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Thursday, 4 October 1984
Page: 1193

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(12.05) —I do not want to prolong the debate. Let me say just this: It was not in any sense a bungle that the matter of travel arrangements for the Solicitor-General was left unresolved at the time of his appointment. It was a matter of deliberate decision to leave the matter unresolved for further consideration because of a variety of circumstances, professional and personal, that were relevant to the decision made by both the Government and the Solicitor-General in this respect, and it was desired to see how things would work out. Certainly it was always my desire that the Solicitor-General work out of Canberra and do so on a perhaps more sustained basis than had been the case with his predecessor. It was a matter of leaving it to be worked out, by the most appropriate means, as to how that objective could subsequently be ensured.

The matter could have been resolved by the Government simply making an appropriate request to the Remuneration Tribunal for the determination of a particular allowance-that is within the capacity of the Tribunal-to apply without the need for a specific statutory provision of this kind. We felt it was appropriate that there should be statutory provision to emphasise the uniqueness of this allowance that is proposed and to make it absolutely clear that it was not to be regarded as a precedent for other statutory officers around the place, whose allowances are not the subject of detailed statutory provision in the way that is here now proposed to be set out. We were anxious to make it clear that the Solicitor-General, as the Second Law Officer of the land and as someone whose position in other ways has been assimilated to that of High Court judges in terms of entitlement, should continue to be regarded as a very special and very one-off case.

I take the point Senator Durack made that the so-called Canberra allowance for High Court judges is perhaps better described as a non-Canberra allowance. Nonetheless, there is something of an analogy with the High Court allowance in this instance in that the real rationale for the allowance being paid to the Solicitor-General in this instance is to enable him or any of his successors who may come from outside Canberra to maintain a residence in his home State in order that he will not be financially disadvantaged if or when, at the expiry of his statutory term he were to return to that home State and re-establish himself . I think it needs to be appreciated, if one is minded to regard the remuneration package for the Solicitor-General as being generous, that it is a term of years appointment. It is not a permanent appointment, ongoing into the future, as is the case with High Court judges or indeed, with Senator Reid's contribution in mind, public servants generally. As such there are additional expenses and disruptions associated with the position as a result. It is not a matter of the earnings of the position being supplemented, as is the case with the High Court judges, by very substantial pension entitlements into the future. None of those considerations apply with anything like the same force to short term, fixed term statutory appointments of this kind.

That brings me to the final point I want to make quickly. It is necessary to have a degree of flexibility in one's approach to the filling of these very high , one-off, statutory positions. A very great difficulty confronts all governments-not just the present Labor Government but also the Liberal Government which preceded us-in finding appropriate remuneration packages that do not generate precedents which will flow through to the Public Service generally, but which at the same time recognise the market realities. There is an acute problem for government in getting those statutory officer remuneration packages right. It is a difficulty very acutely felt so far as commercial public authorities are concerned, as we are all well aware. It is also a difficulty when one talks about professional positions of this kind where the candidates, as it were, for such positions are remunerated on an extraordinarily generous basis in their private professional life.

The present Solicitor-General has made the scale of his own remuneration a matter of public record in his submission to the Remuneration Tribunal on this question. It is evident that it is very great indeed. Despite all the honour and glory associated with the position-at least the honour and glory that was involved in it before people in this chamber started tearing him apart when they did not like some of his opinions-there is a very great financial sacrifice involved in the acceptance of it. It is a sacrifice which is particularly great when one considers that it is not a permanent position. Unlike the positions of High Court judges, there are no compensating pension and superannuation entitlements for the future, and in many ways the highest earning period of one' s life is being taken away from one by accepting a position of this kind at this stage of one's career. All those considerations were taken into account by the Government in coming to the decision that in the particular circumstances of this case, this ought to be treated as a one-off entitlement and legislated for accordingly, and I think it does deserve the support of the Senate.