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Tuesday, 29 August 1989
Page: 445


Senator LEWIS —Mr President, is this document not to be read to the Senate? Is it just being tabled? I will, in due course, seek leave to take note of it but I think the document ought to be read to the Senate.


The PRESIDENT —I believe that the procedure would be for you to seek leave to move a motion to take note of the paper. That would be the only way to discuss it.


Senator LEWIS —I seek leave to move a motion to take note of the paper.

Leave granted.


Senator LEWIS —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I am disappointed that the Senate--


Senator Stone —Read the paper to us.


Senator LEWIS —I thank the honourable senator for his suggestion. Honourable senators will be interested to hear the response of the Minister for Administrative Services, Mr West, to the motion of 17 August that the Government explain in detail the reasoning behind the Government's decision to increase the postal entitlement for members of parliament. The response is along these lines:

(a) Increase in Entitlement.

In its 1988 Review, the Remuneration Tribunal determined that Senators and Members be provided with access to the full range of Australia Post's postal services . . .

They are then listed. They include:

. . . ordinary mail, including the re-setting of credit for a franking machine, parcels, priority paid, certified mail, express courier, fax post, imagegram, lettergram, bulk lettergram, bulk direct mail service, householder delivery service.

The response goes on:

In a subsequent determination, the Tribunal also determined that Senators and Members should continue to be supplied with either a certain amount of stamps or stamped envelopes in Parliament House.

The Tribunal determined that the postage entitlement be limited to an amount of $9,000 per annum with any amounts not utilised in one financial year not being carried over to the next financial year.

It is the Government's view that Members of the House of Representatives, who traditionally are in a much closer relationship with their constituents-

it is the Government saying this, not me-

should have an increased capacity to communicate directly with them. The postage entitlement has therefore been increased by the equivalent cost of sending a letter once each year to each constituent in an average sized electorate. In order to achieve this outcome at the most economic cost consistent with efficient dissemination, the amount to be made available to supplement existing postal budgets has been calculated on the bulk mailing rate. This is a reduction of some 25 per cent on the ordinary mailing rate which, from 1 September, will increase to 41c per item.

I draw the attention of honourable senators to that increase from 1 September-41c. The response goes on:

(b) Remuneration Tribunal's determination.

Under the Remuneration Tribunals Act 1973 the Government can request the Tribunal to inquire into and either determine or report on a matter specified in a notice in writing, being a matter that is or is considered by the Government to be significantly related to the question of parliamentary remuneration. In its first referral, pursuant to sub-section 7 (4) (b) of the Remuneration Tribunals Act 1973 the then Government, in 1976-

that was the Liberal-National Party Government of 1976-

requested the Tribunal to inquire into and determine a range of matters relating to members of Parliament including Ministers. In that and successive years the Remuneration Tribunal's jurisdiction in respect of the entitlements of members of Parliament, including Ministers, has been limited to the range of matters referred by the Government of the day. The Remuneration Tribunal, in each of its relevant annual determinations, has formally acknowledged that certain entitlements such as the location, nature and extent of office accommodation, office furniture and equipment newspapers and the like remain within the discretion of Government.

In 1984 the then Government-

that is, the Australian Labor Party Government-

withdrew from the Remuneration Tribunal's jurisdiction the capacity to determine a Senator's or Member's entitlement to electorate staff and increased the staffing level. It was therefore inappropriate to continue to treat the issue of electorate staff terms and conditions as being matters relevant to the remuneration of Senators and Members.

Again I remind the Senate that these are not my words; they are the Minister's. The response continues:

In its 1988 review the Remuneration Tribunal changed the basis of the postage entitlement from one whereby Senators and Members were provided with a quarterly franking machine credit and access to stamps and stamped envelopes in Parliament House to an arrangement whereby Senators and Members were provided with credit card access to the full range of postal services. In line with the previous decision about electorate staff, the postage entitlement has now been recognised as an office facility rather than an entitlement relating to Senators' and Members' remuneration. In brief, the Government has concluded that decisions on the facilities and entitlements necessary for a Senator or Member to maintain and operate an electorate office are more appropriately matters for consideration by Government. Consequently, the Government has on 20 July 1989 and pursuant to sub-section 7 (4) (b) of the Remuneration Tribunals Act 1973, withdrawn the matter from the Tribunal's jurisdiction.

(c) Increase for members of the House of Representatives

The concept behind the increase in the postage entitlement for Members of the House of Representatives is that each Member should be given the capacity to send a letter once each year to each constituent in an average sized electorate. The cost of increasing the entitlement to achieve this is $3.185 million in 1989/90.

The cost of extending the entitlement to Senators in order to provide them with the capacity to write directly to each person on the electoral roll within their State would be in excess of $38.5 million.

