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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 813

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - In stating the attitude of the Australian Country Party to this Bill 1 point out that throughout this afternoon we have been discussing the inflationary impact on the community of changes in prices and of wage relativity to prices. This afternoon there was introduced into this Parliament with little prior notice a measure which covers significant factors that have been before this House before but in relation to which we could see no particular reason for accelerating the normal processes of examination, lt was for that reason that we took the rather unusual step of not granting leave to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) to introduce the Bill forthwith.

We believe that it is necessary that the salaries and allowances of parliamentarians and all the other persons referred to in this Bill should be reviewed. Obviously, as both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) have already stated, in areas where there has been no review since 1968 and because of the adjustment of the cost o£ living and the added responsibilities which every member of this House bears, it is necessary that the members of this place be paid sufficient salary and accorded sufficient allowances to enable them properly and efficiently to carry out their responsibilities. We do not oppose that principle. We believe that, similarly, the salaries of other persons covered by this Bill need to be examined in the light of changing prices and circumstances and in the light of changing wage conditions. In accordance with those principles, we as a Party do not oppose the Bill in its entirety.

We believe, however, that there are some aspects of the Bill which need to be considered adequately and effectively. That our dispute is not one relating only to the personality of the leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Anthony) I think is best represented and reflected in the fact that f am leading in this debate for the Country Party and that he is not the person who is, on behalf of my Party, stating the principle which we hold dear. That principle is that we believe that country people throughout Australia need to be given a right equal to that of their city brothers, cousins and colleagues to representation in this, the national Parliament. We believe that, in accordance with that principle, the Party to which I belong and which essentially represents people outside the major metropolitan areas, that is in the big towns and the big cities of the country and in the rural areas that form their hinterland, should be accorded a status which reflects their opportunity to give that equal representation. Accordingly, I move:

That all the words after 'that' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: While not opposing the passage of the Bill the House is of opinion that the salay and allowances of the Leader of the Australian Country Party should be identical wilh those of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition'.

This aspect of the Bill, of course is why the Leader of the Country Party (Mr Anthony) is nol speaking to the Bill. This is a Bill, however, which does not reflect his personal point of view. This point of view is held by all members of the Australian Country Party. It is a point of view which reflects the principle, which I enunciate as the right to equal representation. The right to equal representation in this national Parliament of people living in country areas is essential for the maintenance of democracy in Australia. The general trend of the policies of the new Labor Government has been antagonistic to those people. The trend in policies is one which necessitates constant and forceful representation on behalf, of country people. If they are to be given the opportunity to maintain an equality of voice in this place it is necessary that my Party, through its Leader, enjoys the status which we believe is necessary. That this is not a frivolous or irresponsible approach is best reflected in the text of a letter dated 5th February 1972 which the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) wrote to the Leader of the Australian Country Party. In that letter the Prime Minister stated that he accorded to the Leader of the Country Party equal status and entitlements with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in this chamber. It is true that in that letter he did not say that he committed himself as to future legislation, but the principle remains that in that letter he recognised the status of the Australian Country Party, through his recognition of the salary and emoluments accorded to its Leader.

It is necessary that I spell out in full detail the way in which we, as a party, see this cause. The changing trend of population in Australia has not in any way lessened the difficulties and responsibilities of those who represent the large rural electorates of this country. For example, the honourable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard), a member of the Government party, necessarily travels great distances to represent his people effectively. All members of the Australian Country Party are in a similar position. Each member of my Party represents many small towns as well as, in many instances, several very large towns and cities. Each citizen of those communities deserves the same measure of representation as every person who lives in a suburban electorate. The Minister for Services and Property (Mr Daly) has, as his responsibility, an electorate which I have no doubt he, in his youthful virility, can walk around in the compass of an afternoon. Wherever members of the Australian Country Party are located, they find it necessary to travel many hundreds of miles to service their people. Some members travel thousands of miles throughout their areas. The honourable members for Kennedy (Mr Katter), Maranoa (Mr Corbett), Northern Territory (Mr Calder). Darling (Mr FitzPatrick) and Kalgoorlie (Mr Collard) are in that bracket.

This Bill is a direct reflection on the status and position of every person in the country. A similar attitude has been expressed in the second reading speech of the Prime Minister in respect of other matters. We see, for example, that the past division in representational allowances accorded to members in city and country electorates is to be no longer preserved. Mr Justice Kerr, when he examined the situation in December 1971, said that he believed it was necessary for country members to be accorded a greater electorate allowance. This is not to continue, ft is true that both city and country members need an increase in the electorate allowance, but to my mind the decision taken, as I understand it, by Caucus this morning, reflects the fact that within the Labor Party there is no recognition of the difficulties that some of its own country members, in this House, along with other country members in the Country Party and the Liberal Party suffer. These members have difficulty in covering large distances and adequately servicing their constituents. This is another instance of the distinction which the Labor Party is trying to make between people who live in the country and people who live in the city. So it is not only in the salary and conditions pertinent to the Leader of the Country Party but also in other aspects of this measure that we see the distinction which the Labor Party is drawing in the opportunity for representation that is permitted to members coming from country areas.

