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Tuesday, 23 June 1903

Mr CONROY (Werriwa) - Whatever its individual opinion may be the Committee is in a certain way committed by the action of certain of the States Parliaments in voting salaries of £3,500 to their Chief Justices. They only do that because they find it necessary to have a perfectly free choice in order to get the best men. I would point out to those honorable members who happen to think that a smaller salary should be paid to the Chief Justice that we are in a certain sense precluded from fixing any amount which we may think reasonable while the States Parliaments retain their present rates of salaries. It stands to reason that we could not get a man to take a smaller salary in one position than he can get in the other position. If I am referred to the example of the United States I shall reply that in New York there are 34 Judges whose average salary amounts to £3,500.

Mr McCay - Are they as good as the Judges of the Supreme Court of the United States at £2,100?

Mr CONROY - It shows the price that the State has to pay for its Judges. In making the appointments to the Bench of the Supreme Court the United States is absolutely limited to a number of wealthy men, that is if it wishes to obtain the services of men of known and tried abilities. Of course, if it went outside that class it could get plenty of men to take the positions at a salary of £100.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - Are they such inferior men in the United States and Canada ?

Mr CONROY - If I am assured that there is a sufficient number of wealthy men at the Bar here - men of the best experience who are prepared to make the large sacrifice which is involved in the acceptance of a Judgeship-

Mr McCay - Are not the best men, if chosen for the Bench, as a rule those who have been making the largest incomes at the Bar.

Mr CONROY - My own opinion is that it is so, but it does not always follow that a man is willing to give up his practice. I could mention four or five leading men at the bar in New South Wales who have refused to accept the salary which is offered there, and I have no doubt that in one or two cases Victoria has had a similar experience. There are two considerations which should actuate us at the present moment. We desire to secure the most suitable men for the positions, and to offer them what is a quid pro quo for what they must practically give up, and we desire that the best men shall be attracted to the service of the Federal Government as against the service of the States. If the best men are attracted to the States Benches, it stands to reason that the opinions of the States Judges will be of more value than the opinions of the High Court Judges. In these days of economy we are all desirous of limiting the expenditure as far as is possible having regard to the importance of obtaining men of the highest ability ; and I do not see how we can fix a lower sum for the salary of the Federal Chief Justice than is at present paid to the Chief Justices in at least three of the States. Much as I disapprove of the Government in many respects, I think they have adopted the only attitude open to them on the present occasion. I was, and I still am, strongly opposed to the constitution of the Federal High Court as quite unnecessary ; but now that we have determined on having a High Court, we ought to be able to select a Judiciary composed of men who show that their abilities in their outside walks of life are rated at something like the salaries now proposed. It cannot be inferred for a moment that, because in three of the States the Chief Justices each receive £3,500 per annum, three corrupt Parliaments have been ready to give larger salaries than are necessary.

Mr Page - That was the case in one of the three States. *

Mr CONROY - But what about the other two States ? I remember when the present Chief Justice of Queensland was elevated to the Bench, the late Sir Henry Parkes, whose public appointments throughout New South Wales reflected great credit on his judgment, and have been of eminent service to that State, said that Queensland could not afford to lose from its political life a man of the ability of Sir Samuel Griffith - that in Parliament he could save Queensland the amount of his salary twenty or thirty times over every year.

Mr Page - Sir Samuel Griffith voted the money for himself.

Mr CONROY - I had a conversation with Sir Henry Parkes on Sir Samuel Griffith's appointment at the time, and am thus able to state his opinion of the loss to Queensland in that gentleman's retirement from public life, and I do not think there is any breach of confidence in making public the circumstance. Whether we like it or not, we are bound by the decision of the various States Parliaments in this respect.

Mr Mauger - The honorable member has not applied that rule in other matters.

Mr CONROY - In a matter of this kind the States afford a good precedent ; at any rate, we do not find that in any of the States there is agitation for a reduction of the salaries at present paid to the Judges.

Mr A McLEAN (GIPPSLAND, VICTORIA) - No future Chief Justice in Victoria will receive £3,500 per annum.

Mr CONROY - Does the honorable member for Gippsland say that the Federal Government could not afford £3,500 per annum for the Federal Chief Justice when three Judges of the States Courts are at present receiving that amount ? I do not believe that we can make the High Court as effective as it would otherwise be unless we offer salaries sufficient to attract men who will be a credit to the Judiciary ; and under the circumstances I feel bound to support the Government. No doubt the Government would gain more popularity throughout Australia just at the present time if they made salaries low ; but I venture to say that if later on the question was raised as to unsuitable Judges having been selected, they would find themselves accused of false economy. In dealing with the affairs of a continent like Australia we must remember the Roman maxim, the very age of which proves its value - "Sometimes the greatest tax of all is parsimony." That, I am inclined to think, will be the conclusion arrived at if the Committee do not adopt the proposals of the Government.

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