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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 2302

Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) -There is an item in the estimates of this Department which somebody might be good enough to explain in order to save time and so that discussion on it will not be halted until we get to it. It was the subject of reference in Estimates Committee A discussions where it was disclosed that last year a payment was made to the former Chief Judge of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission of an extraordinary sum, that is to say, $62,900, on his retirement. In Estimates Committee A we examined this item and the Attorney-General (Senator Murphy) was good enough to produce documents which revealed a somewhat unusual state of affairs which should be referred to in the Committee of the Whole because, I would suggest, it is a matter of urgent need of attention. It was revealed that an Executive Council minute in 1967 recorded that leave would be granted to federal judges of one year's duration every 10 years and, if the death occurred of a judge with accrued leave or if a judge retired and that leave was not taken, an amount not exceeding 1 year's salary would be paid. The Constitution of this country provides that judges are to be paid such amount as the Parliament shall fix and that their emoluments shall not be reduced during their term of office.

Senator Murphy - Are you referring to a judge? I was not here earlier.

Senator WRIGHT -Yes, Chief Judge Kirby.

Senator Murphy - He was not a judge; he was President of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Abitration Commission. As you well know, it is not a judicial position.

Senator WRIGHT - Of course he was. He is the last remaining judge of the old Industrial Court and he had life tenure by virtue of that. I do not know what his age was on retirement but I believe that he exercised the last years of his office by reason of his judicial tenure. I do not want to be corrected falsely in these matters. I am trying to assist the Government in an inexcusable situation where we are being asked to compress our criticism of this Budget into a mere day's debate. Let me do nothing more to excite acrimony.

I am putting forward the proposition that this judge had the benefit of an Executive Council minute. I think that that Executive Council minute was wholly irregular and that it is most unfortunate that the practice has grown, according to the list of payments that the Attorney-General provided, of showing that that is regarded as one of the ordinary emoluments or advantages of judicial office. I suggest that it is a matter in need of urgent attention and that if that benefit is to be granted it should be granted by Parliament. This case illustrates the danger of that insecure base. One year's leave was the subject matter of that minute but as a special case, not Cabinet, not Caucus, not Parliament but the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, authorised 2 years leave; in other words, a payment of $62,900 to an outgoing judicial person who combined the duties of Chief Justice of a judicial office and Chief Commissioner of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, positions which for this purpose I would not distinguish between. In this case a double advantage was given because the Prime Minister considered it a special case.

If our judiciary is to be rewarded or prejudiced according to the decision of the Ministry or one member of the Ministry it is a dangerous position into which we have fallen. I ask that the AttorneyGeneral give us an undertaking that the position will be put on a parliamentary basis. After it has gone through both Houses of Parliament we will see whether this additional advantage is approved. There is doubt even about that. I would think that there is considerable doubt whether either House of Parliament would, in respect of a judge on $3 1,450 a year immediately on retirement and going on to a pension of $18,500 the next day- a non-contributory pension for life- authorise an Act to give additional payment of the order of 1 year's salary for the transformation between a judge and a retired judge. I content myself with having said that on a most important principle for the sake of brevity. I hope that will put the matter into proper form.

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