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Thursday, 8 December 1960

Mr SPEAKER - Order! It would be a good idea to let the Deputy Leader of the Opposition proceed with his speech.

Mr WHITLAM - No notice whatever was given to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell), to myself as Deputy Leader of the Opposition, or to the Opposition

Whip, in the way that notice is always given, on the blue paper which they are handed in respect of each day's proceedings. Nobody in the Parliament knew - the Government Whips themselves did not know, and the legislative officers advising the Government did not know - that this matter would be introduced yesterday morning or during the course of the day, in the proceedings in which we were still engaged yesterday morning.

The second reason why we are opposing the bill is that the only reason for the increase proposed is to preserve the margin above the two Supreme Courts of New South Wales and Victoria. Those are the substantial reasons given.

Sir Garfield Barwick - You said " the only reason".

Mr WHITLAM - They are the substantial ones. They are the reasons which the Attorney-General developed in his second-reading speech. It is rather belated to come to the Parliament and ask us to correct that margin when in the intervening five years the Government has done nothing to co-ordinate judicial salaries in Australia. We realize that the comparative status of the States is always in the mind of State governments. It is a matter of pride to the various States to see that their judges are remunerated as well as the judges of the other States, and we are dragged along at their coach wheels. We find now that High Court judges, to whom appeals lie from decisions of the Chief Justices and other judges in the States, are receiving less than the puisne judges in Victoria and New South Wales. The Chief Justice of the High Court is receiving very little more than the amount received by the Chief Justice of a State from whose decisions he hears appeals.

The third reason why we are opposing the legislation is that this seems a singularly inapt time in which to bring it forward. Why is this legislation brought down at the end of a session? One would have thought that in a year when the Government has been giving reasons for opposing increases in salaries and wages determined by Commonwealth arbitration tribunals, and in a year, moreover, when it made only very small increases in the incomes of social service beneficiaries, for whose incomes it is principally responsible, the Government would have held its hand on this matter. If there is criticism of the scale of these increases, as there undoubtedly will be, not only in this Parliament but also outside it, then the Government has only itself to blame.

This Parliament directly determines the incomes of hundreds of thousands of social service beneficiaries. By intervening before the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, as it did earlier this year, the Commonwealth Government substantially determines the margins and the standards of living of at least half the people in Australia receiving wages and salaries. This Parliament also, of course, determines the incomes of its own public servants, numbering tens of thousands, and of certain persons holding statutory offices, and of judges and members of the Parliament. If we were to arrange for a regular review of all these incomes, so that they would be dealt with all at the one time, a good deal of the ground for criticism of such measures as this would be removed. But it is inevitable that there will be criticism of legislation which is brought in at such an unusual hour of the morning, in such a surreptitious manner and in such clandestine circumstances.

Mr Bandidt - It is not being discussed in clandestine circumstances in the secondreading debate.

Mr WHITLAM - That is true. The debate is now perfectly open and every honorable member on the Government side will have the opportunity to give reasons why there should be such large marginal increases for the persons covered by this bill in these circumstances and at this time and no increases at all in the incomes of other persons.

Another reason why the Government must expect criticism is that it picks out, in two specific bills, two classes of the community for the salaries of members of which it is responsible. There is no question that there should be proper remuneration for our judges. Judges in general, and certainly the judges of the High Court, would have expected to receive - and, in fact, nearly all of them did receive - when they were at the height of their powers in private practice incomes very much greater than this Parliament is providing in this bill.

There should also be no dispute that judges should be able to maintain themselves in a position of independence and dignity - I do not mean of ostentation or majesty, and I do not think any of them live in such conditions. They should be given a sense of independence and dignity while carrying on their jobs and after they retire from them. It is our task as parliamentarians to see that they are given the wherewithal to maintain themselves in such a fashion. As I have said, there can be no question that the persons who occupy these judicial posts would have enjoyed, at the height of their powers, very much greater incomes than they will receive under this bill.

Mr Hasluck - On points the bill is winning.

