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Friday, 5 October 1984
Page: 1760

Mr STEELE HALL(12.41) —Any remarks I have to put to the Committee on this clause are not, of course, to be construed as being any criticism of Dr Griffith who is the new appointee to this important position in the structure of government. However, the matter is not nearly as reasonable as it is made out to be by the Special Minister of State (Mr Young) because this amendment proposes to re-establish, by way of payment of special allowances, a form of disability allowance for living in Canberra. That seems to revive the old system which used to operate, I understand, some time ago when it was considered to be an enormous disadvantage to live in Australia's capital city. In an age when Canberra has developed to the stage where half a billion dollars is being spent on Capital Hill to provide a new Parliament House, one would think of Canberra as one of the finest cities in Australia and not deserving of being regarded as part of an underdeveloped Territory. Therefore, it seems to me and to the Opposition that we ought not be in the business of providing special allowances to enable people who occupy top positions to live in Canberra as though they were suffering a disadvantage by so doing.

This amendment is not the same as the amendments made to provide the $9,900 per annum allowance for justices of the High Court of Australia. This situation is not the same at all. In the latter case a specific allowance was given to enable justices of the High Court to live outside Canberra on the basis that they ought not to become separate from the general Australian community.

Mr Hodgman —Centralised.

Mr STEELE HALL —It was designed to enable them to continue to know of and to partake in the activities of normal citizens in the community so that in their adjudication as justices of the highest appeal court in the land and in interpreting the Constitution they would be subject to normal public opinion and attitudes. That allowance was given on the basis that they could live away from Canberra. The $9,900 was to be paid to them in lieu of travelling allowances.

This allowance is quite the reverse. It is an allowance in prospect to be worked out by the Remuneration Tribunal to enable the Solicitor-General to live in Canberra where he is performing his job. That situation is quite different. As I understand it, and I think it is quite certain, High Court justices who live in Canberra do not receive that $9,900. I think one or two of them do live here but most of them choose not to, yet fulfil their role. They do not receive a sum for living in Canberra.

Mr Young —But it is absolutely essential, in our opinion, that the Solicitor- General live in Canberra.

Mr STEELE HALL —That is fair enough. I am not quarrelling with the Minister's direction. It may or may not be necessary for the Solicitor-General to live in Canberra. If the employer wants him here that is fair enough. That can be stipulated in the arrangements. But I believe that the error in the Government's appointment lies in its negotiation of the conditions of that appointment.

When this matter was raised in the Senate in response to Senator Durack's protest at the return to the old method of regarding Canberra as a second rate city and meeting that view with special allowances, the Attorney-General ( Senator Gareth Evans) responded to a reference about the way in which the new Solicitor-General was appointed by saying that Dr Griffith was delighted to be appointed Solicitor-General but the trouble was that he just woke up the next morning to what was involved. It appears that these matters were in no way settled by the Government in its discussions with the new Solicitor-General. It seems to me that the Government has made a mess of the arrangements. That is the basis of the problem.

The Government should have discussed the situation with Dr Griffith and looked at all aspects of it. It should have look at his relocation and, because of the requirement that he live in Canberra, established a salary package on the basis of a normal attitude that Dr Griffith is an Australian citizen and is looking forward, no doubt, to a long term in his high position in Canberra. He should do that in a normal way, with a normal salary, as most other people do, and he should not have to rely on a yearly payment from the Remuneration Tribunal, especially for the purpose of relocation. If relocation is a consideration, it should be included in his salary. In that way the situation would be normalised. Therefore, the Opposition does not view this amendment with high regard at all. As I have said, it believes that the Government has muffed it. It has simply failed to negotiate properly the conditions of Dr Griffith's appointment.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mrs Darling) —I ask the honourable member whether he has much more to say. If he does I will have to interrupt the debate.

Mr STEELE HALL —Acknowledging that the pressure of time is somewhat great I will not repeat myself as some of us are apt to do when time is more freely available to us. I make the point that this situation is not at all the same as that of High Court justices. It re-establishes an old principle. I do not believe that a special payment should be made which will then be demanded, and quite rightly demanded if it exists, by other appointees to senior positions. It will open up a bottomless pit in the future. The protests made in the Senate are also valid in this House. The Opposition will not move to try to defeat this motion in some symbolic way in this chamber with its inferior numbers. To do so would seem to be an attack on a person for whom I am sure all of us have the highest respect. There is no way that we intend to be involved in such action. However we want to protest emphatically that this amendment, if agreed to, will lead to most undesirable practices in the future, by a distortion of salary packages, and to a false expectation by future appointees to the office.

Madam DEPUTY CHAIRMAN —I thank the honourable member for Boothby for observing the restricted time and cutting his comments short.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Resolution reported; report adopted.

Sitting suspended from 12.48 to 2 p.m.