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Monday, 24 May 1965

Senator BENN (Queensland) . - I feel sure that all honorable senators have daily witnessed endeavours by peoples and countries to win economic security. We have before us at the present time a Bill which will strengthen the economic security which was awarded to Ministers and others last year. We recall the actions of Peron when he was in charge of the affairs of Argentina. He had fears about his future security because he could see that his power would diminish. So he transferred valuable securities to countries in Europe. We learnt that Hitler, during the Second World War, feared the result of that war and feared also that he would have to go back and work as a builder's labourer at its conclusion. So he transferred securities of the State into secret hiding places. This legislation is an endeavour - and it does not amount to anything more - to Peronise and Hitlerise the powers of the Parliament to give more payments to people who do not require them.

Senator Hannaford - Pure, unadulterated rubbish.

Senator BENN - I will proceed from that point. I will deal with the payments which have been fixed. Senator Hannaford said: "Nonsense" -

Senator Hannaford - I did not. I said: " Pure unadulterated rubbish ".

Senator BENN - I will show to the Senate the grave danger underlining this type of legislation. Senator Cormack only hinted at it. I can go further. I can say that this is a grave threat to our Commonwealth Parliamentary system. It is a threat to the democracy upon which we place a high value.

The ordinary senator - the senator who is not a member of the Ministry or who is not a Leader here - and the members of the House of Representatives who are not Ministers will, when they retire from the Parliament, if they have qualified for a pension, be paid the sum of £32 18s. 7d. per week. It is proposed under the legislation with which we are dealing to add to that for Ministers and for the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate the sum of £21 per week, making a payment to them of £53 per week. I may be wrong in a shilling or two, but that is my calculation of what this legislation means. The legislation provides that members of the Ministry, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate shall make contributions to the Ministerial Fund. Then it provides that the Ministerial' Fund shall bc merged with the general fund.

Senator Wright - Is that provided for in the Bill?

Senator BENN - Well, I think it is. That is the way I look at it. After eight years' service, a retiring Minister will receive the sum of £53 a week.

Senator Henty - The honorable senator has the story wrong.

Senator BENN - Well, why did the Minister not state the figures here? I am relying upon information that was given to me elsewhere.

Senator Henty - Did the honorable senator say that after eight years' service a Minister would get an increase of £21?

Senator BENN - Yes.

Senator Henty - That is nonsense. After eight years he will get an increase of £9.

Senator BENN - What is the maximum?

Senator Henty - He has to be a

Minister for 14 years or more.

Senator BENN - To get £21?

Senator Henty - Yes.

Senator BENN - I want to prove my point. Where will the money come from to pay the £53? Will it come from the Ministerial Fund? Will it come from the trust fund that is provided for in the legislation or will the Government go to the Treasury and get it from the Consolidated Revenue Fund which is money provided by the taxpayers of the Commonwealth? Will the Government go to the fund which provides the money for the ordinary pensioners who receive less than £6 a week? The Government will go to the Treasury to get 70 per cent, of the £53 that it will pay to a retired Minister. The remaining three-tenths will come from the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Trust Fund. That is how it will work out. Of the sum of £53 an amount of £37 2s. will be paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which feeds the National Welfare Fund which was established to pay the poor pensioners. A sum of £15 18s. will come from the Trust Fund. Is that equitable? Has the Government told the people all about this glorious payment - this superstructure that it has added to the parliamentary retiring allowances scheme? The Government has withheld this information. It has adopted a policy of concealment. As far as I am concerned, the Government will not get away with it. Let us consider a Minister's service and the payment that he will receive. Why should he be favoured with this huge payment from the Consolidated Revenue Fund? A Minister's contribution will be nothing more than a token when we consider the weekly payment that will be made, and the Government is aware of that.

Senator Kendall - Does the honorable senator call £4,000 a token? That is what I have paid into the superannuation fund.

Senator BENN - The honorable senator will not retire as a Minister. I am speaking about payments to Ministers. Nevertheless, let me tell Senator Kendall that when he retires 14s. of every £1 will come from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and 6s. from the Trust Fund. The same sort of thing will apply to the honorable senator as to Ministers.

Let me move on to another point. I have already mentioned that the Bill provides for payments to be made to the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. They are the only two members of the Opposition who will get any benefit under this scheme. They were included because that is the price the Ministers are prepared to pay to have this legislation passed without any opposition. They have made the Opposition leaders the pall bearers. We have heard about an investigation being made into poverty.

Sitting suspended from 5.45 to 8 p.m.

