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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1173


Senator RYAN (VictoriaSpecial Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet) (13:50): Firstly, I would like to thank those senators who have contributed to this debate. The Parliamentary Entitlements Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 implements changes to the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990 and the Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) Act 2002 consistent with reforms announced in November 2013 and the 2014-15 budget respectively, as well as those announced earlier this year. In addition to previous announcements, the bill accelerates the termination of access to travel under the Life Gold Pass scheme. The bill ceases Life Gold Pass travel on the day it commences for all current passholders, including spouses and de facto partners, other than retired former prime ministers and their spouse or de facto partner and renames the remaining benefit 'parliamentary retirement travel'.

The bill continues parliamentary retirement travel for qualifying current and future retired former prime ministers and their spouse or de facto partner. However, the amount of travel and the purpose of travel will be further limited. The bill reduces parliamentary retirement travel by retired former prime ministers from 40 to 30 domestic return trips per year and from 40 to 20 domestic return trips per year for their spouse or de facto partner. The bill requires that parliamentary retirement travel undertaken after 14 May 2014 be for the public benefit.

In relation to changes to the Parliamentary Entitlements Act 1990, the bill reduces the qualification age for travel provided to the dependent children of senior officers, ministers, Presiding Officers and opposition officeholders from under 25 to under 18 years of age, to bring these into line. The bill also imposes a 25 per cent loading on any claim for a prescribed travel benefit that requires a subsequent adjustment, unless the adjustment is the result of an administrative error made by the administering department or the adjustment is made within 28 days of the original claim. The bill establishes a mechanism to minimise the risk that payments made in the course of administering parliamentary work expenses will breach section 83 of the Constitution. The mechanism includes a statutory right for the recovery of payments that are beyond the description, as well as the 25 per cent penalty loading where applicable. The bill contains sensible reforms to improve accountability in the spending of taxpayers' money, which strengthens the parliamentary work expenses framework.

I will address many of the other issues raised in senators' speeches on the second reading when the amendments are brought forward in the committee stage of this bill. But I do want to respond to the contribution of Senator Rhiannon. The poison introduced by the Australian Greens into politics has been to assign a motive to actions, as Senator Rhiannon has done to me regarding the results of the delay of the introduction of this bill from last year. I am in no way complaining about criticism of my actions, but to assign a motive—you do not have a window into my soul. I made the decision, not the Prime Minister, to not bring this bill forward last year, and I might say the key factor was in fact the Greens joining with the Labor Party's intransigence on the government's legislating the two bills we sought a mandate for at the election at which we were successful: the ABCC and the registered organisations commission bills.

Over summer, the decision was taken to immediately abolish the Life Gold Pass rather than have a three- to six-year phase-out period, but it was a decision I took at the time, as has been highlighted by Senator Xenophon, who I thank for his contribution. This is a provision I am quite happy to say I inherited, but I made that decision last year. The government's commitment to addressing this issue is demonstrated by the fact that over summer the decision was taken to move to immediate abolition, not the phased-out abolition which existed in the previous draft bill, which would have seen this exist for up to two more parliaments. So, in the next bill—

Senator McKim: Only so you could look like you were doing something—

Senator RYAN: I am sorry, I cannot quite hear you, Senator McKim.

Senator McKim: I said only so you could look like you were doing something with parliamentary entitlements.

Senator RYAN: Well, this is the point. I am going to address this point—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ketter ): Minister, you should ignore interjections.

Senator RYAN: Mr Acting Deputy President, I am going to take the interjection from Senator McKim. He does it quite a lot as well. By all means criticise actions, but—

Senator Williams: A point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President: you directed the minister to ignore the interjections; I agree with that. What about directing those who are actually doing the interjecting to cease from interjections, which are disorderly anyway?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Williams. Yes, all members of the chamber are entitled to be heard in silence, and ministers should ignore interjections. I ask all senators to cease interjections.

Senator RYAN: My apologies, Mr Acting Deputy President. This is part of the problem with modern debate, which the Greens have introduced. By all means criticise the government for not introducing this for a couple of years—or, indeed, over summer. But do not assign a motive to it. Don't you dare say to me that you know why I acted at this particular point, because there is a paper trail and there are conversations I have had with my colleagues. But this is the poison you have introduced into Australian politics. You seek windows into people's souls—you assign a motive. You try to assign a false motive rather than criticise people for their actions, and politics and debate are the worse for it. I have made it clear why the government has introduced this and I am happy to deal with criticism. But our commitment to addressing it is actually demonstrated by the fact that we have moved to immediate abolition rather than phased abolition, as was originally proposed.

As I outlined, a number of the contributions were actually about the Independent Parliamentary Expenses Authority and more general issues related to that. I will deal with those when the next bill comes forward for debate. At that, I commend this bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.