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Thursday, 23 June 2011
Page: 3805


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (19:23): I rise to speak on the Remuneration and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. This bill contains measures that extend and reinforce the authority and independence of the Remuneration Tribunal. When the Remuneration Tribunal was established in 1973 it had the sole authority to determine the base remuneration of parliamentarians. However, the Remuneration and Allowances Act 1990 removed this authority. This bill will restore that.

One of the key impacts of this bill will be that the determinations of the Remuneration Tribunal will no longer be subject to tabling or disallowance motions by members of parliament. Indeed, members of parliament will play no role in determination of remuneration. The coalition believes that an independent tribunal that is free from the political process is best placed to make determinations about members of parliament. An independent tribunal is an important measure to ensure that the public can have confidence in the process by which the remuneration of their elected representatives is determined. The process must be transparent and free from political connotations, and this bill will help the tribunal achieve that objective.

This bill will also extend the Remuneration Tribunal's authority to determine the remuneration of the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Secretary of the Treasury. Furthermore, the president of the tribunal will also, with the secretaries of those two departments and the Public Service Com­missioner, decide upon the remuneration of other departmental secretaries. Additionally, it will also be the responsibility of the Remuneration Tribunal under this bill to determine a classification structure for departmental secretaries. These deliberations regarding the remuneration of departmental secretaries would also no longer be subject to disallowance motions by the parliament. The Remuneration Tribunal will be allowed to operate in a framework that allows it the independence to determine the most appropriate level of remuneration for members of parliament and senior depart­mental secretaries.

Another provision contained in this bill will require the tribunal to publicise its decisions and to provide reasons for each decision. This is an important accountability mechanism and should go some way to ensuring that the public can have faith in the remuneration system for their elected federal representatives. This bill was referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for inquiry and report. The inquiry has been completed and the committee supported the measures contained in the bill. The report stated:

In relation to the removal of the provision for disallowance of Tribunal determinations relating to parliamentary entitlements, the committee notes this decision will reinforce the indepen ­ dence of the Remuneration Tribunal and ensure the integrity of the process to determine the remuneration of parliamentarians. The committee supports the view that this is an important mechanism to remove opportunit ies for political intervention.

The reforms contained in this bill are based on the recommendations of the Committee for the Review of Parliamentary Entitlements, also known as the Belcher review, whose findings were made public earlier this year. That review did present a compelling case for reform.

The bill has the support of the coalition and we will not be opposing the amendments circulated by the government.