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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17319

Mr McCLELLAND (4:51 PM) —The opposition supports the Governor-General Amendment Bill 2003 but will be moving a second reading amendment, which I will go to a little later in my contribution. At the outset I would like to echo the sentiments of the Leader of the Opposition and personally congratulate Major General Jeffery on his appointment as Australia's 24th Governor-General and wish him all the very best in carrying out this important office. When Prime Minister Gough Whitlam introduced the Governor-General Bill 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 the bipartisan approach that 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. Indeed, the operative provision of the bill is but one line which simply says, `omit $310,000 and substitute $365,000'. But it is important to remember that section 3 of the constitution, as the minister indicated, provides that the `salary of a 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-contri-butory pension Sir William received under the Judges' Pensions Act after retiring from the High Court. Given the office, I think people would agree that those incomes were relatively modest. However, up 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 has paid income tax since 1993. By convention, the Governor-Gen-eral's remuneration has been set at a level that 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, which commenced in 2001. As a result, the salary of the Chief Justice increased by seven per cent from 1 July 2002 and will increase by five per cent in July 2003 and a further 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. On 1 July this year it will rise to $336,450 and 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 figure, as I have indicated, 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 I conclude, 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. Saying that is not to diminish in any way Major General Jeffery, but rather to express disappointment that the Australian community was not involved in the selection process. There is no doubt that the Prime Minister's appointment of Dr Hollingworth was a serious error of judgment that 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 I 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 will be referring to this further in his address. It is regrettable that the Prime Minister has refused to acknowledge the need for reform of the process of appointment, support the establishment of a joint select committee or debate the opposition's private member's bill. Accordingly, I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“whilst not denying the Bill a second read-ing, the House notes that:

(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 follow-ing steps:

(a) a Consultative Committee be established consisting of the Head of the Depart-ment of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the most recent retired Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, and a com-munity 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 ex-plaining 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 suc-ces-sor, and refused to support the establishment of a Joint Select Committee to review the pro-cess of appointment.

And the House further affirms that:

(5) to ensure greater public accountability the Governor-General's Annual Report should be considered and commented on by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and then ulti-mately by all members of Parliament;

(6) Standing Order 74 should be deleted in recognition that no holder of a public office should be above parliamentary scrutiny”.

The SPEAKER —Is the amendment seconded?