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Wednesday, 30 May 1973
Page: 2864

Mr McMAHON (Lowe) - This Bill relates to the administration of the Commonwealth of Australia electoral laws. At the present time the organisation responsible for the administration of the Australian electoral laws comes under the jurisdiction of one of the departments of state. It has no foundation in a statute of its own. Consequently it is not independent, nor does it have the appearance of being independent.

For some time - I can go back as far as 1965 - various suggestions have been made to the effect that there should be a statutory office for the Electoral Office and that the office should be independent of any department and directly responsible to a Minister. The Bill also seeks to substitute the word 'Australian' for the word 'Commonwealth' wherever it appears in relation to the Commonwealth electoral laws. As an illustration, clause 4 of the Bill provides that the Commonwealth Electoral Office is to be known from now on as the Australian Electoral Office and the titles of the senior officers are to be Chief Australian Electoral Officer, Deputy Chief Australian Electoral Officer and Australian Electoral Officer in each of the States. I think that this is a wise provision, giving independence and with the appearance of independence as it does. I think the word 'Australian', with all its meaning for us, is far better than the word Commonwealth'.

There is one other matter of importance. There has been - for as long as I can remember, anyhow - a great deal of trouble not only with regard to the officials of this Parliament but also with the members of the Australian Electoral Office, as it is to be called, in establishing their proper place in the range of scales that exist within the whole salary structure of the Commonwealth Public Service.

It should be known, 1 was continually worried about the status and the salaries of officers of this House. Just as I thought of their responsibilities and of the necessity for them to be upgraded in the salary scales, I have also felt for a long time that the positions of members of the Electoral Office needed to be upgraded and that they needed to be given a status suitable to their responsibilities. Under this Bill it is not necessary for the officers of the division - now the Commonwealth Electoral Office - to apply through normal Public Service channels in order to receive their pay or salary increases. They will be able to make an application direct to their Minister. The Minister can then take it direct to the Cabinet and then have whatever pay scales are authorised validated by the Parliament itself.

I am sure that this is a long overdue reform and I can assure the Minister for Services and Property that the Bill is worthwhile and should be approved. I have no other contribution to make than to say that the Chief Australian Electoral Officer becomes a Permanent Head with all the rights of a Permanent Head. The rights of the officers themselves, who are transferred, are protected. I understand from my discussions with the Minister that the officers who now occupy the various positions mentioned under the title of Commonwealth Electoral Officer will in fact be put into corresponding positions under the Chief Australian Electoral Officer. We commend the Bill. We think it is long overdue, and I personally compliment the Minister for introducing it and, I hope, getting it through as quickly as he wants to.

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