Tuesday, 5 September 2006
Remuneration and Allowances for Holders of Public Office and Members of Parliament
Motion for Disapproval
Labor opposes the motion moved by Senator Brown to disallow the Remuneration Tribunal determination on this matter. Labor have had a consistent policy over a long period that determinations regarding politicians’ pay and conditions ought not be made by politicians. I think it is a very sound principle. It is one I have argued for for about 30 years in a number of employment contexts. The people who are being paid the wage ought not be involved in the determination of what that appropriate wage is. I think it is a principle that this parliament should continue to reassert. Whatever one thinks about the Remuneration Tribunal decision, the fact is that we set up an independent body to make decisions about these things. We set up an independent umpire to determine these things.
I regret the government’s attack on independent umpires more generally as represented by changes to the workplace laws. It will be interesting to see whether they are consistent in their industrial relations approach today in comparison to the industrial relations approach they have taken for other workers in this country. But the Labor Party is consistent, and our position is that these things ought to be determined by an independent tribunal at arm’s length from the parties that makes proper determination having heard the evidence. While there might be some cheap political points from saying people voted for a pay rise et cetera, the Labor Party will take the same position we have always adopted in recent times about these things, and that is that the determination of the tribunal should not be interfered with by politicians.
As I understand it, the effect of Senator Brown’s disallowance motion is a bit more complicated than he thinks. I am informed that, by supporting the disallowance motion, 90 senior public officials will also have their salaries reduced. I also understand that the effect of this disallowance is quite convoluted. Nevertheless, the principle at stake, as Senator Brown is arguing, is that parliamentarians ought not get the full benefit of a determination by the Remuneration Tribunal. That is the core issue. As I have said, it goes against the fundamental principle that Labor supports, which is that the salaries of parliamentarians and other remuneration matters ought to be set by the independent body, the Remuneration Tribunal. That principle is unambiguous. I think it is generally accepted in the community that that is true for other groups—that they do not set their own salaries.
I know there is a great deal of concern in the community about directors’ fees and directors’ share offers, and the same principle applies. People do not believe that people should be setting their own remuneration. I think there are very strong reasons for us sticking to that principle. In terms of parliamentary pay, it is always easy to make a cheap political argument about whether or not increases should be paid or whether or not a particular allowance ought to be increased or what have you. I think that is a perfectly reasonable public debate to have. It is a perfectly reasonable thing for the public and others to engage in. I just think we are the least qualified people to make that judgement because we would have to declare self-interest. Everyone in this parliament has a pecuniary interest in that debate. We are the least well-placed people to make that decision.
As one knows, the argument about what politicians should be paid has raged back and forth in the community on many occasions. Some argue that we are overpaid and underworked, and others argue that we cannot attract the best people to politics because it does not pay enough. That might be a reflection on some of us already here—I will take that on the chin—but the point is that that is a debate for the community, an argument quite rightly that they are allowed to engage in. At the end of the day, we have set up a system whereby these decisions are made by an independent tribunal that looks at the conditions and movements in community standards and makes a decision.
As senators know, it is linked to a particular point in the public service salary range. It is adjusted by the Remuneration Tribunal in accordance with the principles that govern its actions. As I have said, Labor takes the view, as we have on past occasions, that we ought to let the Remuneration Tribunal do its work and not seek to second-guess or to establish ourselves as the arbiters of our wages and conditions. The motion by Senator Brown is misplaced. In its effect, it would have other consequential effects that perhaps Senator Brown has not envisaged. The bottom line is that I do not think Senator Brown should be determining the pay and conditions of parliamentarians, I do not think I should, I do not think Senator Abetz should and I do not think this chamber should. That is why we set up the Remuneration Tribunal. We ought to accept its decisions.