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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1263


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:21): I did not take part in that vote, so I had time to get to my chair. I now move amendment (1) standing in my name on sheet 8069:

(1) Schedule 1, page 14 (after line 28), after item 35, insert:

35A At the end of Part 8

Add:

36 Prime Ministers

Despite any other provision of this Act:

(a) any entitlement of a former Prime Minister to hold a Parliamentary Retirement Travel Entitlement, or to trips under this Act; and

(b) any entitlement of a spouse or de facto partner of a former Prime Minister to trips under this Act;

is to be determined proportionally, based on the length of time the former Prime Minister was the Prime Minister, in accordance with the regulations.

I probably will not take more than 15 minutes to explain my reason for moving that amendment. As I indicated in my speech on the second reading, I am moving the amendment with respect to any entitlement to former prime ministers, which this parliament has now decided is appropriate, even although neither the government nor the Labor Party was prepared or able, perhaps, to explain why this should happen. What I would now like to do, accepting that parliament has decided that, is to try and ensure that the entitlements for former prime ministers bear some resemblance to their length of service to Australia.

I was told a story recently about the late Frank Forde, who many who follow Australian political history will know was the Labor Prime Minister of Australia for I think about eight days during the war years. He, of course, was entitled to an unlimited Life Gold Pass, entitled to an office in Sydney or Brisbane or one of the capital cities, entitled to a secretary and entitled to other supports. Do not hold me to the dates, but I think he had that entitlement for something like 46 years after he retired from parliament. I think he died not long ago. He was a nice fellow, from all reports from people who did know him. I must say I never came across him. I think he was the member for Kennedy, or a seat up in North Queensland somewhere. He had been Prime Minister for a period of eight days. Because of that, under the rules then applying, he was entitled to these benefits for a large number of years following. It seems to me that that is not right or appropriate. I do concede that it is a benefit that really was a property right under the Constitution, but this parliament does not seem to have agreed with that. It should stay, but this parliament has decided: 'Forget about those constitutional issues. Don't worry about them. We'll just take them away.' If we are going to do that, I think we then should curtail what former prime ministers are entitled to on their retirement so that it is in some way commensurate with their length of service to the country.

Mr Frank Forde no doubt performed a sterling service in the eight days that he was Prime Minister, I think during the war years, taking over at very difficult time, on the death of one Prime Minister before the Labor Party got around to electing another Prime Minister. So perhaps he did perform a real service. But, in the attitude this parliament is in at the moment, one would not think that it would have entitled him to subsequent decades of the Life Gold Pass and the other emoluments that came with it.

We are dealing with the Parliamentary Entitlements Legislation Amendment Bill. But, shortly, when the parliament finishes dealing with that bill, we will move to discuss the bill relating to the oversight authority that is going to look into parliamentarians, guide parliamentarians and audit parliamentarians on their expenses. That is a different class of bill to this one. It is not taking away any rights. It is regulating the way things are done and the way they are audited. When that bill comes forward I will also be moving amendments, not just to have this oversight of parliamentarians, which is important; I want this authority to have oversight over all people on the Commonwealth government payroll. I think most people would think that is fair.

Sure, it is important that parliamentarians are accountable, that everybody knows everything about everything they do—that is fair enough. But I think the same should apply to the people who really control the money and really have the power in the government of Australia—that is, the bureaucracy, the Public Service. So, when this authority is formed, it should overlook what happens in the Public Service. Perhaps it should also overlook what happens in the senior levels of the military and in the judiciary. My amendment includes that it should also oversight the salary given to senior executive officers in companies, government corporations, in which Commonwealth ministers are the sole shareholders. By and large, whilst they do earn money and they do gain profits sometimes, they are supported by the taxpayer. So I think it is only appropriate that, as well as looking at parliamentarians and oversighting them and auditing what they do, this should be extended much wider—to anyone that receives taxpayer funding. I might say it might be appropriate for staffers of parliamentarians as well. That would be an interesting concept.

