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Friday, 19 November 1965


Mr HUGHES (Parkes) .- Mr. Deputy Speaker,the grounds upon which the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) announces that his Party opposes this Bill are entirely specious. I shall endeavour in the time at my desposal to show that this is so. The Leader of the Opposition in his speech completely omitted to look at the history of Commonwealth judicial salaries. When the High Court was established in 1903, the salary of the Chief Justice was fixed at £3,500 a year. The salary of a puisne judge was £3,000. No increase in those salaries took place until 1947 when the Labour Government increased the salary of the Chief Justice to £4,500 a year and the salary of a puisne judge to £4,000 a year. No increase thereafter occurred until 1950. In the intervening three years, a substantial rise had taken place in the average weekly earnings throughout the community. In 1950 against the opposition of the Australian Labour Party, the salary of the Chief Justice was fixed at £5,000 a year and that of a puisne judge at £4,500 a year. In 1955, this time with the approbation of the Opposition the salary of the Chief Justice was increased to £8,000 a year and the salary of a puisne judge rose to £6,500 a year. It is interesting to bear in mind that the Opposition was then led by the late Dr. Evatt and that this was the only occasion in nearly 20 years on which the Labour Party approved of an increase in judicial salaries.

At that time, and at all times before that, the tradition had grown up - and a very proper tradition - that the differential between the salaries of judges of the High Court and the salaries of permanent heads of senior departments should be in the order of £1,000. When the puisne judges of the High Court had their salaries increased to £6,500 a year in 1955, the permanent heads of senior departments were in receipt of £5,500 a year. Then, in 1960, the salary of the Chief Justice was increased to £10,000 a year and that of puisne judges to £8,500 a year. At that time, the salaries of permanent heads of departments were in the order of £6,900 a year. Again, the differential was preserved. Now, since 1960, there has been a general rise in professional salaries not only in the Public Service but also in the community generally. That rise was set in train by decisions of the Public Service Arbitrator and the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission in 1963 and 1964 in particular. As a result of this general increase throughout the lower grades of the Public Service and in the professional occupations outside the Public Service, it became necessary for the Government in 1964 to increase the salaries payable to the permanent heads of senior Departments in the Public Service to £8,750.

It should be borne in mind that when the legislation was brought in last year to effectuate that increase, the Opposition did not oppose it. Indeed, if one consults the " Hansard " report for the relevant date in November 1964 when the Bill relating to the salaries of statutory officers was introduced, he finds that the Leader of the Opposition announced that the Opposition did not oppose the measure and said that, having regard to the trend of salaries in the Public Services, the increases proposed were inevitable. With that sentiment I, for one, heartily agree.

At the end of last year this Parliament, with the express consent of the Opposition, agreed to the proposition that the salaries of senior heads of Departments in the Commonwealth Public Service should be fixed at £8,750 per annum. I shall examine, in a calm and detached way, the consequences of that legislation and its effect upon the argument that has been propounded here today by the Leader of the Opposition. As I have shown, with the assent of the Opposition the salaries of senior public servants were increased late last year to a level above that of the salaries of puisne judges of the High Court of Australia. As I remarked earlier in my speech, the tradition - the right and the proper tradition - in this country has been that the salaries of judges of the High Court should be fixed at a level higher than that of public servants who are heads of senior departments.

It is interesting to remember in this connection that last year my honorable and learned friend, the Attorney-General (Mr. Snedden) introduced the Law Officers Bill. Honorable members will remember that the main purpose of that Bill was to establish the position of Solicitor-General and to arrange legislatively for a re-organisation of the Attorney-General's Department so that, in effect, there were two permanent heads, each in command of a different section of the Department's activities. The office of Solicitor-General was created and statutorily defined. In his second reading speech, the Attorney-General referred to the salary of the Solicitor-General and announced that it would be fixed at the level of that of heads of senior Departments - that is, at £8,750 a year. On that occasion the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) warmly welcomed the Bill. Having heard the AttorneyGeneral announce the salary proposed to be fixed for the Solicitor-General, he made no quarrel at all with the proposal. Therefore, it seems to me that the complaint now made by the Opposition about the present proposal to increase the salaries of judges of the High Court and of other Commonwealth courts is a rather hollow one. It would be intolerable if in this country - where, as the Leader of the Opposition freely admits, so much importance properly attaches to the work done by Commonwealth judicial tribunals - the salaries of puisne judges of the High Court were allowed to remain below the level of the salaries of officers such as permanent heads of senior Departments, when the level ot the salaries of those judges has traditionally been above.

