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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1255

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:34): I indicate to the minister that I agree with everything he said. In fact, I said that in my speech in the second reading debate. I accept that former prime ministers do have a role to play and should be given these entitlements. But I ask the minister: why do former prime ministers get that benefit, but not former treasurers? In my speech in the second reading debate I made the comment that Ms Gillard is seen as perhaps the worst Prime Minister that Australia has ever had.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: People will argue about that. You thought she was pretty good—you tried to keep her in power—but the Australian view was that she was the worst Prime Minister Australia has ever had. She was only there for 2½ years. Whether you are a Liberal, Labor or whatever, people recognise that Peter Costello was a wonderful treasurer for over 13 years. Why should Ms Gillard get this if Mr Costello does not? The same goes for former foreign ministers, former health ministers and even for former backbenchers who I know—

Senator McKim: You, for example!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, sorry; I was a minister for nine years, Senator McKim—longer than you will ever be.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Sterle ): Senator Macdonald, I implore you to ignore the interjections and direct your comments through the chair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: They are very easy to ignore, but they help remind me of some points that should be made. Even people who have never been a minister but who have been here a long time are called upon by community groups. I had an instance recently, not of me—I do want to identify him too much—but of a former minister based in Melbourne. He was at a university event in Townsville, and I was there when a group from Mount Isa came up to him and said: 'You've had a bit to do with this. We'd love you to come out and do our graduation ceremony.' This former minister said, 'I'd love to do it, but, hang on, I live in Melbourne and I'm a pensioner, so for me to get from Melbourne to Mount Isa to do this is going to be a cost that I cannot afford.' That group did not have the funds to pay his way there, so there was a group of Australians who missed out. So I ask the minister: what is the difference between long-serving ministers and prime ministers, some of whom you would not want to invite to an afternoon barbecue?

The principle is wrong. While I agree with what the minister said in relation to prime ministers, it also applies to former ministers; also applies to people who were not prime ministers. That is my point. Whilst I agree with that, the parliament has just decided by a majority of everyone else but me that retrospectivity is pretty good—you can do retrospective things. So, if we are going to do it to everyone else, what I need the government to explain to me is why it is okay to take these rights off a group of people retrospectively but not all right to do it for another group. It just does not make sense.

I simply ask the mover of these amendments how it is that her amendments are different from the amendments that I moved originally and circulated—latterly, I have to say, through a mix-up of my doing. I announced in the parliament three or four days ago that I would be moving amendments and so I ask Senator Rhiannon how her amendments are different to the amendments I flagged in this chamber I think last Tuesday, which I have circulated and which I spoke about at some length in my speech during the second reading debate. I have only just had a look at Senator Rhiannon's amendments, but I want to know how they are different from the amendments I flagged and about which I notified the parliament—not only publicly in here; I wrote to every parliamentary leader and to all the crossbenchers advising them of what my amendments were. I might say that I did not receive the same courtesy back from the Australian Greens, but then who would expect courtesies from the Australian Greens? I would be interested to hear from Senator Rhiannon how her amendments are different from the ones I flagged.

I return to the minister and ask if he can explain how retrospectively taking away rights is okay for one group of parliamentarians but not for another group of parliamentarians. If he says because they were prime ministers, important people, then I ask what is the difference between Ms Gillard and Mr Costello, using those two people as examples. I am quite sure Peter Costello will be embarrassed by me using his name because I suspect he would not be interested in this debate at all—but he was a very good Treasurer, and it is the principle of a matter. If retrospectivity according to everyone else in this chamber is okay, why do we use that to remove benefits from one group people but not another group?

I will wait for Senator Rhiannon to explain her amendments and how they differ from mine, but clearly, as I have said a number of times, I support the principle of the amendments that I have moved and that Senator Rhiannon has copied—that is, that this should apply to everyone. I foreshadow, again, that if these amendments do not meet the approval of this chamber I will be then moving another set of amendments to say that, okay, if the parliament decides that this group of politicians can have these rights and they will not be taken away retrospectively, like the parliament has just done to another group of politicians, then I will say at least then in some way curtail the entitlements of former prime ministers in proportion to the time they served as prime ministers. That means that Mr Abbott, Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd would get a small number of Life Gold Pass travel entitlements, Mr Keating and Mr Hawke would get a little bit more and Mr Howard, who is the longest serving of any of the former prime ministers, would get an even greater amount. In my amendment I did not try to work out the formulas—I thought that was something better done by regulation.

I will be interested to see what the Labor Party's view is on removing entitlements from former prime ministers. I do note, as I noted in my speech on the second reading, that four of the former prime ministers are from the Labor Party and only one is from another party—Mr Howard, from the Liberal Party. I suspect that the Labor Party would have been imposed upon by Mr Hawke, Mr Keating, Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard not to have any part of these amendments, but I would be interested to hear what the Labor Party say about them, too. More importantly, I would be interested to hear the reason they give. The reason should not be that Mr Hawke, Mr Keating, Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard have imposed upon them to do it—I would like to have a sensible account from the Labor Party. If they do not support these amendments—perhaps I am misreading them—I would like them to clearly explain what it is that has led them to believe that retrospectivity is okay for one group of people but not okay for another group of people.

The CHAIR: The question is that amendments (1) to (3) and (5) to (23) on sheet 8062 revised, moved by Senator Rhiannon, be agreed to.