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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1294

Senator RYAN (VictoriaSpecial Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Cabinet) (20:28): In a past life I once proposed to my colleagues a bill that no public servant would get paid more than a minister they reported to. I was reminded, however, that we have a Remuneration Tribunal that makes decisions for senior public servants. It is taken out of the hands of politicians, and I do not think that is a bad thing. The government does not support this particular amendment. As Senator Macdonald has rightly outlined, this amendment would provide the need for a substantial amount of additional resources and funding for this body, and it would be a substantially different body to the one we are proposing.

I will also say that the body we are proposing—which was announced 34 days ago, as I said—and which is hopefully going to be passed through this parliament tonight and established by the middle of the year, in a statutory sense, is really addressing an issue around parliamentarians' expenses. And while Senator Macdonald raises a number of questions, I do not think public sector expenses have reached the same level of public concern as parliamentarians' expenses. I take Senator Macdonald's point that there may not be the same degree of reporting. But there is oversight, through the Auditor-General and the PGPA Act. So, the government does not support this particular amendment.

I will also express a concern that, while the Clerk has quite rightly advised me that the amendment in 14A does not breach section 72 of the Constitution, to levy judges probably would cause a breach. So, while it is the intention of the parliament in this particular amendment, I do not think we could actually levy the judges in the way that Senator Macdonald has suggested. That said, I will say that this debate had a number of concerns along the lines of Senator Macdonald's that have been raised with me in my consultations. I am discussing this matter with Senator Cash, the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, to consider the issue of transparency around the costs of senior public servants, cognisant that those determinations are made by the independent Remuneration Tribunal as well.