Parliament: Speeches on Bills

Parliamentary Remuneration (Determination of Remuneration) Amendment Bill

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: I will speak briefly at the second reading of this bill. I appreciate the briefing that was provided to myself and a member of my staff by the government on this bill last week. As we all know, the bill follows the Premier’s declaration earlier this year at the opening of parliament via the Governor’s speech that he wanted to investigate the remuneration of members of parliament in this state, including payments made in addition to salary. More recently, the Premier has stated on multiple occasions in the public arena that he believes that a greater base salary is needed to attract brighter minds to nominate themselves into the public life of this state as members of parliament.

If nothing else would demonstrate this, I would have thought the recent elevation of the independently wealthy Hon. Malcolm Turnbull to the role of Prime Minister would dampen that concept somewhat. I believe that people will either want to serve in a public capacity as legislators or they will not. Beyond being able to pay my rent, or mortgage as the situation is now (who thought that was a good idea?) and pay for cat food, I can assure you that my motivation to represent the community of South Australia is certainly not attached to or indexed against the salary I receive in return. We learned, I think, some interesting stories about members’ past lives when we discussed salary.

The Hon. S.G. Wade: Careful, careful.

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: The Hon. Mr Wade says, ‘Careful, careful.’ Well, I am not about to say anything that is not already on the public record, so calm down. I do not have any dirt yet. We learned some interesting stories about members’ past lives. We have had the Hon. Mr Hood saying that he halved his salary to come into parliament. We have had the Hon. Mr Parnell, as a previous environmental law worker, saying that he trebled his salary by coming into parliament. I can put on the record that my life certainly changed because I began to receive a salary.

As a former worker in areas of the arts and disability advocacy, as a public speaker and community worker in disability advocacy, as well as beginning to establish a career as a playwright, receiving payment on commissions and through grants I was successful in receiving, the idea of a salary was somewhat novel to me. I certainly feel that an indication of the fact that I am in this place for the right reasons is that it still comes as something of a novelty and a surprise every payday. So, it is certainly not indexed against that in any way, apart from my, of course, base survival instinct.

My motivation, as I know it is for many in this place, is to represent and improve the lot of all South Australians and create a more fair, equal and respectful society. For me, it is particularly those who might be disengaged, disadvantaged or otherwise disenfranchised by society in a way that makes them vulnerable due to disabilities, mental illness, chronic illness, children and those from other disadvantaged backgrounds, who are my main motivation for being in this place.

I do not quite understand how increasing the salary of MPs using allowances we already receive for travel and committees will improve the quality of candidates for public office and the quality of work that is done when the incentive to undertake travel and arduous committee work has been removed. If we really thought that improving salary would entice brighter, more diverse minds into this place, then why would we not specifically discuss increasing, for example, the salary of female members of parliament?

It is because it is not the salary that is preventing more females from wanting to enter public life, it is the inflexible hours, the attitudes, the sexism and many other factors that I believe strongly discourage and make it very difficult for many people, including women, to enter into this arena. I think, frankly, it is the easy way out and it is insulting to suggest that salary is the only barrier to getting these diverse, bright minds into this place.

I think we also have to wonder what other consideration might have been given instead to attract other under-represented groups to public office. The Premier might be concerned about attracting our best and brightest to the parliament, but there seems to be no lack, dare I say it, of middle-aged white men in legislatures across Australia.

Conversely, there is a lack of people with disabilities; there is a dearth of women; there are few people of diverse cultural, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds; and I am keenly aware that there are few young people. There is a lack of Aboriginal Australians, there are few people who identify openly as being part of the queer community, and on the list goes. So, I do not really know that we can put this whole problem down to pay. I think we need to look at the attitudes and the other barriers we erect in this place before we can really say that pay is the key concern here.

How is the Premier and the government putting these issues on the agenda? Where is the consideration in particular for disability access in parliament, to encourage not only more people with disabilities but people with young children with prams, elderly people and so on, who may have diverse needs? Where are the additional allowances or consideration of the needs of members with disabilities who might have higher access needs for themselves as an MP or for their constituents—for example, the need to hire accessible venues for meetings, which can come at an additional cost, or the need to hire sign language interpreters for meetings, which can come at a cost?

Still today very few buildings, meeting places, websites and other public places provide any real meaningful access for members of parliament, their staff or members of the public who may have disabilities or other considerations. I think that these issues need to be managed more effectively and respectfully before we worry too much about the base salary of 69 South Australians. I think the Premier has missed identifying a number of barriers facing bright, intelligent, passionate South Australians wanting to enter our parliament; many of them are women, young people, culturally and linguistically diverse, Indigenous or, of course, have disabilities.

Thinking that the base salary state MPs receive is too low is a very simplistic way to view this issue. For example, how does a 27-year-old South Sudanese person who arrived in this state from a life in a Ugandan refugee camp 10 years ago contemplate entering our parliament? How does a 50-year-old person with quadriplegia, who requires a hoist in the workplace for personal care and needs to be supported by a personal attendant on work trips, for example, especially for airline travel, access a travel allowance that covers their needs? Until we address these real issues, we will not bear witness to a parliament that truly reflects the diversity of the community it purports to represent.

I state again, as I have before as the Dignity for Disability representative in this place, my concern when the government decides to side-step convention and prevent proper and necessary debate on legislation by rushing it through both chambers. As the Hon. Mr Mark Parnell has pointed out before me, the government has done this yet again. I will say this again: I am happy for us to rush through legislation in this place when there is a significant level of community concern for us to justify us doing so.

We have done that, for example, with bills relating to loopholes that could allow perpetrators of domestic violence to get information about the current addresses of the people they perpetrated violence against. I am happy to do it in those circumstances, but I certainly question whether it is necessary for us to so hastily rush through this bill that does not serve to protect and respect the broad needs of South Australians at large.

Dignity for Disability will support the second reading of this bill because we want to continue this discussion about the nuances of the bill and how we can have a discussion around the real issues that are actually preventing diversity being represented meaningfully and respectfully in this chamber. We also note the amendments that have been tabled by the Hon. Mark Parnell and the Hon. Mr Brokenshire, and we will give those consideration in due course.

I will support the second reading on behalf of Dignity for Disability so that we can continue this conversation and discuss what the real issues are for getting diverse representation in this place.