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Thursday, 26 June 2003
Page: 12692

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (12:53 PM) —I will restrain my remarks, given the weight of other legislation before the chamber. This legislation sets the salary for the incoming Governor-General, and there are some issues relating to it that do need to be commented on. I should emphasise at the start that none of them should in any way be construed as a reflection on the incoming Governor-General. There are some generic issues that apply regardless of who the appointee is.

The increase in salary that the bill contains is about 18 per cent since it was last set two years ago. This is significantly above the wage and salary increases for the vast majority of Australians, particularly given that there are also accommodation and other substantial allowances as well. The Democrats are not opposing the salary increase on this occasion but we do think that that point needs to be made. Linked to that is the broader principle of more open justification for the level of payments not just for the Governor-General but for other public offices as well. I gather there is a general convention that the Governor-General's salary be a little bit above that of the Chief Justice. That in itself might be a nice guiding principle, but it does not go far enough in terms of a proper work value assessment to justify the wages and conditions. The Democrats believe that there should be more openness in this and a range of public offices in terms of a more clear and public review and assessment of the particular value of specific roles, and criteria to justify why the salary should be at that particular level.

The issue of the appointment process has been one that has been commented on for quite a period of time. It is one that many members of parliament and others in the community raised again when this most recent appointment was made. That debate needs to continue to occur. We should have a broader appointment process for the Governor-General. I do not particularly want to advocate any single model, but I do think there is scope for much wider involvement of people in the political sphere and in the broader public sphere. I note the innovation by the Queensland Premier, Peter Beattie, to involve the entire parliament in ratifying the appointment of the state Governor. He did that with the recently announced incoming state Governor, Quentin Bryce. I think that was a valuable process. It gives broader endorsement to the incoming Governor and makes it easier for them to portray themselves as representing a broad spectrum of opinion rather than just being a personal favourite of one individual. That is a desirable advance. There are other suggestions around that involve further public input into the process that also need to be considered.

The Democrats also have views about the role of the head of state and about moving to a republic. Whilst that is not the topic of this bill, it is appropriate to reinforce that. The Senate has just initiated an inquiry into possible processes for moving that, on the motion of my colleague Senator Stott Despoja. It is an initiative that the Democrats proposed some six months ago. We are sure that process will be useful.

There is, however, a broader debate than just how the head of state—in this case, the Queen's representative—is elected or appointed. Although that debate itself is important, we do need a broader consensus on the role of that position. The role of the Governor-General has very much evolved over the last century. In the initial periods of our nationhood it was a position filled by people from the UK, usually royalty of some form or other, and it was only in the second half of the century that we started to have Australian appointments consistently.

Even over my own lifetime, the public has come to expect more from the Governor-General in representing the people than was previously the case—much less of a ribbon cutter and rubber stamp and more of a person who speaks on behalf of the Australian people. Sir William Deane was seen as a good example of evolving that role into a more positive one, particularly in the role he played with the canyoning tragedy when Australians were lost in the accident in Switzerland. Australian people broadly very much welcomed his display there on their behalf. I think those sorts of roles are very important, and we need to ensure that whoever holds that role knows that they have the broad support of the Australian public. It will make it much easier to perform that role.

The Democrats have moved a second reading amendment simply to express some views about this issue, particularly about the process that needs to be adopted and the need to strengthen the role of the Australian head of state and codify that so that there is no power for the government or the Prime Minister of the day to arbitrarily dismiss the head of state. There does need to be better strengthening of this position. I do not think it is enough to say that it has served us well for 100 years so we do not need to change it. We are an evolving nation and we do need to recognise that fact and act accordingly. I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

“but the Senate advises that:

(a) an 18 per cent increase in the salary level for the Governor-General is significantly above inflation and wage increases for ordinary Australians;

(b) a broad based and open process should be adopted to determine the most appropriate models for an Australian republic;

(c) the separation of powers and the rule of law should be strengthened by creating an Australian Head of State with codified powers that adequately describe his or her relationship with the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and the People;

(d) under any future constitutional arrangements the Government should not have the power to arbitrarily dismiss the head of state”.