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Wednesday, 4 December 2002
Page: 7149

Senator FORSHAW (2:40 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Vanstone, the Minister for Family and Community Services. Can the minister confirm that Centrelink board members are paid an annual salary of $30,000, plus a further $10,000 for each subcommittee which they chair? Can the minister also confirm that these payments are made even if members fail to attend a meeting? On what basis have Centrelink executives received increases of between 25 per cent and 46 per cent over the past 12 months? Why does this government continue to deny wage justice to Centrelink employees, who have not received an increase for over 18 months?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —I thank the senator for the question. The Centrelink board members do get paid something around $30,000. It might be a bit more or a bit less. I will check the details for you and get back to you. I think there is a supplementary amount for a subcommittee. I will get details of that for you. You ask whether they get paid if they fail to attend. Do you mean if they miss one meeting or if they do not ever attend? I am not sure what you mean by that, but I will have a look and see if someone has never attended ever, and see what I can tell you there. I will check about the varying levels of increase that you suggest are being paid to the Centrelink board—I presume that is what you mean when you say the Centrelink executives; it is not the terminology I would use. Is that what you mean: the board?

Government senators interjecting

Senator VANSTONE —He does not know. He did not write the question. Someone else wrote the question, and he does not have a clue what he is asking me! Never mind. I was trying to be helpful. I did not mean to embarrass you. Believe me, if I am trying to embarrass you, you will know it. I will take that up for you too.

You give me the opportunity—or whoever wrote this question for the senator gives me the opportunity—to remind everybody what a great organisation Centrelink is. I think senators ought to know that last night they won two of the Prime Minister's awards for excellence in the Public Service. They have a policy of continual improvement. They welcome criticism so that they can have the opportunity to further improve. These things do not happen as a happy accident. You need to have at the top—with the chief executive officer and the board—people who are absolutely committed to permanent improvement. If you do not have that, you end up with something like the old CES, which was not effective. We have changed that. We have a good board and an excellent chief executive officer, who are working very hard. It does not surprise me, given the union representation opposite, that you ask this question when we are in the middle of negotiations over a pay rise for the staff. I know of no staff in the Public Service that are happier with their conditions or have greater respect for the executive of their organisation than Centrelink staff are or have for Sue Vardon and her team.

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for being prepared to check out further the answers to the questions that I did ask. I might suggest, minister, that you start by having a look at the Hansard of the last estimates committee hearings. I would have thought that you, as the relevant minister, would at least already have the information and be able to provide it today, rather than have to take this on notice. Minister, is it not a fact that Centrelink agreed, in a memorandum of understanding earlier this year, that employees would be compensated in the current round of pay negotiations for implementing the government's welfare reform program? Given the fact that Centrelink employees have increased productivity by 21 per cent in the face of massive job cuts and organisational change, will the minister direct Centrelink to grant wage justice and equity to its employees, instead of simply rewarding highly paid executives and board members?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —Senator, I will check out what you tell me about MOU. I am not going to comment further in relation to these negotiations. They are under way and time will tell what Centrelink staff choose to do, as opposed to what you or any union might choose to tell them to do.