behalf of the community and this party I would like to thank him for his service to our country in his role as Governor-General and wish him, his wife, Marlena, and his family all the best for the future. On behalf of this place and the Australian community, I commend the bill to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.