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Wednesday, 18 February 1987
Page: 193

Senator MACKLIN(6.21) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The annual report of the Remuneration Tribunal is a very slim volume which merely outlines the investigations that the Tribunal has undertaken in the last year. When the Tribunal's report on the terms and conditions of salaries and allowances for members of parliament came before this chamber last year, I made one or two comments about the futility of the exercise that it was engaged in and the absurdity of providing expenditure for an inquiry into parliamentarians' salaries when we in this place go through the ritual of rejecting on a regular basis any such report that comes from the Tribunal. I really do not believe that this type of farce should go on any longer. I would hope that the Special Minister of State (Senator Tate), who is at the table and has assumed responsibility for this area, will move as rapidly as possible to make sure that it does not continue. There must be many areas in which the money that goes into those inquiries could be better spent, particularly if we insist on--

Senator Archer —Better saved.

Senator MACKLIN —Well, all right, it may be better saved. I would like to raise one item with regard to that. There is a whole area of expenditure with regard to the Parliament that should come under the Remuneration Tribunal if that body is to do its job in a constructive way and if the Government were intent on making the Tribunal a constructive body. I refer to the other areas of expenditure on electorate offices. I believe that it is time for us in Australia to look at the system which is used in Canada and the United States of America. Every financial year a lump sum payment is made to the member of parliament. That money is then spent on salaries to employ staff, to pay rents and to hire premises. It is spent on equipment for offices, electorate expenses, et cetera. The member of parliament makes the choice in terms of allocation. If members want to sit on cardboard boxes so that they can have computers, that is what they do. In Australia, public servants make the decision that we will not have computers but we can have as many biros as we have hands. In fact, that is very true-on some occasions they send us two at a time.

I believe that the absurdity of that exercise really has to be addressed. When we think about it, enormous expenditure savings can be made in this area. A lot of public servants deal with members of parliament, public servants not only from the Department of the Special Minister of State, but also from the Department of Housing and Construction and the Department of Administrative Services. I think those public servants could be reallocated to other areas of much higher priority and need. Any member of parliament who comes into this place has contacts within the community. After all, about the only way a person can get here is by having a wide range of contacts in the community. I do not think there would be one member of parliament who could not much more cheaply staff his own office, provide for his own office, find the rent for his own office and get better equipment for his own office from the private market rather than going through the system which is currently used. In other words, savings could be made in this area. Better equipment could be obtained for us to do our jobs. Enormous savings could be made in terms of the salaries of public servants who are currently employed in that area. I think they would be far better employed in providing support in the social welfare area. Senator Colin Mason raised with me today the fact that there are cuts in terms of a school for the deaf in Queensland, and so on. This money could be better spent in so many other areas.

I believe it is time that something was done. I hope that the new Special Minister of State will take this matter on board. I hope that he will by-pass his own Department. However, I am quite sure that the Yes Minister syndrome will set in very rapidly and that he will not have a chance in fact to do away with a number of public servants in his department and offer them to other areas in government where they could be better used. I hope that he will move very rapidly. I understand that the Opposition thinks that it will have to do whatever it has to do in the first week that it takes office. I think the Minister has only another four days left to make some decisions before he is locked in. I hope that he will look at this matter within the next four days because it is a constructive suggestion.