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Wednesday, 16 June 2004
Page: 23879

Senator BROWN (11:57 AM) —The Greens will support the Parliamentary Superannuation Bill 2004 and the Parliamentary Superannuation and Other Entitlements Legislation Amendment Bill 2004 because they are a major move in the right direction. They reflect the policy of the Greens, the Democrats and Independents like Mr Andren, the member for Calare in the House of Representatives—a policy expressed over many years. I want to congratulate Mark Latham, the honourable leader of the opposition, for taking this policy up shortly after he became Leader of the Opposition and forcing the hand of the Prime Minister.

We now have at last a response to the very decent proposition that members of parliament should get the same top-up from their employers—the Australian people, ultimately the taxpayers—that other workers are, by law, expected to get from their employers: about a nine per cent top-up for the superannuation payments going towards retirement and sustenance in old age. However, the decision to split the proposal so that existing members of parliament will continue to get the 69 per cent top-up while new members of parliament after the next election will get the nine per cent top-up is testimony to the self-interest that is still deep within both the government and opposition parties.

I note that Mr Latham has said he will accept the lesser payment if he becomes Prime Minister, and that is to be lauded as well. But the caucuses of both the Labor and Liberal parties were very strongly motivated to keep the extra 69 per cent top-up coming from taxpayers. If it were payable up until the next election, you could understand that. But for this legislation to continue the 69 per cent payment to existing MPs after the next election would be to implement an outrageous two-tiered system—where people elected equally under the Constitution by an equal response from the people of Australia and who are doing equal work in this parliament, which is based on equality, will receive unequal remuneration. It is simply unacceptable for there to be a two-tiered system. Existing MPs who get re-elected by the people of Australia on 7 August, if that is the date, will continue to get a 69 per cent top-up, but new members of parliament elected equally by the Australian people will get a nine per cent top-up. This legislation is an extraordinary indictment of self-interest.

Moreover, I think this legislation is unconstitutional. I draw senators' attention to section 48 of the Constitution, which is imbued with the spirit of MPs being paid equally for the equal job they do in representing their constituents. It is a very short section. Section 48 states:

Until the Parliament otherwise provides, each senator and each member of the House of Representatives shall receive an allowance of four hundred pounds a year, to be reckoned from the day on which he takes his seat.

These days that would read, `he or she takes his or her seat'. That is it, but, if you accept the spirit of that Constitutional provision, all MPs would be paid equally. Of course, a system has evolved of paying a loading to those people who have ministerial responsibility or greater electoral responsibility through remoteness or size of electorates. But I do not think you can argue in any way that it is consistent with the Constitution for MPs to be getting different remuneration—and vastly different remuneration—through their superannuation provisions simply because some were in the old parliament and some are going to be in the new parliament. I believe that that opens this particular legislation to constitutional challenge. It is simply unfair legislation which is flouting a fair provision in the Constitution.

I will be moving—along with Senator Cherry, if I heard him correctly—to amend this legislation so that after the next election all MPs, all senators and all members of the House of Representatives, will get the nine per cent top-up and not the 69 per cent alternative. I will also be supporting the Andren amendment, which is that those who wish to opt out should be able to. There is collective protection going on within the Labor and the coalition caucuses which says: `One in, all in. We will keep the 69 per cent for ourselves. Everybody has to accept that position.' It has been broken with to a degree by Mr Latham's laudable commitment regarding his potential prime ministerial superannuation top-up, but it is not acceptable that this parliament can write advantage into this piece of legislation for those people who are going to vote on it today, as opposed to those people who will come in as new representatives of the Australian people after 7 August or whenever the election is held. I ask members to reflect on that.

There is absolutely no difference in the status of MPs elected after each election. We start the job anew after an election. Each member is dismissed when an election is called and each member either comes back or newly comes here as absolutely equal, being appointed by the people of Australia as absolutely equal. What happens as far as ministries and so on are concerned is then left to the government of the day. But we are all elected equal, whether we are Mr Howard, Senator Watson or Senator O'Brien, whom I see on the Labor bench now. We are absolutely equal and we have no right to be legislating, as these bills seek to today, an inequality from the start based on the advantage of those people who, in the majority, would want to vote on this today. We will be putting forward that amendment—to make it equal, to make it all nine per cent after the next election—in the committee stage. I ask honourable senators on both sides of the house to reflect on that and to support that when the vote comes up in a short while.