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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1254

Senator RYAN (VictoriaSpecial Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet) (17:31): I will take this opportunity on behalf of the government to respond to a number of amendments that I know are being moved with respect to former prime ministers, given the time the Senate is debating this. The government believes that there is a reasonable expectation that former prime ministers are required and, indeed, do attend official charity events in their capacity as former prime ministers. Allowing for some travel post-retirement is reasonable.

In my view, it is almost impossible for a former Prime Minister to be immediately free of the commitments and demands that naturally arise from holding such a high office when they leave parliament. Successive governments have taken this into account in providing former prime ministers with a range of facilities, including domestic travel, to assist them in meeting the commitments that arise from their continued standing and involvement in the community. However, the government is ensuring, in these legislative changes, that new restrictions are introduced concerning the travel of former prime ministers as well. First, travel for former prime ministers will be reduced to a maximum of 30 return trips per year, down from a maximum of 40 return trips per year at the moment, which, we believe, will more than cover the requirements for the responsibilities of former prime ministers. This is outlined in clause 16 of the bill. Second, former prime ministers using their Life Gold Pass will also be subject to a new test within these legislative changes to ensure that any travel is for the public benefit and not for commercial or private purposes. This is outlined in 4AA of the bill. I think we have been reasonably lucky in this country with former prime ministers. Someone mentioned Mr Whitlam, who had access to the scheme for a long time. I think it is fair say—although he was not a member of the same party as I—that he did undertake substantial community work, as did Mr Fraser.

With respect to another of the amendments that has been moved, in terms of time limiting access for former prime ministers, the truth is there is an effective time limit that comes by virtue of age. We can see, as we look through the use of the facility by former prime ministers, that as they become less able to fulfil those responsibilities they do not use the Life Gold Pass, as it was called and as it is now being renamed. The government and I believe that there is a place for former prime ministers that is different from other former members of parliament. I will also make the observation that, upon announcing and introducing these measures, the current Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, made it very clear he would not be accessing this facility whatsoever upon his departure from that office, whenever that may be. So, the government will be opposing these amendments.