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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17332

Mr ANDREN (5:54 PM) —I want to make a few brief comments on the Governor-General Amendment Bill 2003 and the second reading amendment. In doing so I would like to record my best wishes to Major General Michael Jeffery, about whom I knew little until the last couple of days. But I must say that I have been impressed by what I have read and by the manner in which he has assumed what must be a difficult job in very difficult circumstances. He and his good lady have done that with great grace to this point, and I commend them for it.

I also acknowledge his gracious donation of his military pension to charity, as former Governor-General Sir William Deane did during his tenure of that office. Like several other speakers, I would be particularly interested if the minister at the table could inform us as to what happens to the pension Major General Jeffrey received as Governor of Western Australia. It must be remembered that, after public service, public officers can draw from each pension they obtain. Several, probably many, former ministers—no doubt former Minister Newman and others—draw from their own pension plus a late spouse's retirement or death benefits which have been provided at public expense.

The member for Batman, quite rightly, raised those issues and compared the circumstances of those fortunate enough to draw a public pension—no doubt, in most cases, for public service of a high order—with those of age pensioners. There are exceptions, I would say, in the case of `three strikes and you are out'. Some members are entitled to avail themselves of the pension after losing a preselection process, which seems to me and to the general public to be quite a questionable and outrageous process. The questions raised by the member for Batman about the double dipping—indeed, perhaps triple dipping—of these public pensions need to be more fully answered. Certainly this issue needs to be more transparent. I believe it would be in the public interest and help a reconnection of confidence in public office for the issue to be looked at through an independent process and for pensions to be capped at something that is within the normal expectations of those offices.

I have no quibble with the salary to be paid to our new Governor-General, set as it is above the average High Court judge's. But, as with those MP salaries and allowances, the system calls for an independent process, which I do not believe we have, insofar as it is not independent enough of the government of the day.

The second reading amendment from the opposition has no direct relationship to this bill, as many of the second reading amendments moved by the opposition do not. I suppose that has always been the case where a certain policy is put forward rather than any substantial amendment to the bill before the House. It is a statement of policy: `This is what we might do if we got into government.' The reviewing of the appointment process for the Governor-General is really a red herring. To expect that, at this point in our history, we are going to go down that path and set up tribunals of retired judges and so on to review this process and, ultimately, leave the decision with the Prime Minister of the day is, I believe, a bit of nonsense. It is a red herring in the sense that it is detracting attention from the job before us. There is no way we are going to change the Governor-General appointment process. That is not the priority. But it certainly highlights the need to do something.

We need a plebiscite. It should have occurred way back in 1993 with the simple question, `Do you wish Australia to cut all constitutional ties with the Crown'—or something to that effect—`and become a republic?' We put the cart before the horse. That nonsense of a process in 1999 was rejected by the Australian public. It was not, as David Flint and others—perhaps even in this chamber—would have us believe, a vote of support for our continuing the relationship with the Crown that we have had since Federation. It was not that at all: it was a rejection of the model on offer. Seventy per cent of people have indicated consistently that they want a direct say in who our head of state is, but a head of state that heads an independent Australia. With all good wishes to Major General Jeffery, he is not that person. I certainly support this legislation, but I am not of a mind to give any support to the second reading amendment.