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Wednesday, 28 March 1973
Page: 816

Mr NIXON (Gippsland) - Mr Speaker-

Dr Gun - I rise to order. I draw your attention, Mr Speaker, to standing order No. 292 which relates to appropriation proposals. The last sentence of standing order No. 292 reads:

No amendment of such proposal shall be moved which would increase, or extend the objects and pur poses or alter the destination of. the appropriation so recommended unless a further message is received.

I therefore ask you to rule whether the amendment moved by the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) is in order.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! This is not an amendment to the Bill. It is an amendment to the motion that the Bill be read a second time.

Mr NIXON - Earlier in the day the members of the Australian Country Party took the step of forcing the delay of the Remuneration and Allowances Bill so that we could have a proper discussion on its various clauses. Some of the clauses were not in accordance with the information given to us earlier in the day and we felt that it was only proper that we should take time to consider that Bill as a whole, the various clauses and their implications.

The Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Sinclair) has moved an amendment to the Bill. He has done this, firstly on the basis of precedence in this Parliament itself. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that in 1947 when the Australian Labor Party was last in government and a salary Bill was brought into this place the salary attaching to the office of the Leader of the Opposition was S 1,200. At that time the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was given nothing. The leader of the third party - with 10 members at that time - was given $800. That is the first point I wished to establish: That there is a precedent, we believe, for the step thai we are taking tonight. Secondly, we believe that the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) clearly accepted that there ought to be a proper position recognised and accepted for the Leader of the Australian Country Party. He said so by way of a letter dated 5th February 19/3 in which he set out what the salary and emoluments would be for the Leader of the Country Party. It states inter alia - and this is not out of context:

In the expectation, however, that the Act will be amended to take account of changed circumstances, I have authorised the same payments to you as to the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. . . .

It is quite clear that the Prime Minister himself believed at that time that the leader of the third party - a significant party in Australian politics - should have a standing and status equivalent to the position of Deputy Leader of the Opposition. The provisions of this Bill are different in a number of ways to the recommendations of the Kerr report. 1 want to establish one new point that was conveyed to us very late this afternoon. I understand that the Caucus decided this morning to make the electoral allowance for representatives of country electorates the same as the allowance for representatives of city electorates. I do not argue for one moment that there should not be a heavy increase in electoral allowances. That is not the point 1 wish to establish. But the point I do wish to establish is that in the Kerr report it was said that there ought to be a differential in favour of country electorates because the Kerr inquiry found in its study that the work load of country members was heavier in some respects than the work load of their city counterparts. This finding has not been acted upon. This is somewhat in line with other actions which the Government has taken and which are of concern to people in country areas generally.

We have seen the revaluation of the Australian dollar. Then we had the devaluation of the American dollar. We have seen the Government rejecting assistance, in the first case, to exporting industries affected in this way. People in country areas have been concerned at actions taken by the Government particularly when they saw an 18 per cent difference in the value of the Australian dollar compared to its value prior to the Labor Government coming into power. We have seen other action taken such as the appointment of the Minister for Primary Industry (Senator Wriedt) who was almost completely unknown in the Parliament. Industry organisations once again have been concerned at the action of this Government in appointing as Minister a senator who is unknown in primary industry when there are well known and established Labor spokesmen on primary industry matters in this place.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The remarks of the honourable gentleman are moving away from the subject matter of the Bill before the House. He is in order in making a passing reference to these matters but he shall not debate them.

Mr NIXON - This matter is bound up in the one fear that people in country areas have, that is, that the Government is trying to demean them. We believe that proper recognition of the status of the office held by the Leader of the Australian Country Party is important. Please understand this fact: The amount of money that the present Leader of the Party will receive does not matter 2 hoots to him. The simple truth is that he could buy or sell most honourable members in this Parliament. The Prime Minister knows that, as do many other honourable members. Let us not be carried away on that point. The provisions of this Bill may well set a precedent for many years ahead. It is important, therefore, that the proper precedent and the proper position be established. At our Party meeting this morning the Leader of the Country Party was not a party to the unanimous decision that was taken by all other members of the Country Party to support this approach. I ask honourable members to understand that clearly. The stand that Country Party members have adopted comes from their hearts and minds. They believe that justice has not been done in this case. For that reason, we say that the attitude taken by the Labor Party in respect of this measure shows a brand of meanness. There is an attitude of meanness in attacking and in trying to denigrate and to downgrade this great Party. That is why the Deputy Leader of the Country Party has moved the amendment, and I support it.

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