It seems to me that there is a fundamental fallacy in the proposition that a Bill to increase judicial salaries should be opposed because of a decision in relation to the basic wage recently given by the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. The principles that apply in the fixation of the basic wage are necessarily different from those which should apply in the fixation of judicial salaries and the salaries of top public servants, or even public servants in the middle ranks. The matters to be taken into account in the fixation of the basic wage are different matters entirely, lt seems to me that if one wishes to get a reasonably appropriate analogy - that is very difficult in this situation - it is much wiser to look, not at the progress of the basic wage, but at the progress of average weekly earnings in the community as a whole when considering the justice or appropriateness of fixing judicial salaries at a particular level.

In that connection, I should like to invite the attention of honorable members to the Commonwealth Year Book for 1964. If the level of average weekly earnings in the community for 1953-54 is given an index figure of 100, it will be seen that during 1964 the index figure had climbed to 158. There is a remarkable similarity in the trend of average weekly earnings in the community as a whole and the trend of judicial salaries. In 1955, when the index figure was 105, the Chief Judge of the High Court was receiving a salary of £8,000. As shown by the figures I cited a few moments ago, average weekly earnings have risen by about 50 per cent, since 1954-55. Today the proposal before the House is to fix the salary of the Chief Justice of the High Court at £12,000, which represents precisely an increase of 50 per cent, over his salary in 1955.

Looked at from any point of view, this is a highly commendable measure. It restores the differential which the Leader of the Opposition, quite rightly and properly, states should exist between Commonwealth and State judicial salaries. It restores a differential which in my view should properly exist between Commonwealth judicial salaries and the salaries of senior public servants. Finally, if one looks at the proposed increases in the light of general trends in average weekly earnings in the community, one finds that the Bill measures well against that test.

It is a great pity that on a subject which should be treated, if at all possible, on a non-party basis, the Opposition has traditionally, with the single and commendable exception of 1955 to which I earlier referred, always attacked any proposal to increase judicial salaries. There seems to be a traditional antipathy on the other side of the House towards the judiciary, and to pursue this antipathy Opposition members will sieze upon any pretext that offers itself. It is not an antipathy that is manifested when a proposal comes before the House to increase parliamentary salaries. I do not want to be personal, but I think it is relevant to notice that last year, when the Opposition quite properly did not oppose the measure for the increase of parliamentary salaries, the Leader of the Opposition received a salary increase of the order of 30 per cent. As he pointed out this morning, the judges of the High Court are receiving an increase of the order of 23 to 25 per cent., depending upon whether we take the Chief Justice or the puisne judges. It seems passing strange, to say the least, that the Opposition through its leader should complain of an increase for judges of the High Court and the Commonwealth Court that is relatively modest when compared with the increase that was very properly awarded to the honorable gentleman late last year.


Mr Calwell - Does the honorable member think that the wage earner should have received only an increase of li per cent.?


Mr HUGHES - That is a very silly argument and I think in his heart the honorable gentleman knows it is. The salaries of the judiciary and of senior public servants cannot be, and never have been, fixed on the basis of the needs basic wage or a basic wage that takes into account, 'apart from needs, the capacity of industry to pay. The men whose remuneration we are now considering occupy positions of tremendous importance and tremendous responsibility and it is not relevant or right to consider their remuneration on the basis of a needs basic wage plus a margin.


Mr Calwell - Are the needs of the workers to be neglected or ignored?


Mr HUGHES - It is, as I say, much more relevant - I would like to hear any Opposition member answer this, if he can - to bear in mind the general level of wages and salaries paid in the community; to have a look at the general increases that have occurred in the community over the years and to measure these against the increase it is proposed to give to judges.


Mr Jones - 1 will do that for the honorable member.


Mr HUGHES - If the honorable member does, I am sure he will get it wrong, but he may have a go. Another interesting feature of this debate is that on 13th October the adjournment of the debate was obtained by my honorable and learned friend, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.


Mr Calwell - Be fair to him. He sought the adjournment of the debate in my absence and at my suggestion.


Mr HUGHES - I would have thought that if a view were to be offered for the Opposition in a debate that is essentially a legal problem it would have been interesting to hear from my honorable and learned friend, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition.


Mr Calwell - That is a snobbish view.


Mr HUGHES - It is no such thing. I do not for one moment challenge the right of my honorable friend, the Leader of the Opposition, to say his piece, but it would have been interesting to hear from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition who, let it be said, in 1955 warmly welcomed the proposal to increase judicial salaries.


Mr Killen - I will give his arguments later.


Mr HUGHES - As my friend, the honorable member for Moreton, said, he will quote the arguments of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. One wonders why my honorable and learned friend, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, who has now come into the House, does not appear to be proposing to speak in this debate after having sought the adjournment of it. Is it because be realises in his own mind and heart the essential justice that is inherent in this Bill and therefore properly does not want to express an opinion to it that he does not really feel is right? Or does he in his present position want to preserve the respectability and responsibility that some people outside the House think he has?







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