Thursday, 20 August 2009
Remuneration Tribunal Determination 2009/11
Motion for Disallowance
- That the Senate notes the Remuneration Tribunal’s failure to provide a financial or economic justification for the proposed increases in the Members of Parliament travelling allowance.
- That Remuneration Tribunal Determination 2009/11: Members of Parliament – Travelling Allowance, made pursuant to subsections 7(1), 7(2) and 7(4) of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973, be disapproved. [F2009L03117]
I anticipate that Senator Brown may also wish to make a short statement as well. In respect of this motion, the Remuneration Tribunal made a determination in 2009/11 Members of parliament travelling allowance on 6 August 2009. On that same day, the tribunal also made determination 2009/10 Official travel by office holders. The determination sets the rates of travelling allowance for parliamentarians and public office holders respectively. The determination establishes rates applicable for travel to individual towns and cities. The rates in each determination for each travel tier and common location are the same. The reason I mention that is to give context in relation to the motion before the Senate which suggests that the tribunal has not advanced any financial or economic justification for the proposed increase in travelling allowance. This is not correct.
I refer the Senate to the tribunal’s statement of 19 August 2009, which is available from the tribunal’s website. It sets out details of how the decision in relation to the determination was made. I think it would be helpful for the Senate if I table that statement. In light of the publicly available statement, the government will not be supporting the motion. In fact, it appears unnecessary in that regard.
Firstly, if the Remuneration Tribunal has reason for altering parliamentarians’ or public servants’ entitlements then that information should be made available with the determination when it is requested in the Senate chamber. I made a request for that determination and I got it, but I had to write to the president, Mr John Conde AO, to get that information, which was made available to me last night. I hope that in future the Remuneration Tribunal will furnish information to parliamentarians when it makes determinations. We should not have to seek it out, the way the minister says.
Secondly, over the last 12 months, the inflation rate was 1.5 per cent while this is a seven per cent lift in the travel allowance. We ought to be keeping this in proportion. You cannot escape the surmise, at least, that, with the Prime Minister having frozen increases in parliamentary salaries last year and with way-above-inflation increases in the electorate allowance and now in the travel allowance, there is an adjustment here to make up for that freezing. That may not be so, but it is a matter that ought to be debated. I think that, as parliamentarians, we are vulnerable to the sort of speculation that we do not like but that we see in the press and in the public arena if we do not have due reasoning up front. As far as I am concerned, the reasoning from the Remuneration Tribunal is way short of sufficient.
I will reflect on Senator Bob Brown’s words about vulnerability to speculation. My argument with Senator Brown in relation to his constant raising of these matters—which I think, with the greatest respect are more about politics than good policy—is that we will be far more vulnerable to speculation if we do not have an independent arbiter. I cannot for the life of me understand why Senator Brown constantly attacks the independent tribunal. As I have said in this place before, if you want to provide the opportunity for speculation then we will be the ones who will make decisions. It is a ridiculous notion that members of parliament should be making decisions about their own remuneration, and that can be the only outcome of Senator Brown’s constant attack on the Remuneration Tribunal.
I am very confident going out into the community and saying there is an independent umpire. I would have no confidence in going out into the community and saying that members and senators make determinations about their own entitlements. This is a sensible approach by the Remuneration Tribunal because there is a benchmark. But the beauty of an independent tribunal is that it can make decisions that are not, on the face of it, giving equality to members and senators. Indeed, Senator Brown, the Canberra rate for parliamentarians is substantially lower because the Remuneration Tribunal quite rightly said that we are here for a longer period of time and we can make accommodation decisions so it is economically feasible for us to be on a lower rate. Please can we leave the decision of the tribunal where it is. (Time expired)
I agree with Senator Ronaldson that we do need to have an independent umpire, but where I differ—with the greatest respect to Senator Ronaldson—is that I think the disquiet in the community is as a result of the processes involved, and there ought to be greater degree of transparency in relation to the process. The reasons need to be given, the process of the reasoning needs to be given publicly and there ought to be greater input in that decision-making process. That is where I differ. I agree with Senator Ronaldson that it has to be done by an independent umpire, but it needs to be done in the context of a transparent process, a process where there is greater input in terms of the decision making, and also that the reasons given for the increases are quite clear. I think that would give greater confidence in the system. It may well be that, in relation to these allowances, we go to a receipt based system. That is something that I think the tribunal ought to consider in due course. But I think it is important that we have this debate, and I think there is room for improvement in the way that the Remuneration Tribunal carries out its work.