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Clerk of the Senate discusses duties of the Deputy President of the Senate but refrains from commenting on Mal Colston's application for a salary increase.

JAMES VALENTINE: Firstly, Senator Mal Colston, the favoured Senator of everybody this month, the pin-up boy of the Senate, is seeking an increase in his salary for his job as Senate Deputy President.

He has stated to the Remuneration Tribunal of the Parliament that the job has increased responsibilities and he'd like a salary commensurate with that. He already receives an extra $16,344 for that position.

I'm joined by Harry Evans, who is the Clerk of the Senate, to tell us something about the responsibilities of the Deputy President of the Senate. Harry Evans, thanks for taking our call this morning.

HARRY EVANS: Hello, there.

JAMES VALENTINE: What responsibilities exactly does the position of Deputy President of the Senate hold?

HARRY EVANS: Well, there are two main areas. In the first place, the Deputy President deputises for the President-in other words, presides over the Senate when the President is not in the chair, and also, in the absence of the President, can perform the administrative duties of the President in the President's stead.

Secondly, the Deputy President presides over the committee of the whole stage in the Senate; this is where Bills are considered in detail and amendments are moved to Bills. That can be quite a complicated process, particularly with long and complex Bills where lots of amendments are moved, and the Deputy President presides in that time of the sitting.

JAMES VALENTINE: Right. So that's the Deputy President's job?

HARRY EVANS: Yes.

JAMES VALENTINE: Right. And this is something that takes place outside of the chamber at other times?

HARRY EVANS: No, no. The committee of the whole stage is in the chamber. It's a sitting of the Senate. It's the stage where Bills are dealt with in detail and the Deputy President presides over that stage.

JAMES VALENTINE: Oh, I see, I see. Now, as you say, this can be quite difficult.

HARRY EVANS: Well, it's long and complex Bills where there are lots of amendments moved. It can be quite a complex process, yes.

JAMES VALENTINE: Now the President of the Senate is out of the country at the moment, and Mal Colston is acting as President. You said that there's administrative duties involved in that sort of position. What kind of things?

HARRY EVANS: Well, in the absence of the President, there's an Act of Parliament which says the Deputy President can perform the President's statutory duties only-in other words, duties which the President has adhering to the office under an Act of the Parliament-and that includes mainly administrative matters under the Public Service Act, approving of appointments and other actions under the Public Service Act, and things like that.

JAMES VALENTINE: Heavy load of administrative duties?

HARRY EVANS: The Act-no, no, not normally. This provision was framed many years ago before there was easy overseas communication, and nowadays, when a President is overseas, he or she continues to perform any significant administrative duties by telephone or fax.

It's very easy nowadays to contact the President when he or she is overseas and, you know, fax letters backwards and forwards and so on. The absence of the President from Australia is not a terribly significant factor in performing duties of the office nowadays.

JAMES VALENTINE: So the main duties of the office centre on this committee of whole stage that gives .... Anything else that a Deputy President might have to do?

HARRY EVANS: No, that's about it.

JAMES VALENTINE: Have the duties increased in the last year or two?

HARRY EVANS: The committee of the whole stage on Bills has probably got more lengthy and complex in recent years, as the Bills have got more lengthy and complex. There's been a lot of very complex legislation in recent years and complicated and numerous amendments moved to them, so the committee of the whole stage has got more complex and lengthy in recent years.

JAMES VALENTINE: So apart from the controversy surrounding this particular Senator at this particular time, it's not unreasonable to ask for a salary increase?

HARRY EVANS: Well, I wouldn't like to comment on that. It would be very, very difficult to match the salary figure to the duties, Iwould think.

JAMES VALENTINE: Is this a reasonably standard application that this is something that perhaps most Senators might do at some point?

HARRY EVANS: Well, the Remuneration Tribunal is an independent statutory body that determines the remuneration of Members of Parliament, amongst other people, amongst other office holders; and from time to time, it conducts reviews of the remuneration of Members of Parliament and other office holders and it seeks submissions on their remuneration.

Now that's a process that goes on an annual basis.

JAMES VALENTINE: It seems to be-is this the tribunal that you yourself would apply to for salary?

HARRY EVANS: Yes. It awards the salaries of or determines the salaries of secretaries of departments in the Public Service, yes.

JAMES VALENTINE: Most Senators have additional duties of some sort, don't they?

HARRY EVANS: Most of them do, actually. Most of them hold some additional office. In addition to just being a Senator, they are chairs of committees, for example. There are whips, there are leaders and so on. By the time you add all the additional office holders, probably the majority of them do.

JAMES VALENTINE: Yes. Harry Evans, thanks for joining us this morning and clarifying some of that for us.

HARRY EVANS: Okay.

JAMES VALENTINE: Are you a Seekers fan, Harry Evans?

HARRY EVANS: Yes, as a matter of fact, yes.

JAMES VALENTINE: Are you?

HARRY EVANS: It shows how old you are when you remember them.

JAMES VALENTINE: Do you remember did you ever see them live, Harry Evans?

HARRY EVANS: No, I don't think I did. No, I remember their records being around in the late '60s.

JAMES VALENTINE: Yes. Any particular track that takes your fancy?

HARRY EVANS: No. I mean, you can remember them when you hear them?

JAMES VALENTINE: Yes. Harry, look, we'll send you off with 'Georgy Girl'.

HARRY EVANS: Okay.

JAMES VALENTINE: Thanks for talking with us.

Harry Evans is the Clerk of the Senate, and joining us there to give us some insights into the responsibilities of the Deputy President of the Senate.