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Thursday, 26 June 2003
Page: 12694

Senator BUCKLAND (12:59 PM) —I rise to speak on the Governor-General Amendment Bill 2003. Echoing the sentiments of the Leader of the Opposition, I congratulate Major General Jeffery on his appointment as Australia's 24th Governor-General and wish him all the very best in carrying out the office. When former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam introduced the Governor-General Bill in 1974, he said:

It is important ... that a matter such as the Governor-General's salary should be dealt with in a non party way. Also, it is necessary that the salary arrangements for Governors-General should clearly recognise the importance and place of this high office. Appointment to the position of Governor-General should not be made to depend on personal wealth or the availability of other income.

Consistent with this bipartisan approach which has governed the setting of the Governor-General's salary, the opposition supports this bill and has been prepared to facilitate its passage through the parliament this week. It is important to remember that section 3 of the Constitution provides that the salary of the Governor-General shall not be altered during his continuance in office. Major General Jeffery will be sworn in on 11 August, the day parliament next sits after this week, hence the need to deal with the legislation expeditiously.

The Governor-General Act 1974 initially provided for a salary of $30,000. It was amended in 1977 to increase the salary to $37,000, in 1982 to increase it to $70,000, and in 1988 to increase it to $95,000. In 1995 it was reduced to $58,000 at the request of the former Governor-General Sir William Deane, to take account of the non-contributory pension Sir William received under the Judges' Pensions Act after retiring from the High Court. To that point, the Governor-General's salary was exempt from income tax. In 2001, prior to the commencement of Dr Hollingworth's appointment, the parliament increased the taxable salary of the Governor-General to $310,000 and abolished the income tax exemption. This was appropriate; even Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II had paid income tax since 1993. By convention, the Governor-General's remuneration has been set at a level which moderately exceeds the estimated average after-tax salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court over the notional term of the Governor-General's appointment—currently five years.

In November 2002, the Remuneration Tribunal released its determination for the major review of judicial remuneration commenced in 2001. As a result, the salary of the Chief Justice increased by seven per cent from 1 July 2002, and will further increase by five per cent in July 2003 and five per cent in July 2004. These increases are independent of the tribunal's annual review of judicial remuneration, which is based on relevant economic indices. According to the Remuneration Tribunal's determination, the Chief Justice's current salary is $308,100 and, from 1 July this year, will rise to $336,450. On 1 July 2004, it is due to rise further to just over $353,000. The Governor-General Amendment Bill 2003 amends the Governor-General Act 1974 to increase the Governor-General's gross salary from $310,000 to $365,000. It is therefore reasonable to assume that, on current trends, at the end of a notional term of five years, the Governor-General's salary will approximate that of the Chief Justice of Australia. A salary of $365,000 corresponds to an after-tax income of just over $201,000.

Before concluding, it is important to record our disappointment and, I believe, the disappointment of the Australian people that the Prime Minister chose not to consult with the community before making this appointment. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister's appointment of Dr Hollingworth was a serious error of judgment which badly damaged the office of Governor-General and caused great distress to the nation. It was for that reason that the Leader of the Opposition and my colleagues in the other place proposed a new method for appointing the Governor-General in the interim, and sought the support of the Prime Minister to establish a joint select committee to inquire into the long-term arrangements for appointing Australia's head of state. The opposition believed it was time to modernise the process for selecting the Governor-General to restore the standing of the office and to ensure that the suffering which followed the ill-advised appointment of Dr Hollingworth is not repeated.

The member for Grayndler has also moved a private member's bill to enhance the accountability of the office of Governor-General, and referred to this in his address, as I understand it. It is, as I say, regrettable that the Prime Minister has refused to acknowledge the need for reform of the process of appointment, to support the establishment of a joint select committee or to debate the opposition's private member's bill. I draw to the Senate's attention the fact that the opposition moved a second reading amendment in the other place which reads:

... (1) on 26 May the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Attorney-General proposed a new method for appointing Australia's Governor-General, consisting of the following steps:

(a) a Consultative Committee be established consisting of the Head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the most recent retired Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, and a community representative appointed by the Prime Minister;

(b) the position of Governor-General be advertised nationally and nominations called for;

(c) the Committee prepare a short list of candidates for Governor-General; and

(d) the Prime Minister appoint a candidate from the short list; or

(e) if the Prime Minister appoints a candidate who is not from the short list, he or she must make a statement explaining why the short list was rejected.

(2) the method proposed by the Opposition would have ensured that the Prime Minister retains ultimate responsibility for choosing the Governor-General, but would also have ensured that the appointment is made on fuller information following consultation with the Australian community;

(3) this method was proposed on an interim basis while the support of the Prime Minister was sought to establish a Joint Select Committee to inquire into the longer term arrangements for appointing Australia's Head of State and other matters;

(4) notwithstanding his serious error of judgment in appointing Dr Hollingworth, the Prime Minister refused to consult with either the Australian people or the Opposition before appointing Dr Hollingworth's successor, and refused to support the establishment of a Joint Select Committee to review the process of appointment.

For constitutional reasons the legislation must pass this week. It is for that reason we will not move the amendment I have just read out, but the opposition certainly stands by the statements made in it.