In this day and age people are fascinated with what politicians do and with what pay they get. They would also be interested to know what salaries individual members of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal or the Human Rights Commission get. I am sure they would be very, very interested in what some of the senior presenters at the ABC get. I do not think many of you were around, but there was a time 10 years or so ago when we tried to find out what a very prominent ABC presenter got—I think he did The7.30 Report, amongst others—because he was getting paid by the Commonwealth taxpayer. The then Labor government, the union and the ABC did everything possible to stop us learning that this particular presenter was getting something in the order of $800,000 a year. As I say, this must be going back seven or eight years ago. I only know that because when it eventually became a bit of a crisis with the ABC not telling us what they got—it was for privacy reasons, supposedly—they did give us a range of what their top three presenters got. It was between $500,000 and $800,000, or something like that. So we were able to find, through the estimates committee, just what some of these presenters do get.

I put them in the same category as parliamentarians because they exercise very great influence. They have a lot of power because they have the power of the press, but they are not accountable to anyone and not elected by anyone at all, unlike parliamentarians. At least we are elected by the people, but the ABC presenters are elected by absolutely no-one. I think it was appropriate that we should have had some idea on just what the taxpayers were paying them. As I say, there was an enormous push back from the then Labor government, the union and the ABC, but eventually we found out a range of what these presenters got for what we, the public, saw was an hour's work a night. I am sure they did a bit more than the hour, or the half hour, they were on The 7.30 Report, but the public would only see them for half an hour a night and wondered why they were getting $700,000 and $800,000. It was interesting.

The public will not have to worry if my amendment on this next bill goes ahead because it will enable us to understand not what the junior clerk or the floor sweeper at the ABC gets, but what those in the senior echelons—those earning substantial salaries at the taxpayer's expense—earn. It might be interesting to see what they earn because, in this age, where politicians are, rightly, completely exposed, accountable and at the mercy of freedom of information claims and all that, it is appropriate that the people who have the real power in this country—that is, those in the media and the public service—should also be subject to the same sort of scrutiny. That is something that we will deal with later.

But it is relevant to this, because what I want to do, in moving these amendments, is make the entitlements that the parliament has decided should only go to former prime ministers be related, in some way, to the length of service those former prime ministers have given to Australia. I would ask the minister the cost of the various iterations—what it costs now for former prime ministers, what it will cost now that this bill has passed to somewhat restrict what former prime ministers could do, what it would cost if Senator Bernardi's amendment were to be successful or what it would cost with my amendment if the entitlements to prime ministers were commensurate with their length of service to Australia.

Again, it is a most difficult debate to have when, obviously by design—

Senator Hanson-Young: Justify it.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I have. Thank you for your permission. I am very appreciative of your advice and your permission, Senator Hanson-Young, but I do not need permission, thank you very much. It is a rather unusual situation where you cannot even get an answer to a question raised in committee. I find that incredible. Perhaps it is this sort of treatment that led Senator Cory Bernardi to the decision he made as regards this particular parliament and this chamber.

In case the minister did not hear, perhaps I will ask it again. What is the cost of the Life Gold Pass travel for former prime ministers? What has it been in the last five years? What is it estimated that that cost will be as a result of this bill that is clearly going to pass? I would expect it should be a bit less, but I would like to know what that is because these savings are important when you are looking at a $700 billion deficit, even if it is only $20,000 or $30,000, which is what I suspect it is. I would be interested for the minister to tell us that. I would also be interested to hear what the financial impact might be if my amendments and the other amendments before the chamber were passed. I would hope the department, which is very good on some things but seems to be a bit more mute on other things, could give us those figures so that parliamentarians in particular, because we are voting on it, but also the general public could know what the savings and the financial impacts might be.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR ( Senator Gallacher ): The question is that the amendment on sheet 8069, as moved by Senator Macdonald, be agreed to.

Question negatived.