Senate debates

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Principal Executive Office Classification Structure and Terms and Conditions

Motion for Disallowance

5:57 pm

Photo of Natasha Stott DespojaNatasha Stott Despoja (SA, Australian Democrats) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on Senator Bob Brown’s disallowance motion because I want to put my personal views on record. This motion, if successful, would disallow the 4.2 per cent increase that applied to members’ and senators’ salaries from 1 July this year. I note that this motion no longer disallows determination 2007/04, which allows for the 2.5 per cent increase—and, of course, these two determinations are usually considered together as annual adjustments to wages. I understand Senator Brown’s position and the intent of his motion. Like Senator Evans, I too feel very strongly and passionately about the issues to which Senator Brown referred, particularly in relation to pensioners and the inadequacy of pensions in this country. But I want to place on record that I am unhappy about the precedent set by this disallowance motion.

By pursuing this motion, Senator Brown, as he would appreciate, places his parliamentary colleagues in a unique but awkward position. He is essentially demanding that we take responsibility for determining our own salaries when, at the same time, we are directly responsible to the Australian people. Avoiding this situation is the very reason why we have our salaries set by the independent Remuneration Tribunal. The Remuneration Tribunal is empowered under the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973 to inquire into the salary of public officials, and it is standard practice for it to do so every year. In doing so, the tribunal considers a range of economic indicators, including the wage cost index; salary outcomes in the public sector and, to a lesser degree, the private sector; and the principles of wage determination and decisions of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Senator Brown implied in his remarks that it is a bad thing that politicians are not consulted in that process, while Senator Johnston implied in his remarks that it is a good thing that politicians are not referred to in that process. Obviously, we all have different views on what matters should be considered and what should be taken into account, but, again, it should be done in an independent way.

As Senator Johnston and Senator Evans have both pointed out, if successful this motion would have an impact on salaries other than ours. It would alter the salaries of some state and territory politicians and a large number of Commonwealth public positions, some of which were referred to by Senator Johnston, including the director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the CEO of the Australian Film Commission, the CEO of Cancer Australia, the chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the General Manager of the National Blood Authority, to name a few. More than 90 non-elected official positions are also covered by this determination, and I am not comfortable with the fact that this motion affects their pay; therefore, I am not comfortable with voting for this motion. I also understand that there is an argument for some salary adjustment for some of those post 2004 politicians, but it is not my role to determine that.

I believe and I am happy to put on record that this determination, especially when combined with determination 2007/04, rounds out, Senator Brown, to an annual increase of 6.8 per cent. I know that we keep doing the math and it is 6.7 per cent, but I have been told that when you round it up it is about 6.8 per cent. I believe it is excessive; I believe it is too much, especially when you look at inflation at 2.1 per cent for 2006-07, so I am in a quandary. But I want to point out to the chamber that my decision today is not to support this motion. I do not think it is my role; I do not think it is our role. I think we should be kept from decisions about the raising or lowering of our own salaries. I have made a personal choice: I am happy to pledge, and have done so, the above CPI increase in my salary to charity. I am comfortable with that, but it is my personal choice. I am not going to make a choice on behalf of the rest of my colleagues in this place or, more importantly, some of those public officials whose salaries are affected by the motion today.

Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President, I hope Senator Brown understands my position. It may be an increase that some consider warranted. I have made a personal decision, but I am not going to get into a debate today as to whether or not I as a politician should be responsible for determining other politicians’ salaries.


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