Second reading, Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, Monday 27 February 2012
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:31): The Greens have long opposed the Life Gold Pass. In July 2009, Senator Bob Brown called for the Life Gold Pass to be reviewed by an independent arbiter. The bill abolishes the Life Gold Pass entitlement prospectively so that it is not available to those who enter the parliament at or after the commencement of the bill. The bill also severs the link between the additional pensions paid under the 1948 superannuation scheme and additional salaries paid to office holders and ministers.
The Life Gold Pass scheme, which in 2010 to 2011 cost taxpayers—cost the public, therefore—$1.3 million, will be closed for new members, and the entitlement of existing members will be reduced from 25 to 10 business class flights a year. While we commend the closure of the scheme, it should be noted that the reason for the rush to pass this bill is to facilitate the Remuneration Tribunal in gifting parliamentarians a pay rise. It has been made clear by the Remuneration Tribunal and the minister that this rise in base salaries from $140,910 to $185,000 per year is contingent on the passage of this bill. The reason for the government and opposition support for the hurried debate of the bill is certainly clear.
The Greens do not support the corresponding restoration of the Remuneration Tribunal's power to determine parliamentary base salaries without the power of parliament to disallow the determinations. Surely that should be in place. Transparency and accountability demand that the parliament maintain oversight over such matters. The major parties removed the embarrassment of accepting the pay offer and shed responsibility for a pay grab. They are some of the comments that were made when this announcement was made. It is the responsibility of each parliamentarian to justify to the electorate, to the taxpayers, to the public, the remuneration for MPs. Politicians' salaries should be compared with those of ordinary Australians like police, nurses and teachers, not corporate executives who earn millions of dollars. We support the bill but it is important that we note what is behind it.
Committee stage, Members of Parliament (Life Gold Pass) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, Monday 27 February 2012
Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:55): I want to go back to some of the comments Senator Feeney made earlier. He made out that the problem with Senator Xenophon's amendments is that they will constrain the independence of the tribunal. But he really has not established that case at all. I think this is an important point for our consideration. I congratulate Senator Xenophon. I am sure he will not mind me saying that what he has put forward here is very minimal. It is certainly not a constraint; it is just setting out some very minor issues of process. That is all we have here. Let us remind ourselves what the essence of that is: there should be a call for public submissions; there should be a website where those submissions can be received and there should be a public hearing conducted—and there are a few other process issues. So Senator Feeney's statement that the independence of the tribunal will be restrained—which obviously nobody would want to do—has not been established. I would ask that the senator set out his arguments for making that statement, which, from what I heard, was the whole basis of his argument for dismissing Senator Xenophon's amendments. I would be interested in his arguments.
The CHAIRMAN: Before I call Senator Feeney, I indicate to the committee that we are not actually debating the amendments per se as they have not been moved. Even though we are aware of the amendments, we are in general discussion. Senator Feeney.
Senator FEENEY (Victoria—Parliamentary Secretary for Defence) (19:57): I am happy to expand on my answer. It really goes to the point of the independence of the tribunal. It is the view of the government, as set out in the legislation, that the tribunal itself ultimately determines how best to undertake the important task of determining the remuneration levels within its jurisdiction. It is obviously given an independence—
Senator Xenophon: You're shifting the argument now.
Senator FEENEY: I am just responding to the question. As I said earlier in response to Senator Xenophon, the public hearings, which he in particular is seeking, would not be precluded by the tribunal; rather, it is our view that the tribunal, in determining how best to go about its business, will have discretion as to whether that is or is not appropriate. That is a matter for the tribunal. I understand that in your view, Senator Rhiannon, we should mandate or require that. I would simply say that that is a difference of opinion between you and the government. Our view is that the legislation means the tribunal is able to contemplate what you are seeking but is not required to do so.