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Tuesday, 18 October 1983
Page: 1855

Mr MAHER(6.28) —I am pleased to make a contribution tonight to the debate on the Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill. I want to touch firstly on a rather minor matter. It is the stamp allowance made available to members of parliament. This matter was featured in an article appearing recently in the Sydney Morning Herald written by a well known writer, Peter Kennedy, under the title: 'What does your MP cost? $38,500 plus 750 stamps.' Fortunately, the allowance is more than 750 stamps. It is 750 stamps a quarter, plus 1,250 stamps a month on a franking-machine, which works out at about 72 stamps a day. This may seem very generous and sufficient for honourable members, but in my office I lose 18 of those stamps each day by sending mail from Sydney to Canberra. I send signed mail back to my secretaries and it is despatched. That leaves me 54 stamps a day for a very busy office with two stenographers and an Aboriginal aid -a trainee under the Aboriginal training system. I believe that members of parliament are entitled to write to their new constituents, and should write to constituents, so that someone new to the area can know who the member is and how he or she can contact the member. I believe that if a Minister is slow in replying a member must chase the Minister, and more stamps have to be used.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

Mr MAHER —Tonight I am continuing my comments on the Appropriation ( Parliamentary Departments) Bill. Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was talking about an article in the Sydney Morning Herald concerning members' entitlements which dealt with the number of stamps, of all things, to which a member is entitled. I appreciate, and I know other members appreciate, that the entitlement to stamps and all the other perquisites of office are determined outside the Parliament, and rightly so, by the Remuneration Tribunal.

Every quarter I have to face the problem of my stamps running out. In this quarter the stamp allowance expired on 9 September. It was not until 13 October that a cheque arrived by which I could obtain an additional amount of stamps or postage on my franking machine in my office to send out mail. I believe that constituents should not have to wait for replies and that anyone who writes to me from the wrong electorate either by accident or design should not have to wait for a reply or should not have his or her letter discarded. I do have a right to write to new enrolees and to chase up letters without putting my stamp allowance in peril. Mr Speaker, I did take this matter up with your predecessor. I know you are very sympathetic. I took the matter up with the Remuneration Tribunal. I made an appointment and saw Mr Justice Mahoney. He received me very politely and listened to my complaint. He explained that his stamp allowance had actually expired and that he had no stamps as Chairman of the Remuneration Tribunal to reply to anybody. I did not feel so bad after that. I trust that in the next review of these allowances consideration will be given to the problems that members face.

I noticed in the debates that have taken place in this House that some departments have an additional allowance for air express and courier charges. Even an organisation such as the Law Reform Commission has an additional $8,000 allocated to it for these charges. No allowances are available for air express or courier charges for members of Parliament; there should be for members to return library books to the Parliamentary Library. A member who borrows books from our wonderful library has to bring them back physically in his bags. There are difficulties. This creates a lot of problems when we are bringing mail and we also have to return library books. I was also concerned that in some places some of the senators in another place use their stamps for political purposes. One of my colleagues has complained that a senator in his area in another party is writing to the new enrolees in his electorate. If senators have so many stamps that they can write to the new enrolees in specified seats that they think are marginal Labor seats, they should have to justify some of their stamp allowance. Under the Bill of Rights members have all sorts of privileges. This is the touch-stone of our society. Our constitutional law and our parliamentary traditions are based on the Bill of Rights going back to 1689. In this day and age it is a very poor situation if honourable members just do not have enought stamps to reply to constituents. In the United States of America not only do members have the right to send their correspondence without postage but also constituents have the right to write to their congressmen without putting a stamp on the letter. I know that the Government faces many big problems. I will not labour this point at all.

Mr Speaker, tonight I want to touch on some of the other aspects of the parliamentary departments that are so ably administered by you. I praise the secretarial facilities made available to members in the House. We have an excellent pool of stenographers. This is essential because members are away from their electorate four days in the week. These skilled stenographers attend to our urgent problems and correspondence, and type our speeches, questions and notices of motion. The rapid change in personnel in this pool worries me. I think a higher grade or higher salary might attract someone who will not be seduced away into employment with a Minister or some other Public Service position. The officer in charge of secretarial services for members should be very highly paid. It should be seen as a career position. We appreciate the facilities in the House. The rooms allocated to members are pokey and are just too small.

We appreciate particularly the work of the Hansard staff. There is in the Bill before the House a substantial allocation of $5.2m for the Parliamentary Reporting Staff. The Hansard staff might not report what we actually say, but it is what we meant to say, or rather on reflection meant to say. Having served in two parliaments, I am extremely impressed by the ability of the editing staff. The Hansard writers have to be extremely skilled. They have to jump from subject to subject. Question time must be a real nightmare for them. They have somehow to record interjections and altercations between members and they have to be extremely fast. Some members may not be known to them. I really have never worked out how they get it all down. But tonight I praise their work. I am delighted that the Government has substantially increased the allocation to the Hansard reporting staff. It is an appropriate occasion to praise this important facility in our Parliament.

The other area I want to touch on is the Parliamentary Library. I am delighted to note that we now have a permanent librarian. I also praise the work of the librarians. The staff of the Library are always helpful to members. They are overworked and carry out their duties in extremely cramped situations. In the past I have raised problems with the Library. At the last meeting of the Library Committee I was appointed Chairman of the grievance committee. This may be a way of quietening me-well, not exactly quietening me-but I can certainly utilise my criticisms for better endeavours. I always place great importance on the role of the Library.

I am somewhat slightly disappointed to see that the estimates allocate $9m to the Joint House Department which largely deals with catering and only $6m to the Library. Nevertheless in years to come I hope this figure is reversed and that more and more funds are made available to the Library. It builds up our store of knowledge in the Parliament by way of our holdings and our periodical collections. This is an appreciating asset, it is not money lost. I imagine the recurrent expenditure for the Library covers not only wages but also purchases of books, magazines and periodicals. The Library staff carried out a tremendous task and all members appreciate their work.

The other area I want to touch on is the work of the Joint House Department which, as I mentioned has been allocated $9m. Every member appreciates the work of the attendents and also the kitchen staff, and all the people involved in catering because it is such a drawn out job. Catering facilities have to be available to members all day long-from breakfast until half an hour after the House rises. This involves suppers which may have to be served in the early hours of the morning. I also praise the members of the staff who organise the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Having recently travelled as a member of a parliamentary delegation I was delighted with the expertise and the cool manner in which the tour was organised. Difficult situations that could have arisen in developing nations were all ironed out by the work of the parliamentary staff here. Mr Speaker, I was delighted to learn of the high esteem in which you, the Clerk and the assistant clerks are held not only in Papua New Guinea but also in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Without delaying the House further, I commend the Bill to the House. I am delighted to have had an opportunity to raise some of the matters I have raised tonight.