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Wednesday, 16 October 2002
Page: 5234

Senator BROWN (10:10 AM) —I do not know whether that was a prelude to my speech, but it will not change the general thrust of the speech, which is that the Greens believe the gold pass entitlements should be abolished. We are not alone in that and we are representing a very strong community sentiment in the matter. I am aware that it is very easy for the community to have a knee-jerk reaction against politicians and any entitlements they may have, but it is also very easy for those who are representing the community, are elected by the community and are servants of the community, to tend to want to make things easy for themselves through the use of that power. I think we are very well paid and we have very generous superannuation entitlements in this place. In fact, if you look at the rest of the world, Australian members of parliament are amongst the top income earners and are at the top with retirement benefits.

The gold pass system comes from the old days of rail travel, as Senator Ray just mentioned in relation to Queensland, going right back to the 1920s. I think it actually precedes Federation. Members of parliament were given gold badges so they could get on trains when they needed to go to parliament at state level and in order to travel in an age when things were much more difficult and remuneration generally was much lower. It has persisted and built up. We now have a system where former members of parliament, all of whom are on extremely generous superannuation packages, are given free air travel at the front of the plane without too much asked about it. The one thing about the Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) Bill 2002 which comes in response to public and press criticism is that it does bring in some capping mechanism. Senator Murray's formula on behalf of the Democrats is much better—it is much tighter.

We see no justification at all for the gold pass system when, in effect, it goes to those who are the biggest superannuation earners with the biggest packages as a result of their time and privilege of serving the people of Australia. We believe it should be abolished. For example, a prime minister who has served a year, a president of this place or a speaker of the House of Representatives who has served six years, or members of parliament who have been here for several terms— which may be 14 or 15 years but can be less—can get a gold pass. This is an extraordinary ability: when you cease to be elected and therefore cease to be representing the people, to travel for a whole range of purposes that are basically self-determined, with or without a spouse—other partners are excluded under the system and will be under the amendments—all at public expense. It should not be. It should be from that public largesse which gives those great superannuation benefits to members of parliament. It is an anachronism and it is manifestly unfair. There are members of parliament who are comparing our entitlements with the very small tip of the iceberg of the most highly paid members of the bureaucracy. Of course you can then compare entitlements with the outrageous self-indulgence of CEOs in the private sector and golden handshakes, which show appalling greed and purloining of public moneys, which we are reading so much about in the Australian press.

Again, we are looking at the tip of the iceberg. We should be comparing ourselves with the average member of our community that we represent. There is no way that they are ever going to have free entitlement to first-class travel for dozens of trips each year across the country. There is no way that Australians can feel that their parliamentarians—who, as I say, have generous incomes—should have this gold pass system added on top of that. To those members who have said, `The Remuneration Tribunal should determine the matter,' the Remuneration Tribunal can only go on the basis of what we as parliamentarians hand across to them as the limits of determination. The gold pass system should not be one of those limits; it should be abolished.

If, as Senator Ray said, it is a make-up for the paucity of income for parliamentarians, let us get rid of the gold pass system and readdress that income. Let us not try to do it through a backdoor add-on way, a sort of icing on the cake that makes up for those members who, I think quite wrongly, feel aggrieved that the superannuation entitlements in this place are not good enough. The Greens believe those superannuation entitlements themselves involve far too much taxpayer backup, input, moneys. You cannot get that in the rest of the world and we parliamentarians should not have it either. But add on to that the gold pass system, and it not only smacks of but is in reality an indulgence handed to parliamentarians by parliamentarians that is unnecessary and unjustified.

Finally, for ex-prime ministers, ex-presidents, ex-speakers and long-serving members of parliament, if there is a demand for your services in this nation—people want you to make after-dinner speeches, want your presence on boards or you are given honorariums or even positions in community organisations, which do great works—that should be at the cost of the parliamentarian or the organisation or the people planning the function; it should not be at the cost of the public.

So the Greens oppose the gold pass system. I foreshadow that I will bring forward amendments on behalf of the Australian Greens that would effectively abolish the life gold pass entitlement altogether immediately on the promulgation of this legislation. Failing those amendments passing, we will of course support the Democrats' amendments as the next best option.