This is really drawing the long bow. The response continues:

Based on recent enrolment statistics, the entitlement for each Senator representing a State would range from $1,115,263 for a Senator for New South Wales to $95,567 for a Senator for Tasmania and for senators representing the ACT and the NT, the cost would be $53,207 and $24,057 respectively.

Other matters

Appropriations

Funds for the increase in the postal entitlement have been included in Appropriation Bill (No. 1) which is presently before the House of Representatives. Interim funds for postage have been appropriated to the Department of Administrative Services by the Supply Bills passed by the Parliament last Session in order to meet the costs of Senators' and Members' entitlements pending the passage of the Appropriation Bills. In line with usual practice, if additional funds are required to meet the cost of Senator's and Members' entitlements, they will be sought from the Advance to the Minister for Finance.

That is the Government's response in respect of this disgraceful increase in postal allowances from $9,000 to $30,525-an increase in expenditure on members of the House of Representatives of roughly $3.2m.


Senator Walters —And how much are you giving the pensioners? Two dollars?


Senator LEWIS —Two dollars-next April, Senator Walters. Next April the pensioners get the $2. I want to make it perfectly clear that the coalition parties are opposed to this increase. It is not that we seek the same allowance for senators. We are totally opposed to this increase. Let me go a step further, Mr President. Let me put it on the record: when we get into government, if this allowance is still in continuation, we will abolish it. We will allow this matter to be determined by the Remuneration Tribunal, as it should be. Let there be no doubt. I repeat: we are opposed to this and we will abolish it. Indeed, we understand that the Government made a submission along these lines to the Tribunal and that the Tribunal rejected it. I see that Senator Ray does not deny it.


Senator Robert Ray —How many of you are going to give it back? Come on!


Senator LEWIS —I see that he does not deny it. Let me just say that, as far as we are concerned, this allowance is not for the purpose of servicing the electorate. As my colleague Senator Chaney said, it is in fact for the purpose of seducing the electorate. This is all to do with direct mail campaigns. The experience in the United States is that it has been demonstrated that direct mail campaigns have a great ability to maintain members in marginal seats.

This is clearly an attempt by the Labor Party to keep its marginal seats, which it will lose-let there be no doubt about it-notwithstanding this rort. There is no doubt that the Labor Party is rorting the system. The Labor Party is endeavouring to transfer the cost of the re-election campaign of the Labor Party from its own funds to the funds of the taxpayers of this nation. That is what it is all about: the Labor Party is rorting the system, rorting the taxpayers' funds, to get itself re-elected to government. There is no doubt about that. The Government has provided for unlimited stationery for members of the House of Representatives so that they can get an enormous amount of material printed. I see that some honourable senators on the back bench have consciences. I notice a few people who are concerned about this. I see one or two over there who have consciences. As for Senator Walsh coming in here and abusing people for their expenditure and allowing this rort of the system to go through, I am ashamed that he is acting along those lines. He ought to be totally ashamed of himself.

The Government is also talking at the same time about public funding of election campaigns. It has a proposal for free advertising time on commercial television and radio, at the same time as it is proposing to eliminate paid advertising. The Government is producing glossies such as the one I am holding. How much is that costing the taxpayers of Australia, Senator Richardson, with your pooncey photograph there? How much are those glossy papers costing? How much has the recent advertising cost the Department of Social Security for that campaign that it ran during July when the election that the Government was going to have in July did not come off? How much did that cost the taxpayers of Australia? It is absolutely disgraceful.


Senator Hill —What about `aNiMaLs'.


Senator LEWIS —My colleague asks about `aNiMaLs' monitoring us-not promoting Government programs. Indeed, when one of my staff went to `aNiMaLs' and asked whether he could have a copy of a transcript of a particular document, he was told by the fellow who runs the show, `No, we don't provide the Opposition with anything-not anything'. I could not get a transcript from `aNiMaLs'. At the same time, Senator Walsh is deliberately reducing facilities for the staff of the Senate; he is deliberately reducing the staff of the Senate committees. These are areas over which the Government does not have control. The Government is scared that if our Senate committees inquire into some of these matters, things will be revealed that it does not want revealed. So Senator Walsh is cutting back on Senate facilities. At the same time, he is prepared to allow $3.2m to go to members of the House of Representatives in respect of mail. This is a direct rort of the system.

I question the political legitimacy of this Government's decision to remove by executive fiat postal allowances from the Remuneration Tribunal. I also ask: What is the validity of this policy decision being included in Appropriation Bill (No. 1)? By agreement between the Senate and the Government back in 1965, policy decisions were supposed to be dealt with in Appropriation Bill (No. 2). This decision has been included in Appropriation Bill (No. 1) and I suspect that it is invalid because of that. We have to question the Government's priorities. As Senator Walters said, where are the Government's priorities in relation to looking after the people of Australia instead of looking after itself? I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.