It is important that there should be processes of regular review for salaries and allowances and the Country Party is in accord with the necessity for laying down adequate procedures for constant reexamination of their adequacy. I note that it is proposed that a tribunal be established. I look forward to seeing the legislation to establish the tribunal. My Party and I will look closely and critically at the basis on which this tribunal will act in order to ensure that there will be a consideration of all factors affecting the rights and responsibilities of members of this Chamber. It is important that we have a process of regular review. As I explained earlier, I am completely in accord with the contention that it is now past time for adjustments in salaries and allowances, but I believe that the actual processes and functions of the tribunal need to be considered accurately, closely and critically by this House before complete support is given to them. Like the Leader of the Opposition I am in complete accord with the necessity to amend the parliamentary retiring allowances scheme. It is a scheme which has prejudiced adversely the opportunities of members of this place in the past. For many members it would have been far better had we invested the funds privately and used them in some other way than through the parliamentary retiring allowances scheme, if we were to provide adequately for those years when we were no longer members of this place. Accordingly my party and I are in complete accord with the undertaking given by the Government that legislation should be introduced to amend the scheme. We also support the proposed amendment suggested by the Leader of the Opposition, to which the Prime Minister has given his approval, that women members in this place and in the Senate should be accorded equal status with those of us who are males.

There are 2 other aspects of the Bill to which I should like to draw attention. The first is the suggestion that we should dispose of the 2-level approach to the top Public Service positions. I believe that is more than justified in the present circumstances of the responsibilities that each permanent head enjoys. The only difficulty I can see is that all of the permanent heads at this stage seem to find it extremely difficult given the multiplicity of co-responsibilities that their Ministers carry. In some cases permanent heads can be responsible to 2 or 3 Ministers, lt therefore does make it difficult to establish an adequate line of command, lt has been my opinion lor a long time that we should take the opportunity to look not just at the salaries and allowances payable to permanent heads but to give them the same executive responsibility as any managing director of a major corporation has, including the right to hire and fire. Given the responsibility of those who are the administrators of the Public Service, I believe this is an area well worthy of examination. Another suggestion in the amending legislation relates to the basis on which the payments should be made in accordance with the scale prescribed by Mr Justice Kerr but varied in some instances according to later circumstances. My Party does not disapprove of the variations which are proposed. There are, in the scale laid down by Mr Justice Kerr, some recommendations applicable to the circumstances in December 1971 which have changed over the course of the 1.8 months since it was laid down. It is true that some of the allowances and some of the relativities are not justified in the Prime Minister's statement to this House. It is true that in relation to some of those allowances there has been a significant increase in the adjustments which have been made. The one in which there is no significant increase is the one to which my Party objects.

When Mr Justice Kerr examined the circumstances of the leader of the third major party in the House of Representatives he spoke of the fact that at the time the salary was not appropriate because a coalition government was in office and the then leader of the party was in fact enjoying the salary of a Deputy Prime Minister. But Mr Justice Kerr did recognise the circumstances of difference which apply to the leader of the third major party in this p'ace. I do not believe that the change which has been made in other areas is any reason why an adequate change should not be made in the salary and emoluments to be paid to the Leader of the Australian Country Party. Indeed the Prime Minister has been aware of the concern which my Party felt as to the difference in the rates. He was aware earlier in the day that we did intend to object to the Bill if no change was made in this area and it is for that reason, amongst others, that 1 believe it is necessary for adequate time to be given to the whole of the circumstance of change which is involved in this legislation. lt is. of course, easy for us, because we have control in the place of the provision of funds, to provide for salary increases but it is irresponsible for us not to examine effectively and adequately those salaries and allowances and their variations, lt is necessary for us to look at the circumstances of what we are doing. 1 believe that one of the circumstances is the relative position of those of us in this place who represent different types of areas. I believe that the Bill as it is now spelt out does not effectively provide for the status of those members who represent country electorates. I believe that the Bil) does not recognise the contribution which my Party which represents people in the far-flung parts of this continent makes. Consequently, through the salary of its leader it is not afforded the recognition which that letter of the 5th February from the Prime Minister spelt out. Accordingly, 1 believe that this Bill should be changed to permit the adjustment of salary and allowances in that respect. The Country Party supports the Bill with reservations in those areas to which I have referred but it opposes that part of the Bill which does not accord to the leader of the ACP the status through the salary and allowances payable to him which would equate him to the position of Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Accordingly, I suggest that the House might now reexamine the measure in order to give to the Leader of the Country Party the entitlement which I believe is no more than his due.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Nixon - I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.

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