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Tuesday, 29 May 1973
Page: 2791

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) - At the time that the Parliamentary Salaries Bill was introduced into this House it was understood, and the Government expressed its view to this effect, that there would be brought into the Parliament at a later stage legislation to amend parliamentary and judicial retirement allowances. Of course, parliamentary allowances are contributory allowances. Members have deducted from their individual salaries amounts which are then backed by additional funds provided by the Commonwealth.

Mr Duthie - Eleven and a half per cent.

Mr SINCLAIR - As the honourable member for Wilmot correctly said, the amount deducted is some11½ per cent which in terms of some other retiring allowances is a significant contribution. Of course, this sum is backed then by additional payments from the Commonwealth.

I think that the nature of parliamentary retirement allowances needs to be seen in the context of the peculiar exigencies which those who are parliamentarians face. All of us who are in this place are conscious that there are considerable uncertainties in the tenure of office. There are uncertainties in the degree to which members may or may not hold executive office. Yet the responsibilities which those who hold executive office are called on to fill are among the highest in the land. They are responsibilities which, of course, cover every field of administrative endeavour in the country. They cover the administration of the largest business in the country. The salaries and retirement benefits therefore deserve to match the responsibilities which are exercised. Every member in this chamber can be called on to assume that responsibility for the management of this, the largest business in the land. It is for that reason that I think one needs to be quite critical, and sympathetically so, in considering the amendments that the Government has brought forward to this Bill.

The Australian Country Party supports the proposal as it is now expressed and it compliments the Government on bringing down changes which the Country Party believes are very much m the interests not only of those who have served and who are serving in this place but also of those who one might hope can be encouraged to serve in the future. The standard of debate and the standard of administration depend significantly on the ability of Parliament to attract men and women who are prepared to forsake whatever their normal way of life might be for the uncertainties that this task places upon them. One of the important aspects is the position that one's dependants might be in if one were to suffer premature illness or, either by way of accident or ill health, to die at a time when one was still exercising one's parliamentary role. This Bill makes a significant range of concessions which are meaningful for past, present and future parliamentarians and in my opinion will help towards encouraging the right sort of men and women to stand for political office in the future.

All of us are conscious that parliamentarians are subject generally to a degree of criticism. They are criticised for their alleged cynicism and the administration of their duties. Politicians are criticised in the electorates for their absence from the multitude of functions which the exercise of their political role in Canberra forces upon them. They are criticised for many aspects of their role. Yet there are few jobs in the Australian community which to such a large degree have a bearing upon the actual state of the nation and the actual wellbeing of every individual in the community. If there is criticism, the one way in which it can be combated is by ensuring that there is sufficient attraction for those who seek parliamentary office to be prepared to come and hold it. I believe that the amendments to the parliamentary and judicial retiring allowances legislation will be of that character and will in fact encourage persons in the community to forsake whatever their other way of life may be. I think that that is good for the democratic process.

I would like to mention some of the aspects of the Bill which concern me. As one who believes that members of this place should have an option whether they should belong to the fund or not I would have liked the Bill to have included provision for members to opt out of this scheme if they so wished. I recognise that from the actuarial point of view this could create considerable difficulties.

I know that if one is to have an uncertain quantum of contributions there would be problems in determining the benefits that could be paid. Nonetheless, I think it is necessary that individuals be allowed to express their individual wish if they so desire and if they feel that, rather than contribute to this fund they would prefer to retain the funds themselves, they should be given the option to do so. The legislation does not provide for that. I do not criticise the Bill "unduly because of this omission. Yet I can see sense in providing for such an option.

I understand that the Treasurer (Mr Crean) will be introducing an amendment in the Committee stages which will permit those who are entitled at present to ministerial pensions to exercise an option to withdraw the funds which they have contributed so that they may either enjoy their present entitlement or receive the contributions which they have made in the past. It is not for present consideration, although it is one for some regret, that funds contributed over a considerable period of time when withdrawn from the fund are not at this stage supplemented by any interest payment. The Commonwealth or the Treasury having received the benefit of funds paid in over a long period of time in fact will repay those funds without the addition of supplementary interest.

The third area to which I want to make brief reference is judicial retiring allowances. This Bill, of course, refers not peculiarly to parliamenary allowances but also includes judicial allowances. I believe that members of judiciary in Australia need to receive a range of benefits which again parallel the great responsibility they are called on to exercise. It is necessary that there is an understanding nonetheless that the parliamentary pension is related to an Hi per cent contribution whereas the judicial retiring allowance is not. Consequently the difference between the benefits received by members of the judiciary and parliamentarians relates to that factor. The distinction in the percentages that they receive is, of course, a reflection of the contribution made by the one group and the noncontribution by the other. The whole Bill provides a significant improvement for both parliamentarians and members of the judiciary. The Opposition, and certainly the Country Party element of it, supports the changes and believe that they will be in the interests not only of the Parliament and the judiciary but of the whole of the Australian community and those who in the future might stand for positions in either sector.

Sitting suspended from 6.15 to 8 p.m.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.

Message from the Governor-General recommending an appropriation for an amendment to the Parliamentary and Judicial Retiring Allowances Bill announced.

In Committee

The Bill.

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