Mr WHITLAM - In logic one cannot oppose this bill if one takes it in isolation. But what we ought to do is to co-ordinate judicial salaries throughout Australia. Who is to do that? Quite clearly it is the Commonwealth Government, and that Government has not done so. The position has got out of hand because of the Government's inaction over the last five years. One can go into the details of the way in which it has got out of hand much more clearly in dealing with the next bill, which has to do with the remuneration of judges of Supreme Court status. At the moment, however, we are dealing purely with the remuneration of High Court judges, whose principal work is the hearing of appeals from decisions of the Supreme Courts of the States. The basis of the legislation is to restore the margin between salaries of the High Court judges and the judges from whose decisions appeals lie.

It is not inappropriate to recall that there has been, over the period during which the High Court has been in existence, a contraction, and a very proper contraction, in the extremes of income in Australia. While the salaries of High Court judges in 1903, when the court was set up, appear to us at this time to have been quite small, they showed a proportionately much greater margin over the salaries of average persons than do the salaries of High Court judges to-day. But that applies in the cases of most persons who receive statutory emoluments. There have been some compensations for the judges in the meantime. They now receive pensions which they did not receive in earlier times, and they are non-contributory pensions. They receive travelling allowances, whereas, I believe, they did not receive them initially. They now receive transport allowances, the use of Commonwealth cars and so on, which they did not receive when the court was first set up. But these advantages would make little real impact on the differential, which has been gradually and properly diminishing between the top statutory office holders in Australia and persons whose wages are determined at more frequent intervals by industrial tribunals.

We are registering an objection to this bill at this time because we think that the Government should take steps to coordinate judicial salaries in Australia. It is true that while the difference between the salaries of judges of the Supreme Courts of Victoria and New South Wales, on the one hand, and of the High Court on the other, is now quite small - far too small in fact - that is the fault of the State governments concerned. But in many of the other courts the differential is still quite large. In the figures that I am about to quote of judges' salaries, I shall state what salaries the various State judges would have to receive in order to obtain the amounts that they receive now by way of salary and tax-free allowances. This is a proper basis for comparison, because the tax-free allowances that are made to judges in Victoria and New South Wales - and in those States alone - are meant to cover expenses which, in fact, Commonwealth judges and judges of other States have to meet out of their salaries alone, lt is not to be thought that the Supreme Court judges of Victoria and New South Wales would be liable to incur greater expenditure on robes or books than their counterparts in other States, still less than the Commonwealth judges. On that basis, the Chief Justice of Victoria receives an effective salary of £7,938 and the Chief Justice of New South Wales receives £7,732. The Chief Justices of the other States receive the following amounts: -


The puisne judges receive the following amounts: -


The Chief Justice of the Territory of Papua and New Guinea receives £4,000.

It will be seen that there is now an inadequate margin between the Supreme Courts of Victoria and New South Wales and1 the High Court. But the margin between the High Court and the other Supreme Courts, both State and territorial, is still a large, adequate and indeed a handsome one. We are opposing this bill to make it plain that we feel that the Commonwealth, which alone can do this should co-ordinate the salaries in a better way. The Supreme Courts of the States and the Territories all perform functions of exactly the same nature. It is true that professional incomes very largely vary between the States, but that should not be the basis of differentiation between judges who actually carry out similar work. The Commonwealth should1 co-ordinate the salaries. If the Commonwealth had done so at any time in the past five years since Commonwealth judicial salaries were last altered, this disproportion would not have now occurred.

Mr Killen - May I ask how this coordination would be achieved?

Mr WHITLAM - Like any other form of co-ordination, at the Premiers' Conference or by correspondence between the Prime Minister and the Premiers. That is the way that all other legislation is coordinated. Judicial salaries are the subject of legislation, and it is quite obvious that we should have taken steps to co-ordinate them during the last five years. The Attorney-General implicitly hopes that by placing the federal salaries comfortably above the Supreme Court salaries in Victoria and New South Wales, he will now bring about some fixation or moratorium or freeze in those salaries. But there is no guarantee that the two large States will not start the race once again. Unless some procedure is announced, we certainly cannot support this legislation.

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