Mrs ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, when the Parliamentary Salaries, Superannuation and Allowances Act 2012 was passed, it provided for a 2 per cent increase in the basic salary for members of parliament from 1 July 2012 and from 1 July 2013. Members will recall the act provided for a tribunal to be established to review the basic salary and allowances payable to MPs. Consistent with the act, a tribunal was established on 26 June 2013 by Order in Council, with the tribunal's report tabled in Parliament on 3 June 2014.
While the report made a number of recommendations about the basic salary and allowances, the recommendations of the tribunal have not been implemented. At the time the report was tabled, the Government indicated it did not intend to take any action in relation to MPs' salaries for the 2014-15 financial year. The budget situation was poor and there needed to be time for general consideration and debate about the tribunal's recommendations. A salary freeze for MPs was therefore considered the appropriate course of action given the dire state of the budget they inherited. As a result of this, members of parliament salaries have now been frozen for two years.
The bill before us today provides for an immediate 2 per cent increase to the basic salary of MPs from 1 July 2015 in line with increases to the Senior Executive Service. More importantly, it sets up an independent mechanism for the determination of future increases. Any future increases in the basic salary of MPs after 30 June 2016 will be determined by the commission. It is imperative that Tasmanian politicians are not the ones deciding what they are paid. Future pay rises should be determined by an independent body, the Tasmanian Industrial Commission.
My position on this issue has not changed since I stood up in this Chamber on 24 May 2012 and said, 'We are a House of review, we are not here to set our own salaries.' For the past two years we accepted the importance of freezing politicians' pay as part of belttightening efforts in a difficult economic climate. I am sure all members in this Chamber would wholeheartedly agree this was the right thing to do. It is absolutely appropriate that the full bench of the Tasmanian Industrial Commission assesses and determines future pay matters for Tasmanian politicians, and I do not believe we should be involved in this process.
I note the late premier, Jim Bacon, told Legislative Council Estimates Committee A in June 2000:
Well, we do believe that the Industrial Commission is the appropriate place. After all, that is where everyone else, other than those covered by federal legislation, goes seeking a change up or down to their salaries and working conditions, so there is no question that the Industrial Commission is independent of government.
Further, another former Labor premier, Lara Giddings, said on 23 June 2011:
I strongly support the principle that MPs should not set their own salary levels.
The issue of what politicians are paid will always be a difficult and unpopular subject of discussion, but not talking about it does not make it go away. Indeed, the three panel members who wrote the Parliamentary Salaries and Allowances Tribunal Report acknowledged this when they said:
In terms of public perception, there is never a good time to review the salaries and benefits for Members of Parliament.
I ask the Leader what the cost of that tribunal was at the time, and I am sure it is considerable.
I also note tripartisan support for the amendment which was put forward by the former Leader of the House when it went back to the other place, the changes that were made in this House to put it to the independent tribunal. I read on Hansard that it was accepted by the House of Assembly which I am assuming was accepted by the Labor/Green Party because they had the numbers in the House so it is interesting now to see the political opportunism coming out.
However, the bill is on the table today and it is our job to decided how best to give the people of Tasmania the confidence that we are working in their best interests. The public interest in this case is having an independent umpire overseeing such matters and I have every confidence that the Tasmanian Industrial Commission would do this appropriately, satisfactorily, and in a manner that the public would have confidence in.
I note that the bill gives Parliament the power to reject the Commission's findings within 10 sitting days of the decision being made. To some extent, I find this a contradiction of the intent of the bill which is to distance ourselves from this decision.
I am concerned that political opportunism will often come to the fore and that this bill could easily come back before us because it is essential that we have nothing to do with the setting of our salaries. I will listen to debate on the amendments put before us but for now I will vote for this through the second reading.