Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 8 December 1960

Mr SNEDDEN (Bruce) .- The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) has given three reasons for opposing this legislation. Two of them, the first and third as he enumerated them, are quite empty reasons. He said, first, that the Opposition decided to oppose this legislation merely because it was brought into the House at 2.30 this morning, but it is common knowledge that the Opposition decided in its caucus room yesterday to oppose the bill. I am sure the Deputy Leader of the Opposition would not deny that the Opposition was well aware of the circumstances of the bill and of the money sums proposed to be included in it. The mere fact that it was brought in this morning is not a valid reason for opposing it. It is a completely empty reason. The bill must be looked at as a piece of legislation, and a decision as to whether to oppose it should be based on what the bill intends to do. If the bill is offensive, it may be opposed, but if it is not offensive it ought not to be opposed merely because of the hour or the day on which it was introduced into the House.

The other reason, the third in order of his presentation, was that this is a singularly inapt time to bring in legislation of this nature. He said that the Government has opposed other wage increases. He mentioned Public Service margins and said that therefore the bill should not be passed. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is seeking to divert from a real consideration of the bill. The reasons for the Commonwealth Government's intervention in the margins case in respect of public servants are well known. The decision of the commission is well known. I am sure that even the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has read it. The judgment, I thought, was a very well reasoned judgment. The suggestion that the factors that were true in relation to Public Service margins are equally true in relation to judges completely overlooks the fact that the judges have had no salary increases since 1955, whilst members of the Public Service have enjoyed a series of increases. Indeed, it is true to say that since 1955 there have been, in the

Commonwealth Public Service, two margins increases and four basic wage increases. To attempt to equate these two situations is illogical and does not do the Deputy Leader of the Opposition the service that his intelligence would otherwise demand.

The Deputy Leader of the Opposition also said that the only reason these increases are brought in is to preserve the margin above the New South Wales and Victorian judges. This is not a reason to oppose the bill; it is the very reason why the bill should be supported. I feel like seeking leave to have incorporated in my speech all that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition said in relation to this point, because he gave reason after reason why the bill should be approved. It is true that the puisne judges of the State Supreme Courts have reached a level of salary which has built up since 1955 until it is now. I think, £6,500 in New South Wales and Victoria. That is the rate of salary for the puisne judges of the High Court.

That these two judges, exercising such incredibly different levels of judicial responsibility, should receive the same salary rate completely overlooks the difference between their judicial responsibilities. The High Court of Australia is the supreme court of the Commonwealth. It was created by the Constitution as the third arm of the triumvirate of government - the High Court, the Executive and the Legislature. It is the highest court in the land, and it attracts to it the best judicial brains in Australia. Indeed, the High Court of Australia, with its present composition, is honoured and recognized as the best court that the Commonwealth has ever had. It stands comparison with the Supreme Courts of all other countries. So this bill to increase the salaries of the High Court judges, for this reason, should be approved.

It must be said that it is most desirable that the salaries of the High Court judges should be at a higher level than the salaries of judges of the State Supreme Courts. The judges of the State Supreme Courts themselves would, I am sure, be the very first to agree with that proposition. The judges of the Supreme Courts are bound by the decisions of the High Court and constantly apply the principles enunciated in decisions of the High Court. For all these reasons, together with the long history and tradition of the court, the bill should be approved.

The only other point that the Deputy Leader of the Opposition made was that the judges' salaries should be co-ordinated by the Commonwealth Government. That is an extraordinary proposition. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition well knows that the Commonwealth can do nothing about the salaries of State judges. He knows that the area of judges' salaries is one of the closest preserves of every State government, and no State government could claim to exercise any sovereignty at all if it permitted some other government to fix the salaries of its judges. Indeed, it would be most inappropriate to ask the State governments to join in a conference at which the salaries of State judges are to be fixed. A variety of different matters are taken into account by the State governments in fixing those salaries, and it is quite erroneous to suggest that the Commonwealth can coordinate the salaries of State judges or should attempt to do so.

It is true, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the salaries of State judges have been advanced regularly - I think perhaps eight times since 1955 - whereas the salaries of judges of the High Court of Australia have remained static. There has been a game of leapfrog as between Victoria and New South Wales. The Victorians, as a matter of pride, do not want the salaries of New South Wales judges to be significantly higher than those of the Victorian judges. Therefore, there has been a kind of levelling-up process. What the Deputy Leader of the Opposition fails to realize is that the salaries of judges of the High Court were in no way involved in this game of leapfrog, because the salaries of High Court judges have remained stable at the level at which they were fixed in 1955. The level of the salaries of judges of the High Court should not be in any way brought into this game of leapfrog. For that reason, I wholeheartedly agree with the Government's decision to raise the salaries of High Court judges to a level at which they cannot be involved in any game of leapfrog.

This bill will substantially increase the salaries of High Court judges, but not I believe, to anything 'ike an excessively high level. My reservations, if I have any, are only as to whether or not the increases proposed are sufficient. The exercise of the Government's judgment has been brought to bear on that point, and I accept the salaries provided for in the bill. I believe it is proper that the salaries of judges of the High Court be raised to a level at which there can be no possibility of charges that judges of the State Supreme Courts will encourage the State governments to raise their salaries merely because of the difference between those salaries and the salaries of High Court judges.

I think it can be said quite properly that High Court judges are called upon to exercise functions of all kinds. Unfortunately, the Opposition in this House is always too ready to criticize the judges. The Opposition is always ready to detract from the nation's judicial officers - the very judicial officers to whom it so readily runs when it wishes to establish or protect its rights. One of the honorable members who these days sits on the Opposition front bench resorted to the judiciary in order to establish his rights against what he called the oppressive rules of an organization to which he belonged, and his action was determined by three judges sitting together. We on this side of the House cannot express our deprecation of the Opposition's attitude more strongly than by asking it to exercise some judgment in these matters and not to allow itself to be carried away by a caucus room platitude which is inspired only by jealousy on the one hand or by complete ignorance on the other.

I wish to make one final point about the new salaries for judges of the High Court, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The High Court is the supreme judicial body of the Commonwealth. Quite frequently, it could be adorned by a man already serving on the bench of a State Supreme Court.

Mr Peters - Even the honorable member might get to the High Court bench.

Mr SNEDDEN - That is a possibility. We should not put aside these remote possibilities. The salaries of High Court judges must be sufficiently high to attract to the court men of the highest standing on the State Supreme Court benches in order that those who have the capacity and the quali ties of judicial knowledge and character which fit them to serve on the High Court will not be reluctant to accept appointment to the court because the salary differential is small and because judges of that court have so much travelling to do. For this reason - and this I put only as a reinforcing reason - the differential between the salaries of judges of the State Supreme Courts and those of High Court judges ought to be at least as great as is envisaged in this bill. I fully support it.

Suggest corrections