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Thursday, 28 March 1985
Page: 930

Senator MASON(10.04) —by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The purpose of this Bill is to alter section 44 of the Constitution so that any person holding an office of profit under the Crown will experience no obstruction, under the Constitution, in standing for election to Federal Parliament.

Under section 44 (iv) of the Constitution, any person who holds any office of profit under the Crown is incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. This is interpreted by the Public Service Board as meaning that public servants must resign or take unpaid leave of absence from their jobs before they can nominate as a candidate for election to either House of Federal Parliament.

The question of the validity of this interpretation of the Constitution has, of course, been raised many times in the past. Bills have been introduced on this topic before now, but came to nothing. In February 1980 I raised the question myself, requesting that the then Government re-examine Public Service General Order 3/D/4 which stated that a member of the Public Service must resign before nomination for election to a House of Federal Parliament. As a result of this motion, the question was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs, which reported in 1981 that Commonwealth and State public servants do not have equal rights with other citizens to seek election to the Commonwealth Parliament. The Committee concluded that two important principles should be upheld:

(a) to ensure that a member or senator is not simultaneously a member of the Commonwealth Parliament and a Commonwealth public servant and in receipt of two salaries as a result; and

(b) to ensure that Commonwealth public servants are not effectively discouraged from standing for the Commonwealth Parliament.

The Committee recommended that 'a simple but effective solution lies in taking as the crucial date the date at which a person elected to Parliament becomes entitled to a parliamentary allowance and providing for the resignation of a public servant candidate, who is elected, to be effective from that date. If the Constitution is amended to provide that a person who holds what is presently termed as ''office of profit'' is to be deemed to have vacated that office at the date that he or she becomes entitled to payment of a parliamentary allowance, these two principles will be satisfied'.

This Bill puts that recommendation into effect. The Public Service Board has, of course, modified its view that public servants must resign before nomination, and now insists on them only taking leave without pay.

Honourable senators will remember the case of Mr Bill Wood, who was refused re-employment after contesting the Queensland seat of Leichhardt in 1977, on the specific instructions of the Queensland Premier, Mr Bjelke-Petersen. Under the present ruling of the Public Service Board, this situation could not occur. However, the Board can change its ruling at any time, and under the existing, often-disputed wording of this section of the Constitution, resignation from the Public Service could again become the necessary precursor to nomination for election to the Federal Parliament. Resignation may carry with it, of course, adverse effects on superannuation benefits and credit loan interest rates, and may even affect housing and, as in Mr Woods's case, jeopardise future employment.

It is not good enough that the rights of all Australians in the Public Service are limited so unjustly. Why should they be different from all other Australians? The right to stand for election to Parliament is a most important and cherished right. We must protect it by all possible means. One of the most important means of protecting that right is to be found in this Bill. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.