Senator BENN - At the suspension of the sitting, I was quietly explaining some provisions of the Bill before us and the legislation that it has been designed to amend. The Minister, by interjection, said to me that, after serving eight years as a Minister, a member of this Parliament would be entitled, if he then retired, to a pension of £9 a week. I would like the Senate to consider that for a moment. If he were a senator for eight years, he would be entitled to the ordinary pension prescribed for a retiring senator, which amounts to £32 18s. 7d. a week. If he were a member of the House of Representatives, and had ceased to be a member of the House of Representatives on three occasions, he would be entitled to the same rate of pension of £32 18s. 7d. If a Minister's pension is added to that sum, the total weekly payment is £41 18s. 7d. That amount would be paid as follows: The Treasury would draw from the Consolidated Revenue Fund seven-tenths of the total weekly pension, which is £29 6s. lOd. the Treasury would draw from the trust fund - that is the members' retiring allowance fund - £12 lis. 9d. a week, the balance of three-tenths of the total pension payable.

If the Minister can refute the figures I have quoted, I shall be happy to hear him do so. He may have an explanation. He may say that the Treasury does not draw 70 per cent, from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, but I have in my possession concrete evidence to that effect. Prior to the passage of the Parliamentary Retiring Allowances Act in November last year, the Treasury drew about 68 per cent, of the pension from the Consolidated Revenue Fund. I hope I have cleared up any doubt that existed on that point.

Some very odd features are associated with the Bill before us. The Labour Party has indicated that it does not propose to oppose the legislation. I do not wish to oppose it. 1 am simply trying to explain it for the benefit of the Australian people. My real objection to this legislation is the objection concerning secrecy which I voiced last year. Certain features of it should be fully explained to the people of the Commonwealth. The secrecy that surrounded the introduction of the legislation last year and attempts, more or less, to conceal the provisions of the Bill with which we are dealing now are not in the interests of democracy. The Government should be forthright and explain every facet of this legislation. It should be introduced and dealt with openly, and not stealthily, as the Government is attempting to deal with it.

I wish to express my sympathy to Senator Kennelly. If he remains for 32 years as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate he will qualify for a pension. Mr. Whitlam, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, has given the show away. He believes that he will never qualify for a pension as Deputy Leader of the Opposition. Mr. Calwell, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, and Senator McKenna, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, both qualify now for a ministerial pension. They are the only two members of the Australian

Labour Party in the Commonwealth Parliament who can possibly qualify for a ministerial pension. The scheme is most lopsided. The Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Henty) is laughing and enjoying a chat with an officer from the Treasury.

I shall point out a few facts. The Australian Labour Party has been in charge of Commonwealth affairs for about 16 years out of 61 years. The Watson Ministry governed from 27th Aprl 1904 to 18th August 1904. The Fisher Ministry governed from 13 th November 1908 to 2nd June 1909. It also functioned from 29th April 1910 to 24th June 1913. Did I hear Senator Hannaford trying to interject?

Senator Hannaford - No.

Senator BENN - The honorable senator has not been on his feet to address the Senate for the last three months. The Fisher Ministry also governed from 17th September 1914 to 27th October 1915. The Scullin Ministry was in office from 22nd April 1929 to 6th January 1932. The Curtin, Forde and Chifley Ministries were in office from 7th October 1941 to 6th July 1945, from 6th July 1945 to 13th July 1945 and from 13th July 1945 to 19th December 1949 respectively.

The present Government - the Liberal Party and Australian Country Party Government - has been in office continuously for the past 15 years and at present has many Ministers who have qualified for a pension. The legislation before us has been so framed that the contributions commence now and the period of service given by Ministers is counted to their credit. It is a retrospective element. Is that fair and equitable? Is that the way the legislation should operate? Why not start from the day that the legislation was introduced and have the contributions correspond with the period of service as Ministers as from that time? The Minister will tell me later whether that is fair and equitable.

In about 10 weeks we shall have the Budget delivered to us and there will be many people in the Commonwealth who will be interested in it, all wishing to know whether the rate for an age pensioner will be increased from £6 a week. Let us make a comparison of the age pensions payable to a man and wife, totalling £12 a week, with the pension of £53 a week that will be paid to a Minister. A Minister who has served for a period of eight years will be paid a pension of £41 18s. 7d. If we wish, we can go further and compare the sums that will be taken from the Treasury to pay the pensions. In the case of the Minister receiving a pension of £41 18s. 7d., the sum of £29 6s. lOd. will be taken from the Treasury. Why should there be that difference? That, more than anything else, is why I object to this proposal. This is strongly anti-Labour legislation. The Australian Labour Party is an egalitarian party. It does not believe in putting parliamentary pensions up to the level that this Government proposes. It suggests earnestly and sincerely that the pensions of the battlers in the community should be increased.

I wish only to bring these matters into focus. It is dangerous to introduce these things in a hush hush way. We should ventilate this and let the searchlight shine upon it so that everybody will know what is being done. Otherwise, we shall have in this country a Government worse than that of any other democratic country in the world. I just warn the Ministers who will qualify for this fat pension later on that " they are as sick that surfeit with too much as they that starve with nothing ".

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