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Thursday, 8 December 1960

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) . - Mr. Temporary Chairman, the judges of this country are no more immune to the influence of the hip pocket nerve than is any other section of the Australian community. In dealing with the clause before the Chair, the Attorney-General (Sir Garfield Barwick) made the point that the Government had made its decision to increase these salaries and had announced it at the end of September or at the beginning of October. It happens that I have in my hand the estimates of receipts and expenditure for the year ending 30th June, 1961. They show that no increase whatever is provided for the judges of th* High Court. The relevant item is "Item 0051 - Justices of the High Court (Judiciary Act 1903-1960)". The vote shown for 1960-61 is £47,000, the same amount as the vote for 1959-60. What has the AttorneyGeneral to say to that? He only claims that a statement of the Government's intention to increase these salaries was made when he was absent from Australia and when the Parliament itself was not sitting. The whole fact of the matter is that his clause proposes to make retrospective the increases in salaries for judges of the High Court on the ground that the increases had been previously announced as the intention of the Government. But the Government, when announcing increased pensions for age, invalid and other social service pensioners, refused, as a matter of policy, to make them retrospective. It provided that the increases should not come into operation until after the act had been proclaimed' and on a date to be fixed by the GovernorGeneral. There is, therefore, no consistency whatever in the Government's position in this matter and there is no relevance whatever in the Attorney-General's argument. The Attorney-General, speaking to this clause, complained of the deterioration of the tone of this debate. I think it is relevant to reply to him that he might take notice of the fact that bitterness of this kind develops when he is in charge of a bill. Honorable members in this chamber, including his colleagues on the Government side, are well aware of that fact.

Members of the Opposition must take every possible means that they can to defend their rights when they consider that they have been unjustly assailed as the AttorneyGeneral unjustly assailed them to-night. The judges of the High Court will certainly not be thankful to the Attorney-General for the bitter debate that he has provoked in this chamber to-night. I am quite certain that the judges of the High Court would not wish their case to be put in the way that it has been put by the Attorney-General to-night. I am quite certain, too, that the judges of the High Count will not like to be opposed to the public criticism and contempt which will follow the passage of a bill giving them retrospective increases in salary for two months when such retrospectivity has been denied to the social service pensioners of Australia. While we in this chamber may be well aware that the judges of the High Court would not have asked the Attorney-General to do for them something that is denied to other sections of the community, people outside will not be able so clearly to recognize that fact. They will believe that the judges have sought and have been granted this retrospectivity of payment which, by Government policy, is denied to every other section of the community.

What possible reason can there be for granting retrospectivity in this case? The Attorney-General made the most extraordinary and absurd statement that he had had to wait until 2.30 in the morning for this bill to be introduced, so that he could :give the Labour caucus time to consider it, ten or eleven hours later. He himself has said that the Government had decided upon this bill and had announced it at the end of September. It is a bill of three clauses; a bill of the most simple kind involving no problem of draftsmanship. It could have been put together in an hour or a day at any time since the end of September.

There can be no reason, therefore, which the Attorney-General can advance, why this, bill was not brought before the House until 2.30 in the morning. What reason was there? What reason can the AttorneyGeneral give? It is a bill of three clauses requiring only the simplest kind of draftsmanship - exactly the kind of draftsmanship which has been used in many similar measures. It is a bill upon which the Government had decided at the end of September, yet the Attorney-General said that it could not have been introduced until 2.30 yesterday morning! That the AttorneyGeneral's excuse is false is shown by the statement that I now make to the committee.

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - I rise to order, fs not the committee at the present time debating clause 2 of the bill? Has the honorable member for Eden-Monaro addressed one word to clause 2?


The honorable member for Eden-Monaro may proceed. He is referring to the reasons why the Opposition objects to clause 2 coming into operation. However, I ask the honorable member for Eden-Monaro not to indulge in too much repetition.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The point that I wish to hammer in' to members on the Government side is that the AttorneyGeneral had no justification for saying that there were reasons why this bill could not have been introduced very much earlier, since it was so simple to draft and was of such simple content. The Attorney-General said that this bill was decided upon and its terms announced on 29th September. That was an extraordinary thing to say. I quote from " Hansard " of Thursday, 29th September, at page 1481 as follows: -

Mr. Speaker (Hon. John McLeay)took the chair at 10.30 a.m., and read prayers.

What then happened is shown as follows: -

MINISTERIAL ARRANGEMENTS. Mr. Menzies. - As I announced yesterday, I am proceeding overseas to-day to attend the United Nations General Assembly. I desire to inform the House that during my absence . . .

There was no announcement whatever about an increase in salaries for judges. There was only an announcement by the Prime Minister that he had decided to take off at once for the United States to take over the post of Australian representative at the General Assembly which, up to that time, had been handled by the Attorney-General.

I am reminded by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Whitlam) that this is the shortest bill which has been introduced to the Parliament in the whole of this year. It is the shortest and the simplest bill. Yet it had to be introduced at 2.30 in the morning! In view of all the facts, Mr. Temporary Chairman, what other conclusion can you come to than that the Attorney-General came to this House like a thief in the night.


Order! I think the honorable member should withdraw that statement.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In deference to you, Mr. Temporary Chairman, I withdraw the remark. I substitute this question: What other conclusion can the committee and the people of Australia come to than that the Attorney-General came to the House furtively, at a time when the ordinary facilities of press and radio were not available, and brought down this bill -

I would say " like a thief in the night ", but the Temporary Chairman has distinctly ruled that I must not say " like a thief in the night" so I will not say it. I say instead that the Attorney-General came to this House furtively at 2.30 in the morning when the ordinary facilities of press and radio were not available to report the proceedings, and introduced a bill, which could have been introduced at any moment from 29th September onwards, to increase the emoluments of fellow members of the legal profession who occupy the honorable position of High Court judges. In acting in that way he did no credit to his own position, he embarrassed the judges of the High Court, and he certainly created a terrific suspicion in the minds of the people. The conduct of the Attorney-General in this matter has been shameful.

Mr Haworth - This is not in clause 2.

Mr Allan Fraser (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member interjects that the conduct of the Attorney-General is not in clause 2. I remind him that it was on clause 2 and on no other clause that the Attorney-General defended his conduct.


Order! The honorable gentleman's time has expired.

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