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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) . - A speech from the Government side as well as the speech from Senator Benn has raised issues upon which I cannot decide. I think that the Senate ought to face up to the course that is appropriate to giving proper consideration to those speeches. As I conceive the present legislation, Senator Benn is completely in error when he suggests that the Ministerial Fund is merged with the parliamentary pension fund. I remind the Senate that when, soon after the Richardson report, it was proposed by the Ministry of the day to bring in a ministerial noncontributory pension fund, that was scotched before it was presented to the Parliament and the Ministry did not go on with that proposal.

Senator Henty - That was a recommendation of the Richardson Committee.

Senator WRIGHT - A non-contributory pension.

Senator HENTY (TASMANIA) - Yes.

Senator WRIGHT - And the Government announced its adoption of it.

Senator Henty - No.

Senator WRIGHT - If you will pardon me, Mr. Minister-

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT.- Order! The honorable senator will address the Chair.

Senator WRIGHT - Before the Government parties met, the Government said that it was adopting the report in its entirety. The parties met and the proposal was never submitted to the Parliament. I was trying to elucidate this matter. Therefore, I think it is important that we should have it clearly established that the present contributory Ministerial Fund that was introduced last year is a separate fund from the ordinary parliamentary pension fund.

It ought to be established that it is a contributory fund. But there is no mystery about the degree of contribution. Here, when we were discussing parliamentary pensions just after the Richardson report, I pointed out that without an actuarial investigation the Government of the day lifted the relationship between the Treasury contribution and the fund contribution from about 63/37 per cent, to 70/30. Since that time, out of every £10 of pension that an ex-parliamentarian receives the Consolidated Revenue pays £7. We need not go into complicated arithmetic about that. If the country needs to be informed as to that - and I should think that it does - 1 point out that out of every £10 of pension paid to any single ex-member of the Parliament at any time, £7 comes straight from the Treasury and only £3 comes from the fund with which we have been concerned. That is the position as it applies to private members. Precisely the same proportions apply to the Ministerial Fund. But there is one thing that needs to be understood with regard to the Ministerial Fund. Last year when we passed the proposal I supposed in its favour that it had been established on some actuarial advice. I am informed that that .s not so but whether or not it is so, out of every £10 pension received by an exMinister £7 is a direct contribution from the Treasury and only £3 is from the Ministerial Fund.

Clearing away those confusions which Senator Benn brought into the debate, it still remains true that by this legislation it is proposed that we provide a special pension fund for Ministers of the Crown and Leaders of the Opposition. I should have thought that there was great danger in that principle from the point of view of the independence of the Opposition, but that may not be a valid argument; I cannot find myself completely convinced about it. The next point, as Senator Cormack says, is that the legislation proposes to give special emoluments to Ministers, who are the Executive representatives in the Parliament, long after they have served their term of office. I rose to express my indebtedness to Senator Cormack's thought, although I shall not go back as far as Octavius, but I want also to bring to notice a work entitled "The Passing of Parliament " by Professor G. W. Keeton, published in about the 1950s. I refer to this passage -

Even in Great Britain, Parliament no longer governs, ft criticises, and sometimes checks government, and by an adverse vote it can dismiss a ministry. Owing to the intensity of the Party system, however, such a right has become almost as formal as the royal veto.

Do I hear " Hear, hear! " around the chamber? The author goes on -

So, in our day, the seventeenth century battle . . . to which Senator Cormack referred -

.   . between Parliament and Common law on one side, and the Executive on the other, is being fought again, but this time the struggle shows every indication of being decided in favour of the despotism of the Executive.

There is no mystery about these things. Some people say that despotism is being created because a Ministry has behind it a gradually increasing bureaucracy, acquiring great strength from ils improving skills and increasing numbers. The author of this work does not fail to notice that. He says -

The relentless growth in size and function of the Departments of State and the relatively high level in the calibre of those who staff them, coupled with the steady decline in importance and function of members of Parliament, has led to a gradual transfer of power and influence from the floor of the House of Commons to the private rooms of permanent civil servants. In fact, if not in form, Parliament has conceded to every one of the great Departments of State wide powers of autonomous legislation.

Then he refers to well known matters such as the whole armoury of orders, unexaminable by law, issued by departments, and the escape from the power of the Parliament by means of Executive decrees. We permit Ministers to dispense the benefits of housing loans insurance by prescribing what classes of persons shall receive the benefit of the Government's legislation, not by regulation but by an instrument that is unexaminable by the Parliament.

I need not quote any further from the work. It is well recognised that the power of Parliament is being eviscerated and that the Executive with the immensely strengthened adjunct of the civil service, is gaining such an ascendency, as exemplified by the experience of this House, that the voice of the private member of Parliament simply goes for nought. The strength of the Executive is being increased by the scheme to give emoluments in the form of special pensions to persons who have the opportunity to enjoy the high office of Minister of the Crown and Leader of the Opposition during the time they are in Parliament.

I opposed the whole of this legislation last year. I did not imagine that this issue would arise again. If, in the Committee stage, I can find a clause which will appropriately throw up the issue I will give Senator Benn an opportunity to vote upon it.

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