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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1281


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (19:40): I support the bill but I will be moving amendments in the committee stage to include in the ambit of this authority, with the appropriate adjustments being made to the bill, effectively anyone who is on the Commonwealth financial role—anyone paid for by the Australian taxpayer. I was occasioned to consider this, I might say, by an article in TheCanberra Times—I think it was last Monday. It was quoting their own editorial of some weeks prior to that. But it did raise the point: whilst there is already quite a deal of oversight for politicians—their statements of interests, their support additions in addition to their salaries, their salaries; all of this is well known to the public, with a lot of it available on FOI—the same information is not available to the public generally in relation to senior public servants and people involved in government statutory authorities like the Human Rights Commission. That just mentions one of literally hundreds of government statutory authorities and agencies, some of which are accountable to parliament by annual reports. Most of them are accountable in a sort of way through estimates. But if you ever ask for salaries or particular employment conditions for some of the statutory authority people you get obfuscation and arguments about privacy from the bureaucrats.

Whilst we are today in this mood of a greater accountability for parliamentarians, let's extend it to have that accountability in relation to the people that have the real power in the Australian government—that is, the senior bureaucrats, the judiciary, the Defence Force. Their entitlements perhaps should be able to be seen by the public. I am not suggesting that the judiciary or the Defence Force have the real power, but anyone who has been involved in government knows that government, particularly at a federal level, is such a big organisation and has so many arms and tentacles that, really, it is the Public Service under the Westminster system that really has the power. It makes recommendations to ministers, deals with contracts and deals with supply—and those things. I think it is important to include everybody in this accountability net.

I hasten to add that over the years that I have been in this parliament and my nine years in the ministry I have met some wonderful public servants. In fact, I do not think I have ever met a public servant who has given me any cause to doubt their honesty, their sincerity, their competence, their devotion to their duty. I am terribly impressed with the work our bureaucracy does for the government of the day and for the country as a whole. I am not suggesting there are causes for concern, but of course unless you know you never know, and this article in The Canberra Times did alert me to the need for there to be wider scrutiny.

I have mentioned it before, in another debate, but I will mention it again. The ABC is one of those so-called independent statutory authorities totally funded by the taxpayer, and so many taxpayers say to me—well, the first thing they say is, 'Why don't you sell it?' but that is not an option. But I do think it is important that the public understand just what the senior people in the ALP—in the ABC. That was almost a Freudian slip there: 'in the ALP'. Some people cannot distinguish between the ALP and the ABC, and often I am one of them. I think it is important that we understand—because it is taxpayers' money you see, Mr Acting Deputy President. It would be different if it were a commercial radio station, a commercial TV station or a newspaper which makes its own money, but, where the ABC is totally funded by the taxpayer and very, very well funded, I think it is appropriate that the public and perhaps even this parliament have some idea of which people in that organisation are receiving what sort of money.

I mentioned the incident several years ago now, when Labor was in power, when we desperately tried at estimates to find out what a prominent ABC broadcaster's salary was. I think he was in charge of The 7.30 Report at the time. The government of the day, the unions, the Labor Party and everyone obfuscated and tried and tried to prevent us getting that information, but, in what was then a bit of a test case between the power of the parliament and the power of the ABC bureaucracy, the parliament eventually won out on a sort of compromise. We got a list—not by name, I might say—or a range of salaries that were paid, as I recall, to their top three presenters, so we knew what it was. It was something in the order of $600,000 or $700,000, as I recall. I think it is important for this parliament, as representatives of the people of Australia, to be able to know what Tony Jones or Barrie Cassidy receives, for example. We only see them for a couple of hours a week on the TV, and a lot of constituents say to me, 'Well, they only work for two hours a week; what pay are they getting?' I know they work a bit more than this, but—

Senator Farrell: A point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. The senator is in breach of standing order 196 on tedious repetition. I am not sure how he—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O'Sullivan ): No, resume your seat. There is no point of order, if that is the substance.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Farrell must be hearing things—it is the first time I have mentioned it in this debate. Perhaps Senator Farrell is a little bit sensitive. I did not think he was from the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, but at the time we tried to do this there was a Labor senator who was a former media alliance union person—

Senator Farrell: And a very good one, too.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, who was that? I forget.

Senator Farrell: Senator Wortley.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, that is right—Senator Wortley. She did her work for the union. She tried her best to make sure we could not find out what their pay was. But, as I said, I know that Barrie Cassidy and Tony Jones work more than the couple of hours a week we see them on the telly, but I think our constituents would like to know just what money they get for what jobs they do, and that seems to me to be perfectly reasonable.

Our constituents are entitled to know what I do, what I get and what my travel is, but I think we need the same for all of those who are on the taxpayers' purse. I could go through literally hundreds of statutory agencies. You do get an annual report. In the annual report, you get a range of salaries that are paid to a range of people, but the principle of us as parliamentarians—and people can be in no doubt about what Senator Farrell receives for his pay as a senior member of the opposition.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, resume your seat. A point of order?

Senator Ludlam: Thank you, Chair. I have a point of order on relevance. Being well aware that the senator has not been relevant since some time in the mid-1990s, I ask you to draw his comments to the question before the chair.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you. Senator Macdonald, you have the call. There is no point of order.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I might say that I would be more relevant than the person who made that irrelevant point of order. If I recall, at the 2013 election Senator Ludlam was not even elected. That is how much the people of Western Australia thought of him. But, because, very unusually, there were some missing ballots in Western Australia, we had another election and, lo and behold, Senator Ludlam was then elected, so perhaps he is not one to throw stones in the glass house in which he lives.

Again, I say I support this bill. Something along these lines would have been helpful in the past. I notice that the Greens political party, when they talk about the reason for this, as is their wont, raise every one of the few members of the Liberal and National parties who appear to have done the wrong thing. They do not, of course, because they are Greens, mention the myriad—they mention one or two, but not the literally hundreds—of Labor Party people who are in the same situation. But that is what you come to expect from the Greens, because we all know—

Senator Whish-Wilson: Tell us about Bob Brown's boat!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator O'Sullivan ): Senators, direct your comments through the chair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I think he wants me to tell him about when the Sea Shepherd, which Bob Brown was involved with, spilt oil into Cairns harbour. With all of the hoo-ha about saving the Barrier Reef that the Greens go on about, there was their leader on a ship spilling oil into the Barrier Reef, for which they were rightly fined and brought to account by the courts. Is that what you wanted me to talk about, Senator Whish-Wilson? If it was, please intervene as often as you like.

This bill, in some form, would have been useful earlier. I will go into my amendments in more detail in the committee stage, but they simply seek to include in the oversight what we define as Commonwealth government employees and, in addition to that, members of the judiciary and people who work for statutory offices. They also seek to include an officer or an employee of a Commonwealth company, within the meaning of the act. That means an employee of any Commonwealth company for which Commonwealth ministers are the sole shareholders. We have them appear at estimates and we have annual reports from them. This involves not the cleaner or the receptionist but the senior SES officers in some of those statutory authorities. It would be interesting to see what they might receive.

Whilst the public are very interested in what politicians receive, a salary of around $200,000 a year, I know the public are horrified when they hear that the CEO of a Commonwealth government owned company, namely, Australia Post, which for years has lost money—I believe it made some money this year—gets a salary of upwards of $5 million. In these days of greater accountability, greater openness and greater transparency, I think it is important that that applies to all the elements of governance and government that are paid for by the Commonwealth taxpayer.