Revelations that fomer Minister and Member of Parliament, Philip Ruddock, has continued to receive his full parliamentary retirement benefits whilst in receipt of payment for his role as the Government’s Special Envoy on Human Rights are at odds with a stance he took early in his parliamentary career.
In Senate Estimates for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade yesterday, the Department indicated that Mr Ruddock’s parliamentary pension had not been reduced, as a result of legal advice on the status of his role as a “Special Envoy”. The DFAT officer to which the role reports, Dr Lachlan Strahan, First Assistant Secretary, Multilateral Policy Division, told the Estimates session that Ruddock had obtained the legal advice on his own initiative.
Ruddock was appointed to the role in February 2016 in a bid to promote Australia’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council of the United Nations. Until his retirement from the Parliament at the July 2016 election, Ruddock was not paid for the role as it would have been a breach of the constitutional bar on Members of Parliament holding an office of profit under the Crown.
DFAT revealed at yesterday’s Estimates that upon retirement, Ruddock has been paid at a rate equivalent to an SES 2 level officer for the days worked on the role, with travel entitlements consistent with the role. His appointment is due to conclude with the vote for the Human Rights Council scheduled for October 2017.
In March 1978, Ruddock wrote to then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser to oppose the practice of former public officials, including Members of Parliament, collecting their pension while holding an office of profit under the Crown. His opposition was expressed in the midst of controversy over the proposal that former Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, be appointed the Ambassador to UNESCO. The letter is held in Malcolm Fraser’s personal papers containing correspondence with Government Members, held in the National Archives of Australia. The letter is reproduced below along with a file note recording the action taken by Fraser’s office in response.
Ruddock wrote to Fraser:
“Whilst I am not unhappy about Sir John’s appointment in any personal sense, I am unhappy about one aspect of the appointment.
I don’t accept that there is any justification for a person in receipt of a substantial government pension to retain it when he holds another office of profit under the Crown on what would ordinarily be a full time basis.”
He went on to write:
“I have given considerable thought to this matter and whilst I do not wish ordinarily to see any benefits to Members of Parliament reduced by action of the Government, I am of the view that Members of Parliament should not retain pension benefits whilst holding an office of profit under the Crown. This should be applicable to Mr Justice Murphy, to Sir Gordon Freeth and Mr Grassby, and this should be the case whether or not the pension benefits are contributory or otherwise.” [Emphasis added].
At the time of Ruddock’s letter, Lionel Murphy was a High Court Justice, Sir Gordon Freeth was High Commissioner to London and Al Grassby was Commissioner for Community Relations.
Mr Ruddock said:
“It seems to me that it would be appropriate for the various pieces of legislation governing payment of retiring allowances to be reviewed and amended. I should say that in my view also it would be quite appropriate for the pension benefit to be restored once the appointment of office of profit under the Crown had been terminated.”
A file note in the Archives goes on to note that one of Fraser’s staffers spoke to Ruddock who “was happy with the policy [Fraser] outlined in the party meeting” in response to the issue. No further details are available on this particular file.
The file note: